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History of the Mackinaw Area Historical Society
By Lynn (Morand) Evans
(given at the Mackinaw Women’s Club)
Last year, Sandy Planisek, editor of the Mackinaw Journal and Marquee, attended a meeting of the Northern Michigan Historical Society, and decided that we should have something similar in Mackinaw City. She contacted people she thought might be interested, local historians, long-time residents, village and business leaders and representatives of local museums. We got together and talked about and decided to hold a formal public meeting to see if there was interest. There was, and on August 21, 1996, the Mackinaw Area Historical Society was officially incorporated.
Our official Mission Statement is; to promote the knowledge and appreciation of our local heritage, to foster and encourage the collection and preservation of historical materials, and to stimulate historical study and research of the area of Mackinaw City. We have defined the Mackinaw Area as Mackinaw City and surrounding communities to the south, including Carp lake, Bliss, Cecil Bay, Levering, & Freedom. Our primary time of period of interest is from the mid 1800’s to the present.
The starting date is the arrival of Edgar Conkling and the railroads, precursors to modern day Mackinaw City.
Michilimackinac currently handles the colonial era, which ended in 1781 when that community had relocated to Mackinac Island.
In September we elected our board, Joann Leal, Nancy Campbell, Ruth Morse, Hugh Murray, R. J. Planisek. Gordon Sheldon, Ken Teysen, Larry Young & Myself. Any of these people would be happy to answer questions or receive comments about the Society.
We meet on the second Monday of every month at 7:30 in the Mackinaw Area Public Library. Our meetings are open to the public and we invite you to attend.
We are a membership organization, and I also invite & encourage anyone who is interested to join. An individual annual membership is $10, a family annual membership is $20; Business annual membership is $50 and a lifetime membership is $100. Dues can be sent to our PO Box 999.
A good deal of our time this year has been spent in getting defined and organized. We have had some interesting programs as well. Part of our October meeting was spent sharing stories of past Halloweens in Mackinaw City. In November, Bill Barrett, a native of Mackinaw City & great-grandson of George Stimpson, its first permanent settler, shared stories, documents & pictures from his families past. In January Tom Pfeiffleman, whose family has been in the straits area since 1902, did the same. Our February program will include stories from the railroads in Mackinaw City.
One of the Society’s long-term goals is to have a museum, however this is a very long-range goals, because several factors need to be considered. It is not enough just to have space, although that is the first requirement. Environmental & security concerns need to be addressed anytime historical objects are involved. In the meantime we are focusing on historical knowledge instead of things. The main route we are using is oral history. Oral history is historical knowledge derived from interviewing people, rather than documents or artifacts. Usually it involves actual life experiences of the interviewee, but can also include stories passed down thru generations. An oral history can be either is an autobiography dealing with Subject’s entire life, or it can be focused on a specific event, place, institution or person. Topics that are particularly relevant to the Mackinaw area include logging, the railroad, our maritime heritage (fishing, freighters, and ferries), the building of the bridge, the development of schools, churches and other cultural institutions, commercial development and tourism. We also interested in the impact of national and international events such as wars on our community.
Year round and summer residents, and village and township residents all will have a different perspective on these issues, and histories will be sought from all of these groups. Oral histories are a great way to begin collecting 20th century history, which covers two thirds of our currant period of interest. It can also lead to other types of collecting. For example, old photographs are often used in collecting oral history, and in illustrating a transcribed copy. Objects are often referred to as well and it is always useful to know who has old things. The historical society has begun collection oral histories by taping our programs and stories shared at our meetings. Sandy Planisek has conducted many interviews with long time residents in connection with her work with the Journal and Marquee.
The Mackinac State Parks are currently revitalizing their own history program, which largely took place o Mackinac Island in the 1920’s. The two organizations are hoping to work together on the Mackinaw City project. They have currently submitted a foundation grant application, in conjunction with the school for a joint training workshop from the Michigan Oral history Association. Representatives from each group would be trained in the techniques of oral history and in how to train others. Combining forces with the school would allow us to tap the multi-generational strength of our community by encouraging youngsters to record family’s histories. The park has also submitted a grant request for additional audio and video equipment to be used in the project.
