1887 Grand Hotel opens, billed as a summer retreat for vacationers who arrive by lake steamer from Chicago, Erie, Montreal, Detroit, and by rail from across the continent. Rates are $3 to $5 a night.
1890s Grand Hotel’s Front Porch – longest in the world—becomes the principal meeting place for all of Mackinac Island, as well as a promenade for the elderly and a “Flirtation Walk” for island romantics. Grand Hotel Manager James “The Comet” Hayes invites an agent of Edison Phonograph to conduct regular demonstrations of the new invention.
1895 Mark Twain lectures in the Grand Hotel Casino. Admission: $1.
1897 The West Wing is added to the hotel.
Turn of the century – The automobile finds its way onto the island. Grand Hotel supports an island-wide ban. A law is passed, but not strictly enforced until the 1930s.
1919 Hotel rates: $6 a day per person.
1935 A radio salon where patrons can listen to Jack Benny and other popular programs is added.
1947 This Time For Keeps starring Jimmy Durante and Esther Williams is filmed on the island and at Grand Hotel.
1960 Grand Hotel owner W. Stewart Woodfill appoints R.D. (Dan) Musser president of Grand Hotel.
1976 Musser and wife Amelia begin the redesign of the hotel’s interior and exterior with the help of architect Richard Bos and decorator Carleton Varney.
1979 The Mussers purchase Grand Hotel.
1980 Somewhere In Time, filmed at Grand Hotel and starring Christopher Reeve, Jane Seymour, and Christopher Plummer, is released.
1989 The U.S. Department of Interior designates Grand Hotel a National Historic Landmark.
The National Parks Traveler has a great article by Bob Janiskee titled
Pruning the Parks: Mackinac National Park (1875-1895) that says (in part):
Though few people seem to know or care, Michigan’s long-ago abolished Mackinac National Park was America’s second national park. Yellowstone got there first, but not by much.
On March 1, 1872 President Ulysses S. Grant signed a law establishing that Yellowstone would forever be “dedicated and set apart as a public park or pleasuring ground for the benefit and enjoyment of the people.” Yellowstone thus became the first true national park in America and the world. What few people seem to know is that Congress created a second national park just three years later. Michigan’s Mackinac National Park, which existed from 1875 to 1895, is the “forgotten” national park.
…Despite a location well removed from the main population centers of the Midwest, Mackinac Island was well served by Great Lakes steamers and became a significant summer resort after the Civil War. The island developed a tourism-based economy and a reputation for being a “healthy” place (though not a cheap one) in which to relax and reenergize in scenic surroundings. By the late 1800s the island had acquired several large hotels and a number of large Victorian homes (called “cottages”) built by wealthy summer residents. The resident population remained small due to the harsh winter climate of the place. There were still only about three dozen residences on the island in 1895.
Island-born U.S. Senator Thomas W. Ferry (1827-1896), whose parents ran the island’s mission school, was concerned that Mackinac Island would end up in private hands and be subjected to development that would ruin its scenic-historic character and slow paced lifestyle. Not long after Yellowstone National Park was established in 1872, Ferry began gathering political support for making a large part of Mackinac Island a national park as well.
It was tough going for several years, not least because Congress was loathe to spend money on parks and the island’s scenic and geologic attractions were not jaw-dropping wonders on a par with those of Yellowstone. Ferry finally prevailed, however, and Congress established Mackinac National Park with legislation that President Ulysses S. Grant signed into law on April 15, 1875. The enabling legislation was virtually identical to that used to create Yellowstone National Park in 1872.
This was a deal done on the cheap. Most of Mackinac Island was already federal property, and the park itself was small. Most importantly, Congress gave the park to the War Department to administer. That meant that soldiers from the Fort Mackinac garrison could be used for the requisite operation and policing of the park.
The arrangement actually worked quite well. The Fort Mackinac command gave serious attention to its park-related responsibilities, and although park superintendents irritated island business interests by nixing some inappropriate development proposals, islanders generally appreciated that their economic interests were best served by protecting the park’s scenery, geologic features, and historic landscape.
