Mackinac Island History

I have four generations from Mackianc Island.  The LaPine Family. My mother Dr. Mercedes A. LaPine  N.D.was the last to be born on my side of the family on the Island.  I have spent every summer on the Island since I was two years old.  My summers now are spent photographing Weddings on the Island.  Below are some facts about:

Mackinac or Mackinaw?

The name Michilimackinac, the place of the “Great Turtle”, was first given to Mackinac Island for its shape and was eventually given to the entire Straits of Mackinac region. In time, certainly by the 1820s, it was shortened to Mackinac. The founders of Mackinaw City opted for the phonetic “aw” spelling, probably as a way to distinguish their town from Mackinac Island for confused postal carriers.

Today Mackinaw City retains the “aw” spelling while the bridge, straits and island steadfastly cling to the “ac” spelling. No matter how it is spelled, however, it is always pronounced Mackinaw!

Mackinac Island

Mackinac Island visitors arriving by ferry boat will land in historic Haldimand Bay, named in honor of General Fredrick Haldimand who was governor of Canada in 1780 during the American Revolution when Fort Mackinac was built.

Getting Around Mackinac Island

One of the best things that ever happened to Mackinac Island was the automobile ban beginning in 1898. The absence of cars and the resulting benefits, exhaust free air, quaint and narrow village lanes, no auto noise and picturesque horse-drawn carriages, have created a unique, charming and historic ambiance.

Mackinac Island by Carriage

Most visitors travel by foot power, either by walking or peddling. Many of the islands popular sites, including Fort Mackinac, the village business district, The Grand Hotel, cottages on the East and West Bluffs, and Arch Rock are less than a mile from the Visitors Center.

Mackinac Island is a bike rider’s paradise, especially the road around the island. Eight miles in circumference, Lake Shore Boulevard (M-185) is the only state highway where cars are banned! This picturesque route takes riders past Arch Rock, British Landing, and Brown’s Brook and provides spectacular views of the shimmering blue waters of the Straits of Mackinac.

Horse-drawn carriage tours of the island’s scenic and historic sites are very popular. Other visitors, who prefer a more “hands on” approach, can go horseback riding or rent a drive-it-yourself carriage. Horse drawn taxis are also available for transportation.

A Brief History of Mackinac Island

Mackinac’s First People

Great Lakes American Indians were Mackinac Island’s first summer visitors. These Woodland-period (1,000 B.C. to 1650 A.D.) people paddled to Mackinac Island every summer to fish for trout, pike, sturgeon, herring, and whitefish. So plentiful were the fish at Mackinac that the native people called these waters “home of the fish”.

Early European Settlement

European settlement in the Straits of Mackinac began in 1671 when Father Jacques Marquette established a mission to Huron Indians on Mackinac Island. A year later the mission was moved to the north side of the Straits of Mackinac and, around 1708, to the south shore near present day Mackinaw City. Here, French soldiers constructed Fort Michilimackinac, a strategic depot for the upper Great Lakes fur trade. Michilimackinac remained a French outpost until 1761 when British soldiers took control after their victory in the Seven Years War.

The Revolution at Mackinac

In 1779-1781, during the American Revolution, the British dismantled Michilimackinac and moved the garrison and fur trade community to Mackinac Island. Mackinac Island with its steep limestone bluffs offered a perfect location for the new fort. The fort and island became United States territory as a result of the American victory in the Revolution.

War at Mackinac, 1812-1815

War broke out between the United States and Great Britian in the summer of 1812. Under the cover of darkness British soldiers landed on the north shore of Mackinac Island, dragged their cannon to the high ground behind the fort, took positions in the woods and prepared to attack. American soldiers, completely surprised, quickly surrendered without a fight. Two years later, American soldiers tried to recapture Fort Mackinac but were badly defeated in the only battle ever fought on Mackinac Island.

The Flourishing Fur Trade

By December 1814, the war was over. American peace negotiators accomplished what their troops failed to do, as the peace treaty restored the island and Fort Mackinac to the United States. On Mackinac Island’s Market Street, furs were counted, sorted and baled for shipment to the east coast and Europe. Millions of dollars worth of furs passed through Mackinac Island in the 1820’s.

Home of the Fish

Commercial fishing replaced fur trading as Mackinac Island’s primary industry in the 1830s. The region’s waters teemed with a rich bounty of whitefish, lake trout, pickerel and cisco.

A Place of Resort

After the civil war, and expanding railroad system and improved passenger steamships linked urban travelers with the country’s rustic vacation spots. Mackinac Island, with its historic charm, scenic beauty and healthy environment, was a natural summer resort. In response to the island’s growing popularity, the federal government created Mackinac National Park in 1875. This was America’s second national park, established just three years after Yellowstone.

Oh, Fudge!

Two years after the Grand was built, Henry Murdick opened the island’s first “Candy Kitchen”. By the 1920s fudge became the number one sweet souvenir of Mackinaw City and Mackinac Island. A popular favorite is Devon’s Fudge located in Mackinac Bay Trading Company in Mackinaw City.

A short story from my mother Mercedes

born and raised on Mackinac Island.

I was born on a cold winter’s day on Mackinac Island, December 10, 1931. If you have never been to Mackinac Island, it is a 2200 acre national park, 2 miles wide, 3 miles long and 8 miles around, nestled in the straits of Mackinac where the upper and lower peninsulas of Michigan meet. Originally its inhabitants were Native American Indians. (One of those being my father and his ancestors.)

