It seems no matter how many times you visit Mackinac Island, there is always something new to learn, some legend to hear, some history to experience.
Here are 10 ½ fun facts about your favorite Michigan Island:
MACKINAC ISLAND IS HOME TO THE LARGEST LILAC TREE IN MICHIGAN
Lilac trees aren’t native to Mackinac Island, but they’re sure an important part of history and today. In fact, there is a week-long festival dedicated to lilacs that happens every June on Mackinac Island. The earliest documentation of lilacs on Mackinac Island comes from an 1861 journal entry by Henry David Thoreau. Growing conditions are perfect for this tree and its fragrant flowers. Did you know, the largest lilac tree in Michigan was confirmed to be on Mackinac Island. It is listed on the Michigan Big Tree register and is right in front of the Harbour View Inn.
MACKINAC ISLAND FEATURES THE SECOND NATIONAL PARK & MICHIGAN’S FIRST STATE PARK
Did you know Mackinac Island was the second national park in the U.S.? Yep, Mackinac National Park was established just 3 years after Yellowstone National Park. Because of Fort Mackinac and the U.S. soldiers already on Mackinac Island, it was an easy and economical transition into a national park. In the 1890’s Fort Mackinac was decommissioned and in 1895 it was handed over to the State of Michigan and became Michigan’s first State Park!
MACKINAC ISLAND IS THE SCENE OF HISTORIC MEDICAL BREAKTHROUGHS
The father of American physiology started his unique medical journey on Mackinac Island. In June 1822 Alexis St. Martin was shot in the stomach from 3 feet away by an accidental gun firing inside Mackinac Island’s American Fur Company store. Dr. William Beaumont, the Army surgeon stationed at Fort Mackinac, rushed to the man only to find a hand-sized wound. Despite keeping Mr. St. Martin alive, the wound never closed, however, and Dr. Beaumont took the opportunity to study the stomach. He used St. Martin’s stomach to conduct experiments, which many consider controversial (yes, he tied meat to a string and dangled it in and out of the hole). But despite his questioned ways, Dr. Beaumont had a revolutionary discovery that digestion in the stomach is chemical. This was groundbreaking, especially considering the lack of technology and information available at that time. You can learn all about this incredible bit of history at Mackinac Island’s American Fur Company Store and Dr. Beaumont Museum.
MACKINAC ISLAND USES 10 TONS OF MICHIGAN SUGAR PER WEEK!
You read that headline right. In peak season more than 10 tons of Michigan sugar are transported to Mackinac Island each week. And yes, it’s all transported by ferry and then a horse-drawn dray. Mackinac Island’s famous fudge is a must-try when you visit the Island and can be found in any of the 7 Mackinac Island fudge shops.
MACKINAC ISLAND IS HOME OF THE WORLD’S LARGEST PORCH
Grand Hotel’s front porch is visible from the ferry ride over. At 660 feet, it’s the largest porch in the world. In the 1890’s it served as the main promenade and is now lined with rocking chairs for visitors and guests to sit and take in the view. Even if you don’t stay at Mackinac Island’s Grand Hotel, you can experience the world’s longest porch for a small fee.
MACKINAC ISLAND HAS ABOUT 500 FULL-TIME RESIDENTS
Mackinac Island may be more of a May-October destination but it’s also home to about 500 full-time residents. In the winter season locals trade bikes for snowmobiles and although it’s a lot slower than the bustle of summer there are a variety of things to do in the off-season. Mackinac Island has a public school (go Lakers!). America’s oldest family-owned grocery store, Doud’s Market, and a couple of Mackinac Island restaurants remain open year-round, and there are plenty of Mackinac Island events to keep locals busy.
MACKINAC ISLAND MEANS PLACE OF THE GREAT TURTLE
Before the French or British settled in the area, Native Americans called Mackinac Island, Michilimackinac, meaning place of the great turtle. The Anishinaabek people said that Mackinac Island rose out of the water like a turtle, referring to the limestone bluffs and formations that make up the Island. The next time you visit Mackinac Island, pay attention to the turtle influences at businesses, shops, and the local park.
OVER 82% OF MACKINAC ISLAND IS STATE PARK
Take a look at a map of Mackinac Island and you’ll see an abundance of State Park land. The 3.8 square mile Island is a maze of trails, bluffs, and geological formations that make up Michigan’s first State Park. On Mackinac Island, where time seems to stand still, the state park looks very similar to how it looked back in 1895!
MACKINAC ISLAND HAS 1,400 BIKES FOR RENT
You probably know about the motorized vehicle ban but did you know there are over 1,400 bicycles available for rent? Grab a partner and try out a tandem, check out a trike for a leisurely ride, or if you’re feeling adventurous hop on a fat tire bike and hit the trails. There are also tag-a-longs, pet carriers, and electric scooters available if any of those options fit your needs.
MACKINAC ISLAND WAS THE CENTER OF THE FUR TRADE
The Michilimackinac area was a profitable place for fur trading. Records indicated fur trading was popular as early as the 1600s. The waterways had travelers coming through and the abundance of wild animals made it an ideal location for Native American traders. Soon after, the French became involved in trading as well. In 1809, John Jacob Astor established the American Fur Company and monopolized the fur trade market, trading furs valued at more than $3 million annually. Where was the headquarters? You guessed it, Mackinac Island.
We can’t officially track how many people travel to Mackinac Island, but it’s said that over 1 million people visit each year. And there you have it, 10 fun facts and one fact-ish.
Would you like to visit Mackinac Island this year? Find out when Mackinac Island opens for the season and start planning your trip.