2006-09-09 / Columnists

The Northern End of Mackinac Island Is A Little Different

A Look at History Mackinac Island
BY FRANK STRAUS

A Look at History
Mackinac Island

From "Mile 3" to "Mile 4" on Mackinac Island's Lake Shore Road is the northernmost tip of Mackinac Island. It is a one-mile stretch of lakeshore that stretches from Scott's Cave Road to Point aux Pins. Although it is visited by tens of thousands who ride bikes, rollerblades, drive-yourselfcarriages, and many other forms of non-motorized transportation around the Island, it is in some ways the most isolated section of Mackinac. No part of this slice of the Island is within three miles of downtown Main Street.

The "Mile 3" marker on the shore road stands close to the junction with Scott's Cave Road, or "Scott's Shore Road" as it is usually called nowadays. The road once carried travelers slightly inland to Scott's Cave, a Devil's Kitchen-like erosion cave at the base of the Mackinac Island bluff (which here stands about 600 feet from the water); but Scott's Cave no longer exists and has not existed since the 1950s. During the high Lake Huron levels of those years, storms damaged the shore road and eroded the bluffs, and a park superintendent

had the bluff that contained Scott's Cave dynamited for aggregate gravel rock. The gravel was used to repair the road and fill a small pond in which mosquitoes bred.

A 1920s postcard view of the east shoreline of Mackinac Island. (Photograph courtesy of Tom Pfeiffelmann) A 1920s postcard view of the east shoreline of Mackinac Island. (Photograph courtesy of Tom Pfeiffelmann) About a quarter of a mile north of Scott's Road is a small point in the shoreline, so subtle that many passers-by will miss it. This is the northeasternmost point of Mackinac Island and the point officially has a name. It is "Point St. Clair," named after General Arthur St. Clair, the first Governor of the Northwest Territory. When the American Army took over Fort Mackinac in 1796, Mackinac Island was part of this territory and so St. Clair was, officially at least, the first American governor of northern Michigan. It should be added that St. Clair himself was a weak governor who never got further north than Ohio. The problems of early American civil government played a key role in the ability of the British to recapture Mackinac Island in 1812; in many ways the Americans did not take over effective control of this area until after the War of 1812.

At Point St. Clair is a small lakeside cottage. When it was built in 1907, it was called "St. Croix," but it has since been renamed "Easterly," which makes sense; it is the easternmost of the four privately owned/leased patches of land that are on this shoreline.

Next comes Silver Birches, one of the most interesting developments on Mackinac Island. Mackinac Island hospitality infrastructure generally falls into the categories of a hotel, an inn, a bed and breakfast, or a condo complex; Silver Birches falls outside these categories

altogether. Built in 1906- 12, Silver Birches is a resort lodge, of the sort built in large numbers in upper New England and in the Adirondack Mountains of New York State; there is a satellite complex of resort lodges grouped around Cedarville and Hessel not far from here, in and around the Les Cheneaux Islands ("the Snows") on the eastern Upper Peninsula.

The exposed-log construction of the Silver Birches gabled resort is sometimes called the "Adirondack style." This style of outdoors building was popular among New Yorkers and other big-city businessmen in Teddy Roosevelt's time; Roosevelt, in fact, learned that he had become president while hiking in the Adirondacks, in 1901. The rustic style was seen as symbolizing a healthy, open-air life, free from pressures on the nervous system.

Fishermen often rented space in resort lodges, and many go to the Snows for this purpose to this day.

Commander E.M. Tellefson, the radio operator, operated Silver Birches for several years as a resort and, later, as a girls' summer camp. It was Moral Re- Armament (MRA) that built the little pier in front of Silver Birches for boating and fishing purposes. Although the dock was constructed of durable concrete and steel, the ice floes of wintertime have not been kind to it over the years. Tellefson liked to skip stones from this beach on calm days, and later became the founder of the Rabe International Stone Skipping Championship held to this day every summer at Windermere Park, Biddle's Point.

One of the Silver Birches cottages was moved over the ice to a point about 1,000 feet closer to Point aux Pins. This rustic 1912 structure was then covered with clapboards in line with Mackinac Island cottage tradition. Life at this end of the Island has many challenges. There are electric lines and telephones, but supplies must be hauled many miles from town by bike or wagon. Several of the houses along this stretch of road are not connected to the Island's water system. Fortunately the water of Lake Huron is very clean.

Commander Tellefson was also the owner for many years of the Point aux Pins complex, which is located on the Island's northernmost tip near the Shore Road's "Mile 4" marker. This complex was built about 1916 and is made up of some of the

last cottages built on Mackinac Island before World War I. When this war came, cottage-building ended on Mackinac for many decades. For many years, this complex was the home of the Tellefson family.

The complex is built of unpeeled logs. Point aux Pins, like Silver Birches, breaks from Mackinac Island's Victorian architectural traditions. Commander Tellefson broke the Island's rules in another way, also. Mechanically gifted, he operated the Island's marine wireless station for many years, earning a profit as a transmitter and receiver of messages to boats on the Great Lakes. He also independently invented the world's first motor vehicle camper, a converted Willys- Knight, which he built and used himself to drive to and from his embarkation point to Mackinac Island. The Willys chassis was very adaptable. Afew years later, the Army would requisition the company's Toledo factory to build the World War II Jeep.

Tellefson saw no reason why this useful vehicle should be made to obey the ban on Island motor vehicles. This end of Mackinac Island was the site, in 1939, of one of the most serious pushes of the last century to allow the car onto Mackinac. Residents on this side of the Island, as has been previously noted, are relatively isolated from the rest of Mackinac.

The state of Michigan was a participant in this push. The 1923 creation of the cross-Straits auto ferry service had been a

Residents on this side of the Island, as has been previously noted, are relatively isolated from the rest of Mackinac.

The state of Michigan was a participant in this push. The 1923 creation of the cross- Straits auto ferry service had been a great success, and as the 1920s continued and tourism by automobile exploded, the State bought more ferryboats

and expanded service. In 1928, with the goal of increasing visitation to Mackinac Island, the State built a small dock on park land between British Landing for the state ferryboats. Tourists were allowed to come to Mackinac Island with their cars, which they were supposed to park in a clearing next to the State Dock.

Commander Tellefson saw no reason why he should park his camper, and drove it around the northern end of the Island. The State Park knew it was there. The fight was nasty enough from the start, and would have gotten even more venomous if a significant number of automobile tourists had taken advantage of the State Dock car-park idea. The Crash of 1929 intervened. Public opinion, both on Mackinac Island and throughout Michigan, swung against breaking the motor-car ban. Tellefson had to park the historic camper in a Point aux Pins barn, where it remained for 40 years.

Visitors to this side of Mackinac Island are reminded to respect the privacy of those who own or lease the historic structures listed in this article.

Return to top