Last weekend My Own True Love and I hit the road after far too many months of being tied to desks, tasks, and deadlines. It was our third anniversary and we wanted Romance, plus a little history, long walks, fabulous food, glorious scenery. We chose the Grand Hotel on Mackinac Island, Michigan.
The hotel was indeed grand.* The scenery was glorious. The weather was perfect. We walked, and ate, and danced in the hotel ballroom. We sat on the porch and enjoyed an excellent talk about the hotel by historian Bob Tagatz.** But the history highlight of the trip was a visit that we had planned as a time filler: Colonial Michilimackinac.
Run by the Michigan state park system, Colonial Michilimackinac is Michigan’s answer to Williamsburg, both archaeological dig and historical reconstruction with plenty of intelligent interpretation.*** The site was home to a fort from 1715, when the French built it as a central depot in the Great Lakes fur trade to 1780, when a nervous British commander dismantled the fort and all its buildings and moved them piece by piece to Mackinac Island to keep them from falling in the hands of North American rebels.
The (on-going) reconstruction shows the fort as it would have appeared in the 1770s, when it was under British control after the French and Indian wars but still had a French population of traders. The costumed interpreters know their stuff. The exhibits are well designed and informative. The site provides an excellent view of colonial life away from the cities of the Eastern seaboard and a vivid sense of three cultures–British, French, and Native American–coming together in one place. Unlike most sites dealing with the fur trade, Colonial Michilimackinac tells the story of more than just the voyageurs: French priests, English merchants, African-American craftsmen, Indian slave women, Irish entrepreneurs and a Jewish merchant from Germany all play a role.
We spent the better part of a day at the site, totally engaged. What’s more romantic than that?
* Just in case anyone from the Grand Hotel is reading this: the room would have been even better if it had adequate reading light in addition to two comfy chairs. I’d rather have good light than mints on my pillow any night.
**Gotta love a hotel that employs its own historian.
*** It has been under excavation since 1958, making it the longest on-going historical archaeology program in the United States.