As with any Mackinac Island adventure, getting there is half the fun. Beat the day-tripper crowds by arriving early at the ferry docks (mackinacisland.org), then sit back and watch the island’s slim profile slowly emerge, growing ever larger, as your boat motors across the water. Once you’ve landed, march up Fort Street to Fort Mackinac’s South Sally entrance and get ready to enter another era.
Founded in 1780, Fort Mackinac (231-436-4100, mackinacparks.com) sits on a limestone bluff overlooking the island’s tiny village and the wild waters of Lake Huron. Its sweeping views made it a strategic outpost for the British and United States armies for 115 years. Though the real action here ceased in 1885, the fort’s 14 original historic buildings still echo with the sounds of military pomp. Arrive at 9:30 a.m. to watch local scout troops slowly raise the American flag to signal the fort’s opening. The wicked crack of a rifle breaks through the cool morning air – better quick-step to the parade grounds, where you’re likely to catch a cannon-firing demonstration or a court martial re-enactment.
Bagpipes, fifes, bugles and drums provide military-inspired background music as you make your way through the fort’s exhibits. A new exhibit at the Post Headquarters allows visitors to search a computer database containing birth dates, physical descriptions, marital status and other information about the American soldiers who served here. Visit the barracks to see the way soldiers lived, then head to the post hospital and follow a 19th-century physician on his rounds. Grab lunch at the Fort Mackinac Tea Room (reservations recommended, 906-847-3331) where historically accurate dishes like beef stew or baked pork and beans are paired with hearty slices of farm bread and butter – just the way they were served to soldiers stationed here more than 100 years ago.
Emily Bingham is assistant editor at Traverse, Northern Michigan’s Magazine.[email protected]
This article was first published in June 2007, and was updated for the web February 2008.