The area around Mackinaw City Michigan is filled with
historical sites. One of these is the Historic Mill Creek. It was
located just down from our Campground. Although the Mill Creek
was originally a private enterprise it is now a 625 acre State
Park, operated by the State of Michigan, along with Fort
Michilimackinac and Fort Mackinac (on the Island).
Today, Mackinac State Historic Parks is rediscovering the rich history of this early industrial complex, which is considered to be one of the oldest Industrial sites in the Midwest. The recreated buildings, museum displays, live demonstrations and nature trails provide an entertaining and educational experience for visitors.
In 1779, the British Lieutenant Governor of Michilimackinac, Patrick Sinclair, fearing that the old fort was exposed and difficult to defend against the Americans, determined to build a new fort and town on Mackinac Island. He needed boards, and this mill was built to supply them.
Robert Campbell built a sawmill on this site, powered by the falling waters of Mill Creek, to furnish lumber for the new fort and settlement. The logs sawn here were not sawn completely through, but were left attached at one end. They were then roped together and rafted to Mackinac Island where the boards were split off to be used in construction.
His sawmill and dam were one of the earliest industrial enterprises in northern Michigan, and is now considered one of the oldest Industrial sites in the Midwest. The complex later included a grist mill, an orchard, a blacksmith shop, a warehouse and several homes. Michael Dousman purchased the site in 1819 and continued to operate the mill until 1839. By 1867 the building were gone and the site had fallen into disrepair. In 1975 the Mackinac Island State Park Commission acquired the site. It open its recreated working sawmill to the public in 1984. Since then it has continued its archaeological excavations into other buildings and will continue building them.
As you first enter the visitors' center you will find a fine exhibit on the plans for the mill and a little about the history of the men who had a hand in creating it. The center also had some hands-on exhibits for the young (or young-at-heart). After going through the visitors' center we went out into the buildings themselves. Right now they only have a couple of buildings, but they have plans on expanding it as the information and funds become available.
One of the things that amazed me is that they were able to find/train someone who could actually run the sawmill. It's hard to believe that in the 1700's they had the technology to build and run a sawmill of this size without benefit of electricity. Jim Grahm, very patiently demonstrated the operation of the sawmill, fielding questions from adults and children alike. It was really neat to stand there and watch the logs being cut by the harnessed energy of water. We found out from Jim that all the buildings on the site were built with logs sawed in their sawmill. After we left the mill we wandered over to the workshop next to it and I tried my hand on the foot-vise that they used for holding the boards while they cut and shaped them. It was a little uncomfortable and I could only imagine what it would have been to do this for hours at a time. Of course, in those days, females wouldn't have been allowed to do that anyway.
After going through all the buildings we walked on some of their extensive nature trails. It was a very pretty time of year. Flowers just starting to come out and an absence of the bugs that would surely be out later on in the summer.
As usual we enjoyed our trip back into time. If you visit Mackinaw City you can purchase a ticket that includes not only the Mill Creek but Fort Michilimackinac and Fort Mackinac as well. If you're interested in history, the full pass is certainly worth it.