On Mackinac Island, miles out into the Straits of Mackinac, abandoned possessions are a problem. It’s expensive and cumbersome to cart junk to the docks by horse and dray (no cars on this island, remember) and then ferry it to the mainland, so most of it goes to the island landfill or lives on in indefinite storage. The result is an intrinsic preservation that makes for rich archeological digs and a wealth of back-of-the-attic discoveries. Such was the case in 1969 when 4,500 glass plate negatives turned up in an old island building downtown.

The negatives are the work of photographer William H. Gardiner, who spent summers on the island around 1900. What we imagine Victorian Mackinac life was like closely resembles what Gardiner saw through his lens: resorters socializing on the Grand Hotel’s porch, a sailing party, bikers resting along a wooded path. Here, excerpted from the largest printed collection to date of Gardiner’s Mackinac work, Picturesque Mackinac, The Photographs of William H. Gardiner 1896-1915 (Steven Brisson, Mackinac State Historic Parks, 2005), are photographs of Mackinac’s yesterday. The images chronicle the classic Mackinac experience – but on this island where even the relics are suspended in time, it’s one that you can still immerse in today.

Tourists on the porch of Grand Hotel.

Members of the “Detroit G Club,” 1902. Gardiner took photos of this group at several island locations. In other signs they identify themselves as the “Key Club.” It is likely they were employees of the Grand Hotel.

Anglers on the beach of Haldimand Bay displaying their catch.

The “Key Club” on Mackinac, 1902.

Saloon on Water Street.

Band on Grand Hotel grounds, ca. 1900.

An unknown cellist on a harborside porch behind a Main Street store.

Picturesque Mackinac
Full of some 300 crisp black-and-white images of Victorian Mackinac – some never before published or printed – Picturesque Mackinac, The Photographs of William H. Gardiner, 1896-1915 by Steven Brisson, is available at many Up North bookstores and through Mackinac State Historic Parks. 231-436-4100 or mackinacparks.com. $26.95.

This article was first published in June 2007, and was updated for the web February 2008.