The Mackinaw Area Historical Society (MAHS) began with a dream followed by a meeting on July 22, 1996, which was described in the minutes as "an informal meeting of people in Mackinaw City who are interested in starting a Historical Society." From that simple beginning, MAHS was born. The "Articles of Incorporation" were filed by August 21 of the same year. Shortly thereafter the Internal Revenue Service granted tax exempt status to the fledgling organization.
This determination and "get at it" attitude have been the hallmarks of MAHS in the ensuing 15 years.
In the first years of the 21st century, sitting on a porch overlooking the Straits of Mackinac, a few MAHS members and supporters had another dream: A Heritage Village where the history of the Straits area could come alive! In 2004, through the tireless efforts of officials from the Village of Mackinaw City, Emmet County and MAHS, a forty-three acre parcel of land previously owned by the McCormick Foundation and later by Emmet County was transferred to the Village of Mackinaw City for the express purpose of constructing Heritage Village as a partnership between Mackinaw City and MAHS.
The partnership decided that everything in the village - the buildings, the artifacts, the costumes, the history and stories - would strictly fall within the period between 1880 and 1917.
Our village now includes:
• An 1880's one-room school from the community of Freedom, a few miles east of Mackinaw City
• A Mackinaw City pest (pestilence) house from the same era as the school house
•A Log Farmhouse built about 1883 by Christian Dettweiller, a farmer, carpenter, and Mennonite minister.
•The sawmill that cut the logs for the locks at Sault Ste. Marie right after the turn of the century
• A tarpaper work shack
• A vintage base ball field (yes, it was two words back then)
• An artifacts building
• A community garden
• A community pavilion
• Modern outhouses
An 1897 church from Brutus, a machine shed, a replication of a prominent family's farm, the Stimpson Homestead, are on site and slated for completion in the near future. Educational programs are in place or are being developed to bring each to life.
Our most treasured objective is to educate children through exciting interpretation, participation, and enthusiastic retelling of the history of that time. In a typical year hundreds of school children visit Heritage Village. We invite teachers to bring their students to our Village to "really see what Great Grandma Smith meant about no lights, no cars, no planes, no telephones when she was a girl." High school and college students, home for the summer, fall in love with base ball using 1870's rules when gentlemenliness was the standard and an umpire could simply ask, "Were you safe or out?" and a "ballist' (player) would respond honestly, much to the delight of the "cranks" (fans).
If you are interested in becoming a Mackinaw Area Historical Society member or would like to donate to assist with continued restorations, please use our mailing address below. We also accept memberships and donations via PayPal by clicking on the Donate button. Indicate membership and/or donation on the memo line.
Annual membership is
Family $40 or
We are a 501c3 organization.
Have an item you would like to donate?
During the summer you may visit the village any day. For tours conducted by docents we are open [Memorial Day through Labor Day] Friday, Saturday, Sunday, and Monday from 1:00 pm to 5:00 pm. The most common response we receive when visitors find out how short a time we have been in existence and when the Village started is"WOW"! We are extremely proud of what we have accomplished and our members' determination to move ahead. For more information on our buildings and attractions use our Audio Tour by phoning 231.486.0003 and keying in stops 201 - 213. We are continuing to add stops.
In partnership with the Village of Mackinaw City, the Mackinaw Area Historical Society is well underway in their development of Heritage Village. On approximately 143 acres of land just west of Mackinaw City, visitors can enjoy discovery trails, historic buildings, a covered pavilion, a restored log home, a sawmill and much more. Heritage Village's period is from 1880 through 1917, a time of unparalleled changes in lighting, transportation, communication, housing, health care and nearly every other aspect of Straits-area living. It also reflects an era from which a precious few buildings are still standing, and stories told by parents, grandparents and great grandparents abound.
The Mackinaw Area Historical Society offers lively local monthly programs featuring informative presentations on historically significant topics.
Heritage Village is located on Central Avenue about 1.5 miles west of downtown Mackinaw City @ 1425 West Central Avenue, Mackinaw City, MI 49701