Sunday, June 9, 2013

Mackinac Island History by Amber Stockton

By Tiffany Amber Stockton

** I'm one of several offering a giveaway this month. Read to the end to find out the details and what is being offered.

All right, last month, I discovered just how little most folks know about the DuPont and Nemours family in the little state of Delaware. Most have heard the name and are familiar with some of the products they've manufactured, but the majority had no idea of their history. Perhaps one day I'll be writing books featuring them more.

And speaking of books, I ended up getting a one-month extension on my current book, so it isn't done yet. It's hard having to request those extensions, as I don't like to *not* meet my deadlines. I was doing great for a while there too. Then, the kids got sick off and on for 5 weeks, and it put me behind schedule. So, once this post is done, it's back to the storyboard to finish the revisions.

For now, let's move on to Mackinac.

How much do you know about Mackinac Island? Perhaps you've visited there and had the fortune of walking the largest front porch in the world at The Grand Hotel?  Or maybe you've sampled some of the famous Mackinac Island Fudge? You might have even seen the movie, Somewhere in Time starring Jane Seymour (Dr. Quinn) and Christopher Reeve (Superman). Or, perhaps your experience is limited to books, photos, and me.

Well...long before Americans set foot on this soil, natives stood on the mainland shore, looked out over the Straits between two newly formed great lakes (a result of retreating glaciers) and saw an island with unusually high bluffs. They thought it resembled a large reptile and called it mish-la-mack-in-naw or "big turtle." A bit of exploration revealed natural limestone formations, and the caves became burial grounds.

French-Canadian courieur de bois Jean Nicolet is believed to be the first white man to see Mackinac during his explorations on behalf of Samuel de Champlain, governor of Canada, in 1634. It didn't take long for the area to become a key fur trading site for the French. The British acquired the island in the French&Indian War, and from that point until 1815, the island went back and forth in ownership between the British and the Americans, eventually being restored to the Americans by treaty.

During the 1800's, the island became the center of John Jacob Astor's American Fur Company and eventually became a well-known site for fisherman, processing barrels of fish for eastern markets, driving out Astor's company and forcing him toward the northwest states. This began the growth of small hotels and eating places which catered to the sporting crowd. The families in my Michigan Brides series (Copper and Candles, Hearts and Harvest, and Patterns and Progress) vacationed on Mackinac every summer, making that overnight train trip from Detroit to the Straits aboard the Michigan Central.

It was Victorians, like the families I portrayed in my books, who made Mackinac Island one of the nation's most favored summer resorts. In the post-Civil War industrial age and before automobiles, vacationers traveled by large lake excursion boats from Buffalo, Cleveland, Chicago, and Detroit, to the cooler climate of Mackinac Island. They danced to Strauss' waltzes, listened to Sousa's stirring marches, dined on whitefish and strolled along the broad decks. To accommodate overnight guests boat and railroad companies built summer hotels, such as the Grand Hotel in the late 19th century. Victorians, like travelers everywhere, shopped for souvenirs, and Mackinac shops supplied them.

In the 1890's wealthy Midwestern industrialists who wanted to spend more than a few nights on Mackinac built their own summer cottages on the east and west bluffs. Soon a social life developed, including tennis, hiking, bicycling, examining the local natural wonders, and at the turn of the century, golf on the new Wawashkamo Golf Course.

The first impression most visitors get of Mackinac Island is the absence of automobiles. In fact, no cars are allowed on the island. When Somewhere in Time filmed there, they had to get special permission for the car Christopher Reeve drove by the Grand Hotel. Visitors and residents travel by foot, bicycle or horse drawn carriage. This tempo is more comparable to the 19th century. Tour carriages and taxis will take you wherever you want to go and eventually, you adjust to the slower pace.

In my current book, tentatively titled Threads of Time, I have a bookworm heroine and a footloose/fancy-free best friend who chides her about Mackinac being the perfect vacation spot, considering how old-fashioned she is. She even remarks about the hotel having indoor plumbing. :) Of course, my heroine (Alyssa Denham) also assures her friend the island has all the modern conveniences such as electricity, telephones, running water, and even all the wonderful resort activities her best friend (Libby Duncan) wants to experience.

The best part about this island is Congress took steps in the early 1870s to ensure that some of the "old-fashioned" treasures would be preserved for posterity. In 1872 the federal government designated Yellowstone America's first national park. In 1875 portions of federal land on popular Mackinac Island were given similar protection.

