Detroit may be the “Motor City,” but Mackinac Island, Michigan is the motorless city. Banned by the village council in 1808, automobiles are nowhere to be seen on the island that lies at the boundary of Lake Huron and Lake Michigan. Instead, the less than 11,000 locals get around on horseback, horse drawn carriages, or bicycles.
Everything on Mackinac (pronounced “Mackinaw”) is done utilizing horse power—literally! Trash pick-up? By horse power. USPS and UPS? Horse power! Don’t believe me? This is how your packages get delivered, even to the Grand Hotel:
And, this is the garbage “truck”:
There are 650 horses on the island; however, all but ten horses (including the one pulling the only winter taxi) are transported to the mainland by boat to be kept in heated stables for the winter. Most are draft horses weighing in around 2,000 pounds and able to haul three times their body weight. The largest carriages hold 35 people and are pulled by 3 horses.
Only 500 of the residents are full time; the others are seasonal, working in the tourist trade that developed following the civil war, or enjoying their summer homes.
For those hearty full-timers, there is one school for kindergarten thru 12th grade with an annual attendance of 60-80 students. The senior class has anywhere from 2-10 graduates each year.
There is one word that first comes to mind to describe Mackinac Island: charming. It’s like stepping back in time while strolling the downtown streets filled with horse-drawn carriages and bicycles, lined with beautiful Victorian-era buildings and colorful lilac-filled gardens; and, a lack of cars or motor noise—just the clip-clop sound of horse hooves. And, there is not a chain-hotel to be found, just cozy B&B’s, attractive locally owned resorts, and the famous Grand Hotel.
What you will find a lot of in Mackinac Island are fudge shops! Bruce and I counted twelve of them on the 4-block Main Street alone! In 1889, Henry Murdick opened the island’s first “Candy Kitchen,” and by the 1920’s, fudge was THE souvenir to bring home. By the 1960’s competition among the fudge makers resulted in a “fudge wars,” and now Mackinac is world-famous for its fudge. According to the Mackinac Island tourist bureau, downtown shops make 10,000 pounds of fudge each day during the season!
It’s competitive alright. Ryba’s has four(!) shops within four blocks, Murdick’s and Joann’s each have two, and then if that’s not enough, there is May’s, Murrays, Sander’s, and Kilwin’s. Yes, a couple of them—Murdick’s and Joann’s—got my business, as if there wasn’t enough great chocolate on the ship! As they say, “When in Rome…” It sure was tasty!
Our day on Mackinac began with an included horse carriage tour of the gorgeous, lush island, our nation’s second national park (after Yellowstone). A two-horse carriage took us around town and up the hill past the Grand Hotel. We were then transferred to a larger three-horse carriage to tour the steeper trails of the park and visit Fort Mackinac.
Rather than ride the carriage back to the Grand Hotel, we opted to walk and enjoy the breathtaking views of the Grand Hotel’s golf course along the nearly vacant path (except for the occasional horse carriage). Lilac shrubs and trees were growing everywhere, and they were in full bloom. We felt like we were walking through the pages of Better Homes & Gardens magazine. It was so lovely and peaceful!
The Grand Hotel is indeed grand, especially its 660-foot front porch, the longest in the world. Known as the filming location for the movie, Somewhere in Time (Christopher Reeve and Jane Seymour, 1981), the hotel was also visited by five U.S. presidents, Thomas Edison, and Mark Twain. Built in just 93 days, the hotel opened in 1887 and was named to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972. In 1989, it became a National Historic Landmark.
After taking the self-guided tour of the massive hotel, we shared some delicious Mackinac ice cream from Sadie’s while rocking in two of the 100 rocking chairs that line the front porch. Sadie’s Ice Cream Parlor was named after the Scottish Terrier that won Best in Show at the 2010 Westminster Kennel Club All Breed Dog Show. The pooch is owned by the owner of the hotel and her ribbons, trophies, and memorabilia are featured in one of the hotel’s galleries.
The short walk back into town was so pleasant that it was a shock when we returned to Main Street, crowded with the summer tourists that came over on the ferry for the day. It felt so commercial and touristy that we were relieved when the ferries loaded up to return the tourists back to the mainland.
Following our dinner aboard ship and the last ferry departure, it was just me, Bruce, a few other passengers from the ship, and a handful of locals strolling the quiet Main Street after dinner aboard ship. Ocean Navigator didn’t sail until the next morning, so it was nice to be able to go back into town and have it almost to ourselves!