Mackinaw, Mackinac, and Mill Creek

When I was a little girl, I visited Mackinac Island and Mackinaw City with my mom and dad. I remember learning that it was all pronounced "Mack-i-naw," no matter how it was spelled. I think my mom was nervous about the boats we boarded to go over to and back from the island. One was a new and streamlined craft, but the other, in my memory, strongly resembled a cartoon tugboat. It was cold and rainy.

Recently, I visited the area again. This trip was cold and rainy again, to be expected, I suppose, in October. On Sunday and Monday, October 5-6, Steve and I enjoyed a leisurely drive up the east coast of Lake Michigan, around the "top" of the lake, and into the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Much of this route was U.S. Highway 2, which was lined with delightful lake views and the remains (and some still open) of many mom and pop establishments.


On Monday afternoon, Steve and I drove across the magnificent Mackinac Bridge into the tourist town of Mackinaw City. There we met up with Steve's parents, who had driven over from Canada to visit with us for a couple days. 


And visit we did, while sightseeing and patronizing a couple of good local restaurants, Darrow's Family Restaurant and the Pancake Chef. At the Pancake Chef, Steve and I tried the local specialty, the "pasty," which originated in Cornwall and somehow migrated to Michigan. It's the national dish in Cornwall and likely regarded the same way in the Upper Peninsula. Chicken or beef plus potatoes are encased in a thick pastry crust and doused liberally with the appropriate flavor of gravy. We were soon corrected by the locals on our mispronunciation of "pasties." We were saying it to rhyme with "hasty" or "pastry." Apparently, to remove any confusion with women's nipple covers, the dish is always pronounced with a short "a" to rhyme with "last" or "fast." I will at this point put forth the theory that if a lady ate very many pasties, she would probably not be wearing pasties. (Feel free to look any of this up!)


Together, the four of us visited the Fort Michilimackinac Visitor's Center (great exhibits and gift shop), the Heritage Village, and the Headlands International Dark Sky Park (but we were at the Dark Sky Park in the daytime). The visitor's center and entrance to the reconstructed Fort Michilimackinac are located under the southern edge of the bridge, just at the water's edge. You can see a bit of the bridge in the photo. 



Steve and I also wandered this area one evening close to sunset for bridge, sky, water, and lighthouse photos. I managed to capture this one of the lighthouse just as the last of the evening sun hit it.


But the highlight of our self-guided tour around Mackinaw City was the 625-acre Historic Mill Creek Park. Robert Campbell came to the area from his native Scotland and built a sawmill sometime after the British took control of the Mackinac fort in 1761. The property passed from Campbell's heirs to Michael Dousman in 1819. Dousman died in 1854, beginning a century of decline for the property. Changes in ownership, property leases, buildings burning, and the simple passage of time seemed to insure that the original mill would be forgotten. And it was. 

In the 1970s, archaeological finds in the area led to an excavation at Mill Creek. The Mackinac Island State Park Commission became involved and additional excavations revealed the settlement at Mill Creek. The Historic Mill Creek Park opened in 1984. Buildings have been reconstructed using historically accurate tools and methods, which are demonstrated for visitors.


As the four of us - Steve, his parents, and I - entered the Mill Creek Visitor Center and paid our admission, we were encouraged to hurry up "out back" as a demonstration was just beginning. And what a demonstration it was. A reenactor (who resembled actor Stacy Keach quite a bit) chided us first for being late (me late?) and then settled back into his explanation of preparing logs by hand for building. 


Then it came time to demonstrate the pit saw. This pit saw stood upon the ground instead of being built down in a pit, which he explained was also commonly done. Mr. Keach (as I'll call him) related that the man at the top of the saw was known as the "tiller man," and the man down in the pit at the bottom end of the saw was known as the "pit man." He asked for a volunteer. To the front went Steve. Mr. Keach informed Steve that he must don the official pit man hat first, to help protect his face from sawdust. Then they proceeded to demonstrate how to saw a board from a log using the pit saw.



Next we all moved into the mill house for a detailed explanation and then a demonstration of how the mill worked. This was fantastic! We witnessed an authentic 1700s sawmill in action, with a detailed explanation of how it all worked.


On our last evening in Mackinaw City, Steve and I strolled the downtown, popping in and out of souvenir shops, snapping pictures, and eating ice cream (like we needed that after pasties). In conversation with a shop owner, we learned that the tourist season was nearly at an end. Many of the shops and motels close for the winter. There was already a damp chill to the air that evening and it was easy to picture soft snow falling on this picturesque and charming town.