When the Park Commission purchased a Victorian cottage near Fort Mackinac in 1945 and designated it the Governor's Summer Residence, it's led to a number of politicians beating a path to its door. John Kennedy rocked on the porch with Governor G. Mennen Williams in 1960 and won his important support for the Democratic nomination that year. And more recently Bill Clinton, Newt Gingrich, and Bob Dole conferred with state politicians here.

And to tie this back into writing, many famous people have penned words inspired by the island's beauty:

  • John C. Pemberton, eventually a general in the Civil War who had the distinction of surrendering Vicksburg to U.S. Grant, penned letters to his love in the 1820s, sharing how much he missed her.
  • Poet Henry Longfellow penned his long narrative poem on Indian legends and culture while residing at Mackinac's Indian Dormitory during the 1830s.
  • Edward Everett Hale wrote his "Man Without a Country" while sitting on the porch of the Mission House.
  • Constance Fenimore Woolson, a popular novelist and close friend of Henry James, wrote her best-known book, Anne, a story of a young girl and her exciting adventures on Mackinac Island.
  • Mark Twain visited the island and lectured at the Grand Hotel and was paid $345 for his speaking engagement.

And of course, I've already mentioned Somewhere in Time (1979), but in 1946, there was also a romantic tale of lost and found love called, This Time for Keeps, starring the famous swimmer Esther Williams and Jimmy Durante.

So, what did you find the most fascinating about this history? What would you like to know more about? Have you ever been to this island? If so, what is your favorite aspect of the island? If not, what intrigues you and makes you wish you could visit?

Leave your answer to any one of the questions along with your name and email address (name [at] domain name [dot] com) for your chance to win a complete autographed set of my Michigan Brides series. A second winner will win an autographed copy of Threads of Time, but it doesn't release until August 2014. Rest assured, I'll keep your information on file and contact you ahead of time to be sure your address hasn't changed.

Tiffany Amber Stockton has been crafting and embellishing stories since childhood. Today, she is an award-winning author, speaker, and virtual assistant, who lives with her husband and fellow author, Stuart Vaughn Stockton, in Colorado. They have one girl and one boy, and an Aussie/retriever mix named Roxie. She has sold fourteen books so far and is represented by Sandra Bishop of MacGregor Literary Agency. Read more about her at her web site:


  1. I always wondered where the movie Somewhere in Time was filmed as the beauty was so breathtaking.

    I live in Northeast Indiana and have driven by the Mackinac Island area where you catch the ferry (it's beautiful too) but I have never been there. We have some friends who went up there with their families early last fall and they got engaged then celebrated in the Grand Hotel.

    Thank you for this post. I love porches and I have been wanting to go to Mackinac Island. This gives me incentive to push for our next vacation to be there.

    Smiles & Blessings,
    Cindy W.

    countybear52 AT yahoo DOT com

  2. I was born in Michigan,and spent many summers of my childhood camping throughout it. Mackinaw Island was one of the many places we visited on our vacations and was always a favorite - probably, as a kid, because of the fudge! ;) We moved away when I was 11, and then back when I was 24. My children were born here in Michigan, and my oldest has been to the Island, but we're still waiting to take our youngest there. I think it's just a neat experience to see the Island, a different era, to get a sense of history from visiting the Fort there. I hope we'll be able to take our youngest son there soon! (of course, I want to go back for myself, too!)
    I didn't know about the Esther Williams/Jimmy Durante movie! I will have to look that one up.
    jimmynmatthewsmom [at] netzero [dot] com

  3. Love the history and would LOVE to visit

  4. Great Post today, I have only read about this area...Have never been able to visit which I would love to go and see all this beautiful lands. Love the thought it is accessible by boat and not highway. It is amazing to learn how so long ago it was inhabited and how it grew over the years. I have not read your book but sure want to now.
    thanks for sharing
    Paula O(kyflo130(at)yahoo(dot)com)

  5. Fascinating! Thank you for a well-written post that is about a topic clearly close to your heart. Thank you for making that time for us. I appreciate your extension and encourage you. You have a good topic/theme and write well; please don't rush to publish until you have it all shiny.
    My mother is my source for Mackinac information. She was a tour business and the tour to the island was one of her most popular choices. Before that, my mental picture of the word was connected to the 'Mackinaw' coat with a fake fur collar I had as a kid!

