CMPL presentation focuses on Mackinac summer cottages

By: Alex Szwarc | Macomb Township Chronicle | Published May 25, 2021

 A couple of weeks before Memorial Day, the Clinton-Macomb Public Library hosted Mackinac Island’s Historic Summer Cottages, a presentation by Phil Porter. He spoke about the history and architecture of the island’s summer cottages.

A couple of weeks before Memorial Day, the Clinton-Macomb Public Library hosted Mackinac Island’s Historic Summer Cottages, a presentation by Phil Porter. He spoke about the history and architecture of the island’s summer cottages.

Photo by Alex Szwarc

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MACOMB TOWNSHIP — The unofficial start to summer is nearly here.

For some, that means taking a trip up north, to the area where Michigan’s lower and upper peninsulas meet.

A couple of weeks before Memorial Day, the Clinton-Macomb Public Library hosted a presentation by Phil Porter, director emeritus of Mackinac State Historic Parks, about Mackinac Island’s historic summer cottages.

Porter spoke about the history and architecture of the island’s summer cottages. He’s written a few books on the island’s history, including “View from the Veranda: The History and Architecture of the Summer Cottages of Mackinac Island.”  

CMPL North Branch librarian Phil Skeltis said Porter began working at Fort Mackinac as a 19-year-old tour guide, working his way up to director and chief executive officer.

“During his tenure as director, Phil was very instrumental in completing many major projects, including the reopening of Old Mackinac Point Lighthouse, the reconstruction of Fort Holmes, the creation of the Straits of Mackinac Shipwreck Museum at the lighthouse and the installation of the Mackinac Island Native American Museum at the Middle House,” Skeltis said.

For the longest time, Porter said the horizon of Mackinac Island has been dominated by the stonewalls of Fort Mackinac, the Grand Hotel porch and the cottages that overlook the Straits of Mackinac.

“These cottages are a very important part of the island’s rich history and fascinating architectural heritage,” Porter said. “These cottage communities developed as a direct result of the island’s immense popularity as a late 19th century resort.”

After the Civil War, he said there was an astonishing growth in resort communities across the country, led by a desire to escape.

“If you had money in the Midwest, people would leave places like Chicago, Cleveland, Fort Wayne and Milwaukee, and found their summer homes in the upper Great Lakes,” he shared. “And of all the places they came, none was quite as special as Mackinac Island.”  

Porter mentioned that Mackinac has always been a summer place, being very quiet in the winter.  

“Last winter, the population was about 500; this summer, we expect about 800,000 visitors to come,” he said.

Due to the island’s rapid rate of popularity, in the 1870s, the federal government decided to preserve Mackinac for the ages, creating Mackinac National Park. About 80% of the island is included in what is now known as Mackinac State Park.

Some resort hotels first on the island included the Mission House Island House and Lakeview House.

“The history of Mackinac Island really changed in 1887, when a new hotel was built — the Grand Hotel,” Porter said. “It was built by three transportation companies and by contractor Charles Caskey.”

After the hotel opened, Porter said it led to more people wanting luxurious summer cottages on the island, with a great demand for property.

“We see the homes are large and very palatial,” Porter said. “The hotel transformed Mackinac from being a summer place to being the most fashionable place in the upper Great Lakes.”

Two areas were set aside for cottages — one called the west bluff, next to the Grand Hotel, and the other called the east bluff, looking over the town.

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