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Some History

Mackinac Island has a rich history dating all the way back to 1671 when Jesuit missionary and explorer, Jacques Marquette, preached Christianity to the Straits Indians. The Anishabiee people called the island “mishimikinaak” or big turtle because it resembled a turtle emerging from the sea.  Fur traders quickly recognized the area as a rich spot for trade and the island became an important French western fur trading site. A memorial to Father Marquette still stands at the base of historic Fort Mackinac; an iconic greeting to the modern day boatloads of visiting tourists.

The British acquired the Straits following the French/Indian War and because of its strategic location in the Great Lakes shipping lanes, the island was chosen as the site of Fort Mackinac in 1780. After the American Revolution, the island was given to the United States by treaty. But in July of 1812 the British launched a secret attack and captured the Fort, claiming Mackinac Island as their own. An attempt was made early in 1814 by the Americans to take the Fort back, but they were defeated. This battle was fought on the ground that is now home to the Wawashkamo Golf Club, the most historic nine-hole golf course in the United States. It wasn’t until the treaty in 1814 that the land once again became part of the United States.

After the war of 1812, the island became home to America’s first multi-millionaire businessman.  Mackinac Island became the center of John Jacob Aster Fur Trading Company. In the 1860’s, the fur trade gave way to the rising fishing industry and Mackinac Island began exporting barrels of the smoked whitefish that is still popular today.

In the post-civil war industrial age, the Victorians came by cruise ship to the great lakes. They strolled the decks, dined on whitefish, and enjoyed the cool breezes so different from the industrial cities they came from like Buffalo, Cleveland, Detroit and Chicago. Boat and railroad companies built hotels on the island to accommodate overnight visitors. In the 1890’s wealthy businessmen began building vacation homes on the bluffs, joining with the American soldiers in making Mackinac Island their home.

Today the island is home to approximately 600 residents and boasts a medical center, public school, year-round grocery store and a post office. Cars are not allowed on the island. In the winter snowmobiles are allowed so residents can more easily navigate the frigid temperatures and deep snow. From April through October up to 15,000 tourists visit every day to immerse themselves in a simpler lifestyle, surrounded by nature, history and the smell of warm chocolate. When you visit the island there is no lack of things to experience. Bike 8.3 miles around the island. Browse the charming shops. Sample the handmade fudge and dine on the best of Northern Michigan cuisine.

For Island Accommodations visit here: 

For a list of Island Events visit here:

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