2007-02-10 / Top News

Island State Park Works To Repair Fort Mackinac Wall

By Karen Gould

This winter, Mackinac Island State Park crews performed some patch work on the 226-year-old limestone walls at Fort Mackinac. The focus of a 2001 major restoration project, the walls are prematurely deteriorating, say park staff. This winter, Mackinac Island State Park crews performed some patch work on the 226-year-old limestone walls at Fort Mackinac. The focus of a 2001 major restoration project, the walls are prematurely deteriorating, say park staff. The white limestone walls that protect Fort Mackinac have begun to deteriorate again. Built by British soldiers in 1780-81, the fort walls were restored five years ago for $4.1 million and are the oldest structure in the state.But the mortar is crumbling prematurely, and the Mackinac Island State Park Commission is concerned.

"This was a major project and it is very disheartening to see these problems emerge," said Commission Chairman Dennis Cawthorne at a commission meeting in Lansing January 10. "We want to nip them in the bud before the problem gets worse."

The two year project to restore the fort walls was completed in 2001.

"Now, just five years later, they're falling apart," said Director Phil Porter.

He and his staff have been meeting with The Christman Company of Lansing and Schiffer Mason Contractors, Inc. of Holt since Decembeer to to review their construction techniques and engineering. Each company has offered suggestions on repairs and how improvements can be made, and could provide resources to do so, said Mr. Porter. In the meantime, the park crew has done some patch work on the walls.

"We continue to negotiate with them that they have some ongoing responsibility to make sure this project is done right and we are satisfied with the wall," said Mr. Porter.

At the suggestion of Commissioner Frank Kelley, Mr. Porter said he would acquaint John Scherbarth, from the Michigan Attorney General's office, who attended the meeting, with the situation and keep him informed of future discussions with company representatives.

Mr. Kelley, a former attorney general, said communications with Mr. Scherbarth would be helpful in case the informal negotiations break down.

The wall was built on the south bluff of Mackinac Island 226 years ago by British soldiers, who sought protection against American troops during the American Revolution.

In 1999, a 72-foot section of the wall collapsed, although plans for restoration already had begun.

The two-year restoration was funded by the Michigan Legislature and received the 2002 Historical Restoration, Redesign and Renovation Construction and Design Award from the Engineering Society of Detroit and the 2002 Governor's Award from the Michigan Historic Preservation Network. In 2003, the project earned the Honor Award from the American Institute of Architects, Huron Valley Chapter, and the Historic Restoration Honor Award for masonry construction.

Restorers were able to reposition 90 percent of the original stones in the project, which included repointing the walls and, in some sections, rebuilding them. Work was also done on the drainage system to help protect the walls from future water damage.

Fort Mackinac contains 14 original buildings, including the oldest buildings in the state, and is listed on both the national and state registers of historic places.

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