Mackinac National Park lasted just 20 years. In the 1890s the Army proposed to abandon Fort Mackinac, an action that would leave the park without a custodian. Alarmed at the prospect, Michigan governor John T. Rich petitioned Congress to turn the park over to the state of Michigan. This was done in 1895. Mackinac Island State Park, reportedly the first state-operated park in this country to be officially titled a “state park,” remains a Michigan state park to this day.
Here’s one of my favorite Michigan origin stories, the tale of Arch Rock, adapted from Dirk Gringhus’s wonderful book, The Lore of the Great Turtle. Head over to Mackinac State Historic Parks for more Mackinac area history!
This strange rock formation was looked upon with awe by the Indians as a bridge to another world after death where departed souls could find their last resting place in the island caves. There are many stories, or legends, to how Arch Rock was formed. This one tells about a mortal woman and her love for a sky spirit.
Along the beaches on the shores of Lake Huron lived a band of Ojibwa. Their lodges, or homes, were round topped and made of saplings and elm bark. The homes lay peacefully beneath forest boughs.
In the finest lodge, with its door blanket made of moose hide, lived the chief of the band and his beautiful daughter called She-who-walks-likethe-mist.
When She-who-walks-like-themist carried water from the lake in her clay vessel or worked the bright designs of dyed moose hair and porcupine quills into soft moccasins, the young braves watched with admiring eyes.
But Mist Woman paid little attention. Her work days were long without a mother to help her. She never complained. Her father was proud of this. Some day, he knew, she would marry a fine brave from another clan and have many children.
At first, when the young men began coming to their lodge bringing gifts, Mist Woman smiled and offered them wild rice she had gathered in the canoe.
Then, one day, all was changed. Suddenly the young men would find Mist Woman sitting with downcast eyes instead of welcoming smiles. As her father saw her growing more and more sad, paddling her canoe alone at night, he became angry.
“Why, my daughter, do you who once smiled on the strong young men who brought you gifts, now treat them with a cold heart? Are you under an evil spell?”, he asked. Mist Woman only shook her head.
“A daughter cannot always live in the house of her father. You must choose a husband soon or you will become old and wrinkled like Mez-he -say, the turkey,” he said.
Slowly the girl lifted her head. She saw anger in her father’s eyes. At last she spoke.
“It is true, my father, that I am under a spell. But not the spell placed by an evil spirit,” she spoke. “What then?” her father asked fiercely.
“Let me speak that you may know my heart,” she said. “Often when I go to gather the wild rice it is late. The star of the path of the dead is in the sky when I return.
“Two moons ago, as I paddled to the eastern shore of our village, a handsome brave appeared to me. His clothing was one of the whitest deerskin I have ever seen and covered with designs my fingers could have never made.
“But even more wonderful was his robe of shining light. I tried to paddle quickly homeward, as a daughter should, but my hands were helpless and my canoe drifted into the lake.
“It was then that he spoke to me. ‘Oh, lovely one,’ he said. ‘Long have I watched you in the village wishing that you might be mine for all time. In my home, high above you, I am the son of a chief, Evening Star, and therefore, a Sky Person. And so, I felt I could not speak to you of my love.’
“’Then, as I watched the young men coming to your ledge bearing gifts, my heart felt heavy and I became one without hope. It was then that my father came to my couch of bird feathers and I told him of your beauty. He understood and gave me leave to descend to earth that I might ask you to join me in my sky home.’”
“And what did you answer, my daughter?” her father asked.
“I said I would marry no one, but him,” she answered.
“Daughter! No! It is forbidden! You should marry no one at all then!” he shouted.
Holding her by the arms, he took her out of the lodge toward the lake shore. He placed her in the bow of his canoe. With mighty strokes he drove the canoe straight to the Island of the Turtle Spirits.
There, he took her to the top of the great rock, which towered above the beach. “Now,” said he, “you shall not see your love again. Here you shall stay until you decide to be a faithful daughter once more.” And he left.
Mist Woman made no answer. She did not cry out when the sun grew hot or the rain fell. Only her tears flowed down the rock to show her longing for the man.
Little by little, the tears began to melt the stone until at last an arch appeared beneath her and she was left on a high bridge of rock. That night, through the arch, appeared the rays of an evening star and down these rays walked the one she loved.
