History of Mackinac Island
Have you ever wanted to escape to your own personal island? Leave everything behind and just be away from the noise of the city? The noise of machines? The noise of you? Then I have the perfect place.
Sort of like a treasure hunt, but you’ll find your paradise atop Michigan’s lower peninsula. Just east of the Mackinac Island Bridge that connects Michigan’s upper and lower peninsula’s is Mackinac Island, located at 45°51′40″N84°37′50″W. The name, Mackinac, is derived from the native Ojibwe word mishimikinaak, or big turtle.
Originally colonized by the French, the British took possession of the island after the French and Indian War of the mid-1760’s. Mackinac bounced from British to American control before the United States eventually assumed dominion of the Great Lakes after the War of 1812.
After the Civil War, Americans increasingly had time to travel and take vacations. Mackinac Island National Park became the second U.S. National Park, after Yellowstone, in 1875. Soon tourists began to look to visit. But there were few places to stay.
In 1886, a number of the major mid-western railroads purchased land on Mackinac and set about constructing the Grand Hotel.
The Grand Hotel
Opened in 1887, the Grand remains one of the last vestiges of America’s gilded age, that amazing growth period of prosperity and power from the end of the Civil War to the early 1900’s. Other grand dames of this period would be the Old Faithful Inn at Yellowstone National Park, Ocean House on Watch Hill in Rhode Island and Del Coronado Hotel in Coronado, California.
There are 397 rooms at the Grand, including seven named for former First Ladies, Jackie Kennedy, Lady Bird Johnson, Betty Ford, Rosalyn Carter, Nancy Reagan, Barbara Bush and Laura Bush. Visiting the Grand Hotel is museum married to a time machine. From the old-style ice cream shop to the massive front porch, the world’s longest, overlooking Lake Huron to the croquet lawn below and a lake front swimming pool, the Grand offers insights into a travel hospitality of yesteryear. My favorite was soaking in the sun, reading a book, or working a crossword puzzle, while seated in one of the numerous rocking chairs on the porch while a lazy day passed on Lake Huron.
But Mackinac, pronounced MACK-an-awe, provides a bounty of other hotels, bed and breakfasts and inns to accommodate all tastes and price points. Once you find a room, prepare to …relaaaax.
Contributing to the island’s tranquil vibe, is that other than emergency and fire vehicles, there are no automobiles allowed on Mackinac Island.
No buses, trucks, motorcycles, motor scooters or cars with boosted exhaust pipes. NONE. Everywhere you need to get to on Mackinac is via foot, bike, or horse-drawn carriage. I’m pretty sure you cannot put a price on peace and quiet.
Arch Rock A Must See
Old Mackinac Lighthouse
If you get the chance, I’d highly recommend meeting the Grand Hotel’s resident historian, Bob Tagatz. He is a font of information about the Grand, and its past. In particular are the days of prohibition and how liquor was smuggled into the Grand. Great story!
One of the coolest things to do is watch colonial troops fire the cannon from atop Fort Mackinac.
Dining on Mackinac Island
Numerous restaurants offer a foodie’s paradise. Dine outside at Bistro on the Green at the Mission Resort overlooking the lake or the Woods Restaurant hidden in the forest on the west side of Mackinac. If craft beer or spirits are your preference, The Broken Spoke on Main Street, Great Turtle Brewery on Main, The Jockey Club at the Grand Hotel would be good destinations.
Golf At The Jewel
Golfers will be enchanted by Mackinac’s two splendid offerings. The Jewel consists of two nine-hole tracts. The Grand nine, designed by noted golf architect Tom Bendelow, opened in 1901. Its name derives from its location adjacent to the Grand Hotel. The second nine, the Woods, opened in 1994, lies inland. A unique Mackinac experience is playing the Grand nine and then you and your clubs, being ferried by horse drawn carriage to complete your round at the Woods. On both courses, you’ll find exquisite, lush landscaping and spectacular views.
Mackinac’s other course is the charming Wawashkamo club. To play Wawa as the locals call it, you’ll need to step back to the earliest days of golf. Designed by architect Alex Smith, winner of the U.S. Open in 1906 and 1910, it evokes images of his hometown of Carnoustie in Scotland.
Of all the places I’ve been blessed to visit, few can match the charm and tranquility of Mackinac Island. You and your soul deserve a break from the chaos of the last couple of years. A visit to Mackinac is just what the doctor ordered! Travel well!