Mackinac Island History

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Mackinac Island aerial view

Delve into Mackinac Island history when you visit Fort Mackinac and the Mackinac Island State Park!

Over 80 percent of the Island is within the State Park and offers wonderful wooded trails and historic sites. In 1875- it was named a national park but was later turned over to the State of Michigan for management.

Mackinac Island history began thousands of years ago when the Great Lakes were formed by advancing and retreating glaciers. This pristine island exists as a result of that process. It is made primarily of limestone and has many geographical sites of interest including Arch Rock, Sugar Loaf Rock, Skull Cave and Devils Kitchen. You will marvel at the natural formations, views from the high bluffs and the beautiful waters.

Native Americans used the Island as a gathering place long before white explorers came to the area. The Ottawa and Chippewa were the predominant tribes. There are still Island residents that trace their heritage to those tribes and add a wealth of culture to Mackinac Island history.

The first known white explorer to visit the Island was the French missionary Father Marquette, in the mid 1600's. His statue is the centerpiece of Marquette Park- at the foot of Fort Mackinac. The Island later became an important location to the fur trade. John Jacob Astor had his fur-trading headquarters on the Island. The building is located on Market Street and is open to the public.

The original French fort, Michilimackinac was located where Mackinaw City is today and is open to the public from early May to early October. The British took over that fort during the French and Indian War. They felt that Mackinac Island was a better strategic location, so they disassembled that fort and moved some pieces across the ice to the island in 1780.

The new Fort Mackinac was sited on the Island’s bluff overlooking the natural harbor.

There are many interesting historic events and notable people connected with Mackinac Island.

One of our favorite bits of Mackinac Island history is a Native American legend that tells of an enormous sea turtle, Makinauk, who kindly allowed his back to be used for the creation of a new world. Hence, to this day, Mackinac Island is referred to as The Great Turtle.

How should you pronounce Mackinac? Although the French spelled Mackinac ending in “c”, they pronounced it as if it ends in “w”. The English spelled it ending in “w” and pronounced it that way too. Both Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island are pronounced “Mackinaw”. This is a good thing to know when you visit the Island!

Insider Tip:

There are many points of interest within the Mackinac Island State Park that do not require an admission price. You can hike and/or bike to many places like Skull Cave and Sugar Loaf and even Fort Holmes.

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