Gathering her into his arms, he carried her up the stars into the land of the Sky People. But the arch rock was formed and stayed to remind people of this story.
While lilacs have faded in much of Michigan, they’re still going strong on Mackinac Island as we head into the final weekend of the annual Mackinac Island Lilac Festival. The Northern Express’s writeup on the Lilac Festival says in part:
There are over 100 varieties of lilac on the island, the most recognizable being the common lilac or the French lilac, which ranges in color from white and pink to blue and several shades of purple. Many of the island’s lilacs were planted in the Victorian age, and some have lived for over 150 years, thanks to the island’s nurturing microclimate.
“Mackinac Island has some of the largest specimens of the common lilac in the country,” said Tim Hygh, executive director of Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau. “Also found here, but more rare, are the Himalayan lilac, which are lavender, and the Japanese tree lilac, which are typically white.”
“Mackinac is a place largely visited by people from all parts of our country, and I take it from many foreign lands. A National Park is established on the island and I think the military post should be made not only comfortable but attractive.”
-Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs
It’s a birthday of sorts for Mackinac State Historic Parks which is a treasure trove of our colonial history. The page from Mackinac Parks on Fort Mackinac and the Mackinac National Park explains the birth of the park and how one forward thinking officer may very well have created the model for historical preservation in the park that holds so much of Michigan and the nation’s cultural history:
After Congress created Yellowstone in 1872, Senator Thomas Ferry introduced legislation to create a second park on Mackinac Island. In addition to the island’s attractive history and natural features, the U.S. government already owned much of the island as part of the Fort Mackinac military reservation and the soldiers stationed at Fort Mackinac could act as caretakers. As a result, the park would cost almost nothing, which Ferry knew appealed to the tight-fisted Congressmen of the 1870s. After two years of campaigning, President Ulysses Grant created the Mackinac National Park, the second park in the country, on March 3, 1875.
The park made Mackinac Island even more attractive to Midwestern visitors, and brought changes to Fort Mackinac, where the commanding officer became the park superintendent and a second company of soldiers joined the garrison. The Army finally performed some long-overdue repairs at the fort … Quartermaster General Montgomery Meigs believed that “the fort itself is to the public one of the greatest curiosities within the lands of the park,” and required the fort’s commanding officer, Major Alfred Hough, to repair the post’s aging blockhouses. Although the blockhouses served no military purpose, Meigs knew that they were “among the few relics of the older time which exist in this country,” and believed that “there would be a cry from tourists” if they were destroyed. Fort Mackinac thus became as much a part of the national park as the island’s natural curiosities.
…On September 16, 1895, the last soldiers formally transferred Fort Mackinac and the Mackinac National Park to the state. Although the national park ceased to exist with this transfer, the state immediately created the Mackinac Island State Park, which continues to welcome thousands of Mackinac Island visitors every year.
Lots more from Mackinac on Michigan in Pictures!
Bill took this photo 21 years ago on September 21, 1995! It shows the Star Line Ferry’s Nicolet speeding past the Round Island Lighthouse. Star Line explains:
Star Line Ferry was started by Tom Pfeiffelmann, Sam McIntire, and others in the late 1970s. They purchased Argosy Boat Line. The company was then renamed Star Line after the 5 original stockholders making up a 5 pointed star. At that time they operated slower ferries including the Nicolet, Treasure Islander and Flamingo.
In 1979 Star Line bought their first fast ferry, Marquette. Over the next few years the old LaSalle and Nicolet were replaced with sisters to the Marquette. In 1987 Star Line decided to take it up a notch with Radisson, an 85-foot fast ferry which was modeled after a luxury yacht.
PS: Check out this cool yesterday and today at Round Island Lighthouse on Michigan in Pictures!
The Grand Hotel opened on Mackinac Island in the summer of 1887. At 660 feet, Grand Hotel’s Front Porch is the world’s largest. They note that early on the porch became the principal meeting place for all of Mackinac Island, a promenade for the elderly, and a “Flirtation Walk” for island romantics. Their History photo gallery has a couple of cool photos of the porch from back in the day.
More about the Grand Hotel on Michigan in Pictures, and here’s a video look at the porch: