Step Back in Time at These Top Mackinac Island Historical Sites

Visit Fort Mackinac, Colonial Michilimackinac and Historic Mill Creek or reenactments, cannon firing demonstrations and more!

Mackinac Island is a history buff’s dream. The island is home to two historic military forts and some of the oldest Victorian buildings in the state, some aged well over 100 years. On the mainland, Mackinaw City also offers historic attractions that history lovers will enjoy.

Mackinac Island Historic Views
With no cars, most of the downtown’s hustle and bustle comes from the foot traffic of visitors enjoying the many shops, restaurants and attractions. Photo Credit: Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Between preserved historic sites and costumed reenactments, a trip to Mackinac Island is like stepping back into the 19th-century lives of soldiers and civilians.

Here, we share some of the best experiences for families to try. Check out our other guides to learn where to rent bikes, where to enjoy Mackinac Island Fudge — plus how to get there, where to stay and what to eat!

Start with these historic attractions right on Mackinac Island:

Tour historic Fort Mackinac 

Fort Mackinac served as a military outpost and a home for soldiers and their families during the American Revolution. The fort was captured by the British in the War of 1812. Mackinac’s soldiers quickly built Fort George, a new small outpost. After the Americans regained the fort at the end of the war, it was renamed Fort Holmes after American Major Andrew Hunter Holmes.

Now, the site of Fort Mackinac serves as the headquarters for Mackinac National Park and a living exhibit to the soldiers and civilians who lived on the island.

Fort Mackinac’s Tea Room Restaurant
Fort Mackinac’s Tea Room Restaurant offers one of the best views on the entire island. Photo Credit: Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

All 14 buildings in the fort have been restored and are open to the public, giving families a firsthand look at what life was like in the 19th century. 

Admission is $16.25 for adults and $9.75 for children ages 5-12. Admission includes entry into The Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum, Biddle House and Benjamin Blacksmith Shop from May 10 through Oct. 6. 

From June 1 to Aug. 17, admission also includes the American Fur Co. Store & Dr. Beaumont Museum and McGulpin House.

  • Pro tip: Throughout the day, visitors can enjoy demonstrations and tours by costumed interpreters, cannon and rifle firing demonstrations, and more.

Art and history together

Experience Mackinac’s history through an exceptional collection of art, photography and fine and decorative arts inspired by the island through the ages at Richard & Jane Manoogian Mackinac Art Museum.

What you’ll find: The collection includes hand-beaded Native American garments, 17th- and 18th-century maps of the Great Lakes, original photographs from the mid-19th to the mid-20th centuries and one-of-a-kind pieces from the height of the Victorian era. 

It’s highlighted by works from William H. Gardiner and his famed early-20th century hand-tinted views. Live programs are also available from Memorial Day through August.

  • What families are saying: “This is a well-appointed small museum housed in the former Indian Dormitory on Mackinac Island, itself a historic building. Features art on Straits history subjects and by local artists. Includes interactive features that explicate significant pieces. Maps and Native exhibits are notable, especially the video piece on contemporary Ojibwa artists. Basement features an area for children’s art activities, making it a good stop on rainy days for families. Wheelchair accessible via back entrance, elevator inside,” says findeerror on Trip Advisor.

Indigenous culture: yesterday and today

Discover the Biddle House and Mackinac Island Native American Museum

Agatha and Edward Biddle were merchants who moved into the Biddle House around 1830 — a critical time of change for indigenous peoples and the island. As an Anishinaabe woman, Agatha and other indigenous people witnessed immense cultural changes that linked the old ways with Michigan’s modern indigenous culture. 

What you’ll find: The Biddle House features the Mackinac Island Native American Museum, which was curated in conjunction with other tribal partners to explore that story and how it still resonates on the island and throughout northern Michigan today.

In addition to the two exhibit galleries inside the Biddle House, visitors can enjoy live programs with costumed interpreters that give a glimpse into the life of Agatha and Edward in the 1830s.

  • Pro tip: Check out the 11:30 a.m. program “Mackinac Island: A Village of Change” every day from June 1 through Oct. 7 to see how the island came to be and how many new peoples started coming to the island after the War of 1812.

See Mackinac’s past at work

Originally built in the 1880s, Benjamin Blacksmith Shop was run by Robert Benjamin and his son Herbert into the 1960s. They did everything from fixing carriage wheels and shoeing horses in the early days, to repairing lawn mowers and yacht motors in the later years. 

In 1970, the contents of the shop were removed and the building was reconstructed and, now, the shop is maintained in a similar fashion as it was in the 1950s. Visitors can watch as blacksmith demonstrate and explain traditional techniques like forming hot iron into fireplace tools, hinges and other household items. 

What you’ll find: To give a full glimpse into the history of the shop, the blacksmith is dressed as one would have in the ‘50s and the shop is filled with music from the era to entertain while they work.

  • Pro tip: Not only can you watch the blacksmith work away, but families can also sign up to get in on the action themselves by working with the traditional tools to create their own knife.
  • What families are saying: “Knife making like a BLACKSMITH! This adventure takes you back in time with basic tools. Using an old horse shoe and hammer and heat you get to RECYCLE and create a KNIFE. This experience was a nice little memory to create and fun little keepsake to take home. A taste of the old ways. I’d do it again!” says AMELZER2000 on Travel Advisor.

Three historic attractions on Mackinaw City:

Take part in making history

Colonial Michilimackinac is an 18th-century fort and fur trading village located in Mackinaw City. The attraction takes guests back to 1781 when soldiers and civilians relocated to Mackinac Island. The village is filled with historical interpreters representing voyageurs, British soldiers and French-Canadian merchant families performing cannon and musket demonstrations, food preparation and traditional gardening. 

Colonial Michilimackinac also serves as one of the longest ongoing archaeological excavations in North America with archaeologists on site throughout the summer.

  • Pro tip: For an unforgettable experience, consider booking a chance to fire one of Michilimackinac’s weapons. Guests can open Colonial Michilimackinac with a firing of the iconic brass cannon at 9:30 a.m. Or, wait until after the fort closes and fire all four of Michilimackinac’s weapons including a Short Land Musket, the Wall Gun, the Coehorn Mortar, and Cannon.

Industrial site from yesteryear, made modern with a zip line

Historic Mill Creek is a reconstructed sawmill that serves as one of the oldest industrial sites in the Upper Great Lakes and features daily historical demonstrations and farming programs. The site also includes 3.5 miles of nature trails, a Forest Friends Play Area, Chickadee ZipLine and Treetop Discovery Tower for all ages to enjoy.

  • What families are saying: “We had a great time at Mill Creek Discovery Park. Seeing the mill run and getting the explanation of the era during which it was in use was very interesting and the gentleman giving the demonstration was EXCELLENT. Add to this the fun of the zip line, climbing wall and suspension bridge and you have a fun family experience,” says the Shep Family on Travel Advisor.

A Michigan lighthouse with plenty of extras

Since 1889, Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse has helped ships navigate the waters of the Straits of Mackinac. The lighthouse is now home to a restored Keepers’ Quarters and gallery exhibit featuring hands-on displays and original artifacts that guests can tour. 

The grounds also include the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum in the reconstructed warehouse, featuring audiovisual displays and artifacts telling the stories of the shipwrecks from the Straits. Fog Signal Whistle demonstrations also take place throughout the day.

  • Pro tip: Plan your trip around the demonstrations of the Fog Signal Whistle, led by a costumed interpreter. This takes place in front of the Fog Signal Building at 10 a.m., noon, 2 p.m. and 4 p.m.

Marquette Park
Marquette Park is a beautiful greenscape located at the foot of Fort Mackinac and makes for the perfect family picnic spot. Photo Credit: Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau

Continue making your road trip plan for Mackinac Island with our help! Check out our guides for:

Content brought to you by Southeast Michigan Ford Dealers. Visit buyfordnow.com. Find more articles like this at Metro Parent’s Ultimate Family Road Trip Guide

Tara Jones
Tara Jones
Tara Jones is a nationally award-winning digital journalist with experience working in audience development and growth. She specializes in branded content creation and strategy, SEO and newsletter strategies. Throughout her career, Tara has helped launch a digital news website from scratch and has led several newsrooms in various capacities.

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