2013-07-19 / News

Fort Holmes to Be Restored to Original Early 19th Century Form

By Samantha Radecki


This image of the 1936 Fort Holmes restoration of Fort Holmes is what Mackinac State Historic Parks hopes to reconstruct. This renovation is true to the fort’s original 1814 design and structure, designed by the British during the War of 1812 and completed by the Americans after the war. (Mackinac State Historic Parks photograph) This image of the 1936 Fort Holmes restoration of Fort Holmes is what Mackinac State Historic Parks hopes to reconstruct. This renovation is true to the fort’s original 1814 design and structure, designed by the British during the War of 1812 and completed by the Americans after the war. (Mackinac State Historic Parks photograph) The idea is to rebuild Fort Holmes, a defensive structure with its roots in the War of 1812, rebuilt several times and then left to deteriorate. Atop the highest point on Mackinac Island, it was first put up to protect the vulnerable north side of Fort Mackinac below, a fort to protect a fort. Now a crumbling hump of dirt and weeds, it protects not even the Island’s strongest visual element of the last great fight between Great Britton and the United States for control of the Northwest Territory.

During the bicentennial of the three-year-long War of 1812, the half-million-dollar reconstruction of Fort Holmes is a major new project for Mackinac Associates, the friends group supporting Mackinac State Historic Parks, which hopes to begin rebuilding in 2014, 200 years from its original construction.


Fort Holmes stands in ruins at the Island’s highest point, its earthworks eroding around oncesturdy gates. Mackinac State Historic Parks and Mackinac Associates are raising funds to restore the fort to its original form in observance of the War of 1812 bicentennial, during which time the fort was built. Fort Holmes stands in ruins at the Island’s highest point, its earthworks eroding around oncesturdy gates. Mackinac State Historic Parks and Mackinac Associates are raising funds to restore the fort to its original form in observance of the War of 1812 bicentennial, during which time the fort was built. “Let’s put a fort back at Fort Holmes,” reads the fundraising literature going out to prospective donors.

“It’s one of the great places on Mackinac and it has the best view and it’s an iconic place,” said Phil Porter, director of Mackinac State Historic Parks. “The idea is that the place is called Fort Holmes. It’s always been Fort Holmes and yet it doesn’t look like a fort anymore. Hence the idea, let’s put a fort back at Fort Holmes.”

With historical drawings of the original fort from the early 1900s, Mackinac State Historic Parks hopes contributions will allow it to begin building in 2014 and continue into 2015, which is when the War of 1812 ended.

The original fort was an earthwork in the shape of a horseshoe, protected by logs, a dry moat, and a two-story blockhouse in the center.

Mr. Porter said Fort Holmes was an outpost as a redoubt built by the British in 1814 to protect the backside of Fort Mackinac from invasion and capture. It was from this direction that the British captured Fort Mackinac at the beginning of the War of 1812. The British named the outpost Fort George, after the king, and when the Americans came back in 1815, they renamed it Fort Holmes after Major Andrew Hunter Holmes, who was killed when American troops tried to recapture the Island in 1814.

The American garrison at Fort

Mackinac used manned Fort Holmes as a sentry post to protect against British or Indian attack, but by 1819, little is known about its use and it was decommissioned by 1820 and some of its timbers salvaged for other purposes.

“It had a very short life,” Mr. Porter said, “but a very significant life as it was one of the few structures built in Michigan during the war of 1812.”

In 1895, when Mackinac State Historic Parks became a national park, an observation tower was constructed and used into the early 20th century. The tower decayed and was taken down during the Great Depression, Mr. Porter said. In 1934, the fort was rebuilt with a one-story blockhouse under the Works Projects Administration program and other improvements, including construction of a more accurate two-story blockhouse, were made in 1936. The blockhouse was taken down in the winter of 1968.

Mr. Porter said he is optimistic the funds will be raised and noted that the timing could not be better, because of the bicentennial of the war.

“Its 200th anniversary is very exciting,” Mr. Porter said of Fort Holmes. “It’s an opportunity to take advantage of this important bicentennial time perio,d and I’m not sure we’d have this much enthusiasm at another time. It all depends on when the funds come in. If the funds come in tomorrow, we’d probably have it finished in 2014, but I suspect it may take a while to get all the funds that we need.”

According to a Fort Holmes reconstruction cost study compiled by historical architect Richard Neumann, the project is estimated to be $500,000. About $200,000 of that would be used to reconstruct the earthworks, log encasement, and moat, and the remaining $300,000 would fund construction of the blockhouse and interpretive elements.

Mackinac Associates, meeting Friday, July 12, at Fort Mackinac, approved a fundraising letter to its 1,400 members and Mackinac Associates President Mark Mercer said the group is planning several fundraising events as well.

Restoring Fort Holmes will create an importing piece of history that can be used to educate both adults and children so they have a better understanding of what happened in the past and how it affects things today, Dr. Mercer said. “It just makes the . . . experience a lot more interactive if they can see an accurate representation of what was once there.”

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