Mackinac Island: Michigan’s picturesque treasure

The Little Stone Church on Mackinac Island is famous for weddings. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

The Little Stone Church on Mackinac Island is famous for weddings. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

By ROXANNE ROWLEY
Special to the News Advocate

Part of the enjoyment of getting to enchanting Mackinac Island is the 20 minute ferry ride.

Depending on the conditions, it can be choppy or smooth. I recall one ferry ride that took over 40 minutes because of the rough chop. Luckily for us we had our sea legs, but not everyone enjoyed that rather adventuresome and very bumpy ferry ride.

Even so the trip through the Straits of Mackinac is always a pleasure, especially because of the opportunity to view the impressive Mackinac Bridge, an engineering marvel, up close.

Every yard on Mackinac Island is beautiful thanks to the flowers. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

Every yard on Mackinac Island is beautiful thanks to the flowers. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

Then the spectacular sight of the island as it comes into view sets the stage for a visit to this historic place. No matter how many times we visit Mackinac Island, the first glimpse of it from the ferry is breathtaking.

The Historic Grand Hotel and other lovely Victorian buildings are visible amid a wealth of trees. There are no automobiles on the island. Instead horse-drawn wagons collect luggage from visitors and goods for the island’s merchants. Horse-drawn cabs line up to collect guests. Day-trippers with their rucksacks head to the bike rental places. And pedestrians saunter along the little main street enjoying the ambiance.

There is the unmistakable aroma that combines the pungent odor of horse manure with the sweet smell of fudge. The sweet smell of fudge draws people in to the shops along the small Main Street.

On the way to our hotel, we usually stop by one of the many fudge shops on the island to observe how it is made. The huge copper kettles and long wooden stirrers mix the tasty ingredients to produce delectable fudge in a wide variety of flavors. It is fun to try samples from several shops and then try to determine which one is the best, an almost impossible task.

The 500 year-round residents graciously share their lovely home during the summer vacation season with about a million people who visit this picturesque Michigan treasure every year.

The island was an ancient burial ground at one time. According to researchers and archeologists, Native American settlements on the Island date back as far as 900 A.D.

Mackinac Island is home to many beautiful cottages with lovely grounds. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

Mackinac Island is home to many beautiful cottages with lovely grounds. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

Mackinac Island was visited by the French in the 1600s. Then the British established a fort there, Fort Mackinac, in 1780 due to its strategic location. In 1783 the U.S. took possession of it and the island became the headquarters for John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company.

During the War of 1812 the island was occupied by the British and regained by the U.S. in 1815. Fort Mackinac was active until 1895. The buildings have since been restored and today the fort is a living museum complete with historical interpreters that showcases an important part of the island’s history.

After the Civil War, the Victorians traveled to Mackinac Island from cities like Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago and Detroit. The railroad companies built lush resorts like The Grand Hotel in the late 19th century. The appeal of Mackinac Island led to wealthy industrialists building impressive summer “cottages” on the bluffs overlooking the island.

It is about 8 miles around the Island. Some enjoy the walk and others prefer a bike ride around the perimeter. Either way it is a beautiful and incredibly scenic jaunt with the limestone cliffs, sparkling blue water, sandy beaches, splendid Victorian cottages and masses of colorful flowers.

One of the most recognizable structures on Mackinac Island is the Union Congregational Church, better known as the Little Stone Church. It was built in 1904 from local fieldstone. The inside dimensions of the church are 55 feet by 40 feet, making it a cozy venue. Some of the beautiful stained glass windows depict the history of the Island. Today it is a very popular place for not only weddings, but wedding vow renewals as well.

The stables for the Grand Hotel are almost as elegant as the hotel itself. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

The stables for the Grand Hotel are almost as elegant as the hotel itself. (Roxanne Rowley/Courtesy photo)

The Grand Hotel with its long porch and an equally long row of rocking chairs is a National Historic Landmark. Built in 1887, it harkens to an era of opulence when people arrived to the Island by steamer. Today there are 393 rooms, each one decorated distinctly and tastefully. It is an elegant reminder of the past with all of the modern amenities. The stables for the Grand Hotel are almost as elegant as the hotel itself. There is a little museum that has examples of different types of carriages.

Touring the Island, whether by foot, bicycle or horse-drawn carriage, one cannot help but notice the glorious flowers that decorate every yard and are tucked into almost every nook and cranny. The vast array of colorful blooms adds to the great charm of Mackinac Island. The ample supply of horse “fertilizer” available guarantees the blooms will grow and flourish to their fullest potential.

It is fun to get up early and watch the Main Street “wake up.” Horse-drawn trailers deliver fresh food to restaurants; drop off merchandise to stores, and transport beer and liquor to pubs. It is a memorable sight to watch the beautiful horses and their handlers do their jobs. Those huge draft horses are well-trained and patient. There is something calming about hearing the “clip-clop” of the horses’ hooves on the street. It is easy to imagine what it was like over 100 years ago.

Mackinac Island leaves an indelible impression. It combines the best of the past with the promise of the future. Even though there are many visitors to the island, it is easy to find a quiet spot in the woods to enjoy the loveliness of nature in Mackinac Island State Park.

It is remarkable that such a small island can pack such a powerful punch.

 

Roxanne Rowley is a retired early childhood educator and consultant. She enjoys writing and has had numerous articles published related to early childhood issues.

 

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