Europeans began to trade goods with the Indians for beaver, muskrat, otter and fox pelts. Later the 1820’s Fur Trading, became one of the most valuable businesses that dominated life on Mackinac Island for several years. Europeans began to make Mackinac their home and in the 1670’s the French came and established a mission there to convert the Indians to Christianity.

After the French and Indian War (1754-1763) the British constructed Fort Mackinac. Threats from American forces and the unrest of the Chippewa Tribe led the British to choose a defensive sight for the Fort on the islands bluffs (which remains there today). In fear of loosing their fur trades, the Indians sold the island to the British May 12, 1781.

The island became a battleground during the War of 1812 and British troops were forced to turn Fort Mackinac over to the Americans. Fort Mackinac housed the central government for the Northern Frontier after the American Revolution and during the Civil War served as a prison for 3 Confederate Sympathizers.

After the Civil War, Mackinac became a popular resort destination and its business switched to tourism. Then in 1875, Congress created Mackinac Island National Park, the nations second national park, (Yellowstone was the first). Park land covers more than 80% of the island; the remaining is privately owned and includes boat docks, hotels, restaurants and retail stores.

Growing concerns for public safety in the 1920’s led to regulatory systems which remain in effect today to restrict motor vehicles, excluding emergency vehicles in the state park and the city of Mackinac Island.

Today, life on the island moves at a slow and enjoyable pace. Since automobiles are prohibited; “The foot bone is connected to the ankle bone….and the ankle bone is connected to“…..well you know the song, wear good walking shoes. Horses and carriages are the preferred mode of transportation as well as bicycles and roller blades. It is a beautiful island with unique limestone formations, caves, boreal forest, beautiful coastlines and spectacular views of The Mackinac Bridge.

In the 1930’s when I was born, my mother nearly died during delivery and being there were no doctors on the island, I was delivered by my mother’s sister, Della McCartney. My father, William John Lapine, born August 7, 1905, was a native of Mackinac Island. He lived there his entire life as a professional painter and was buried there in 1977 when he died, September 1st. He was 50 percent Chippewa Indian and his mother Edna Chapman, (born 1878) also a native of the island was a full blooded Chippewa Indian. Her husband, Eugene A. Lapine, was an Englishman born in 1875, who was a painter on the island. He often painted the Grand Hotel which is the largest and most expensive place to stay on the island. In the middle of this massive job, my grandfather hurt his back and my father, who was just a teenager, took over the job to keep money coming into the household. My grandfather died in 1954, and that is how my father got into the business of painting.

My father married Lauretta Clarmonte (born April 16th 1900) a French woman from Linwood, Michigan. Mother had her own dress shop on the island filled with her own hand made clothing and would often work many late hours cutting and sewing fabric. Charmaine and I were the best dressed kids around. Mother also sold tickets at the local theatre on Mackinac and took very good care of two little “Angels”; my sister and I!

Raised Catholic from both parents, I was baptized at St. Annes Catholic Church January 10, 1932, the only Catholic Church on the island. In 1870 St. Anne’s was brought over to the island on a barge from Mackinac City during the American Revolutionary War. My mother named me after St. Annes; Mercedes Anne Lapine. I have one sister, Charmaine who is not much older than I. From my early age, I recall having a wonderful fun childhood. Life on the island was the best!

I recall the days of when our dear mother would take my sister and I for long walks in the woods and along the beach. We would always stop and throw flat stones to see who could skip them the furthest. We always walked hand in hand singing along the way.

Mother played the piano and composed a song of her childhood which I have always thought someone should record and publish as it would be a number one hit! My father would often sing with his two little girls while mother played the piano. The memory is so clear and I often wish I could go back to those days.

My most wonderful memory is Christmas as my mother and father always waited until Christmas Eve to trim the Christmas tree so that my sister and I would be surprised. The tree was always so beautiful and our dear mother made the most of our gifts. We were very poor and two gifts were what we received but were so much appreciated. Charmaine and I were very grateful for what little we had.

The entire family would attend Saint Anne’s Church on Christmas Eve. The island seemed sedated as we walked passed the white four room school house and the snow glistening in the moonlight. I can still hear the crunch of our footsteps as we walked and the bells of the horses as they approached the church. It was like a dream that never comes true.

I was very close to my father and I enjoyed being with him. He would take me ice fishing out in the cold and I never complained because I loved being with him. We always caught the biggest fish and would take it home, throw it on the metal table while I watched my dad clean them up. Mother would faint at the smell and the spilled guts. Dad and I spent lots of time together and I would often accompany him on painting jobs that he had on the island. He would put me in his bike basket and take me to the Grand Hotel to help him paint. Even though I was a small child, he would put a paint brush in my little hand and we would work together. I would give anything to be with him today.

Today, people still talk about William Lapine and say he was the best dressed man on Mackinac Island. Handsome too! I remember watching him golf on several occasions and he would always score better than any of the professional golfers that came over to the island.

All my feelings of living on Mackinac Island are unforgettable. The peacefulness, the awesomeness of Gods’ hand in the rock formations, the animals, the water and waves and the tremendous love that I received from my father and mother, each in their own way. I am grateful and impacted by their legacy.

Dr. Mercedes A. LaPine N.D.

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Notice: After 22 years and over 900 weddings I am retiring from the wedding industry. If there are any bride and groom's that are still considering purchasing their copyrights to their pictures. Please message me or email and pass this on. It has been a "Spactabulas" amazing adventure and I met so many beautiful & wonderful people on my journey photographing one of many special days of your lives. I'm humbled to have had this opportunity to be a part of your special day. I will continue to sell my freelance work online & on Facebook. Another chapter with magical, music memories from beautiful Mackinac Island, MI. To all my family and friends, I miss you all so much. PL&H.