    JudyAnn Lorenz judy AT

  6. I've visited Mackinaw Island twice. It is a lovely place to visit, and so special and unlike any other place.
    may_dayzee (at) yahoo (dot) com

  7. Mackinaw Island sounds like a relaxing, beautiful getaway. I didn't know about the transportation options for the island.
    worthy2bpraised at gmail dot com

  8. Great Post, Tiff! Glad you got that extension. Ever since Somewhere in Time, I've wanted to go to Mackinaw Island. It's on my bucket list, along with the seeing the lighthouses on the Great Lakes.

  9. I've never beenn there, but it looks and sounds very intriguing . I would love to visit that huge Grand Hotel. I think it would fun to visit Michigan, but don't expect that to ever happen. Would love to win Amber's books. MAXIE mac262(at)me(dot)com

  10. Being a Michigan native I have been there many times. The last time was this past September when we took our oldest two kids to do the annual 8 mile Walk/Run around the island. We love the place and I think our favorite part is exploring the cemeteries with the really old headstones. There are many great bed and breakfast places there to stay also. My parents stayed at the Grand Hotel for their 35th wedding anniversary and loved every minute of it.
    Thanks for bringing some fun memories back to me with this post!
    Susan P
    farmygirl at hotmsil dot com

  11. I'm a Mackinac Island junkie! I fell in love w/ Somewhere In Time the very first time i watched it with my mom at the ripe old age of five (I'm now thirty-six)! I had always dreamed of going there and last year my mom took me. It was beyond my wildest imagination! We went on the horse drawn carriage tour but by the time we made it to the Grand Hotel my MS had kicked my tail end and my fatigue had me begging to be carried back to the ferry and I turned down my chance to go in and walk that beautiful long porch. I knew at the time I'd regret that choice but I could hardly stand on my own. I did learn ALOT on the tour and am praying for a chance to go back one day but will make the Grand my first stop! I cant wait to get my hands on your books and thank you for the chance to win them!
    kam110476 (at) gmail (dot) com

  12. I have never been to Mackinac Island, but look forward to crossing the bridge later this summer. Hopefully we will be able to spend some time learning more of the history!

  13. I enjoyed your posting. I've never been to the Mackinac Island and haven't read much history about it. I would love to visit the island and try to visit everything. I think it's so important and exciting to learn about our history. Thank you for sharing.
    Barbara Thompson

  14. I have never been there but I really want to go...I just love the fact that they have held tradition even after all this time...I think it is an escape and would be a lovely place to go sometime soon! =) Thanks for the post and the chance to win. truckredford(at)Gmail(Dot)Com

  15. I have never seen that movie or ever heard of this place. Sounds so gorgeous and fascinating. Thanks for the history lesson! Sign me up for that drawing, please!

  16. My daughter and her husband have been there. I saw the movie and loved the exchange on the staircase. Breath-taking on the mail deliveries. Would love to win your books! Kathleen ~ Lane Hill House

  17. My uncle lived in Michigan and my parents have been to the Island so I do know a little about it. I like the fact that there are no cars on the island. I love hearing history about the island as it is unique. Thank you for the chance to win.


  18. I have been to Mackinac Island once, on our 25th wedding anniversary. I loved it up there, it was peaceful and everyone walking or riding bikes was wonderful.


  19. Mackinac Island is one of my favorite spots in the world. Been there several times. Last time we rode our motorcycles up to Mackinaw City from Indiana and rode the ferry over. Very romantic, fun trip.

  20. When I was twelve years old I read a book titled, "The Mystery of the Gulls". It was written by Phyllis A. Whitney. It is a juvenile fictional mystery book set in Mackinac Island. I instantly fell in love with the place and was especially intrigued by the fact that there were no automobiles allowed. The history told in the story made me want to visit. Sadly, I have never been there but am hoping to visit one day. It sounds like a truly amazing place.

  21. When I was twelve years old I read a book titled, "The Mystery of the Gulls". The book was written by Phyllis A. Whitney. It is a juvenile fictional mystery set in Mackinac Island. I loved the story and was especially intrigued by the fact that automobiles were not allowed on the island. The way the author described the island and it's history made me want to visit. Unfortunately, I have never been there and am still hoping to do so one day. It sounds like an absolutely amazing place.