2015-07-25 / News

1812 Commissioners Tour Reconstruction Work at Fort Holmes

Nearly Finished, Fort Site Will Be Open in August
By Stephanie Fortino


Approaching the fort, War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission member Dennis Moore of the Canadian Consulate (right), who worked on Mackinac Island as a carriage driver in the 1970s, chats with driver Beth Hughey of Mackinac Island Carriage Tours (left) during a special trip to the Fort Holmes reconstruction, which is seen beyond the carriage in the distance. Approaching the fort, War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission member Dennis Moore of the Canadian Consulate (right), who worked on Mackinac Island as a carriage driver in the 1970s, chats with driver Beth Hughey of Mackinac Island Carriage Tours (left) during a special trip to the Fort Holmes reconstruction, which is seen beyond the carriage in the distance. Marking the end of their assignment to organize Michigan events on the 200th anniversary of the War of 1812, members of a specially appointed commission were treated to a tour of the Fort Holmes reconstruction Saturday, July 18. They had just held their last meeting, at the Post Hospital at Fort Mackinac. Mackinac State Historic Parks Director Phil Porter chairs the Michigan Commission on the Commemoration of the Bicentennial of the War of 1812, and he led the group’s private tour Saturday morning as the project nears completion.

A formal dedication of Fort Holmes is planned for Sunday, August 16, at 2 p.m.


Above: Interpretive displays will soon be installed inside the reconstructed blockhouse at Fort Holmes. Members of the state War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission were treated to a tour of the facility as it neared completion Saturday, July 18. Pictured listening to Phil Porter explain the project (foreground, second from right) are (from left) Brian Dunnigan, Jim McConnell, Jim Spurr, Russ Magnaghi, Ralph Naveaux, and Dennis Moore. In the background, the sun shines through the narrow rectangular rifle slits. Above: Interpretive displays will soon be installed inside the reconstructed blockhouse at Fort Holmes. Members of the state War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission were treated to a tour of the facility as it neared completion Saturday, July 18. Pictured listening to Phil Porter explain the project (foreground, second from right) are (from left) Brian Dunnigan, Jim McConnell, Jim Spurr, Russ Magnaghi, Ralph Naveaux, and Dennis Moore. In the background, the sun shines through the narrow rectangular rifle slits. Originally constructed in 1814 by the British, who named it Fort George in honor of King George III, Fort Holmes peacefully passed to American rule in 1815. It was then renamed, honoring American Major Andrew Holmes, who died during the 1814 Battle of Mackinac Island. The War of 1812 involved the United States and the United Kingdom and saw battles for territory along the American and Canadian border, involving the armed forces of those nations supported by Indian soldiers. The fort was used for a few years after the War of 1812, but eventually fell into disrepair. This is the fourth reconstruction of the fort by the Mackinac Island State Park Commission, which oversees Mackinac State Historic Parks.


The horseshoe-shaped earth and log works surrounding the Fort Holmes reconstruction is finished. The interior elevated sentry beat is shown Saturday morning, July 18, as members of the Michigan War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission were treated to a tour. After the fort is dedicated Sunday, August 16, the facility will be open to the public, and visitors will be able to climb the walkway and imagine what it could have been like to be a soldier defending the highest ground on Mackinac Island in the 1800s. To the right is the newly reconstructed Fort Holmes blockhouse. The horseshoe-shaped earth and log works surrounding the Fort Holmes reconstruction is finished. The interior elevated sentry beat is shown Saturday morning, July 18, as members of the Michigan War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission were treated to a tour. After the fort is dedicated Sunday, August 16, the facility will be open to the public, and visitors will be able to climb the walkway and imagine what it could have been like to be a soldier defending the highest ground on Mackinac Island in the 1800s. To the right is the newly reconstructed Fort Holmes blockhouse. On the ascent of Fort Holmes Road, the trees thin to a clearing, and the nearly finished reconstruction of the blockhouse, earth and log works, and dry moat sit perched atop the highest point on Mackinac Island. The bare ground surrounding the structure awaits grass seed that will be laid soon. Since Saturday, a temporary barricade that blocks the front gate has been replaced with large, wooden doors that will be opened to welcome visitors.


The Fort Holmes reconstruction is nearly finished and a dedication ceremony is planned for Sunday, August 16. The earth and log works are shown surrounding the blockhouse Saturday, July 18, a bridge leading from the front gate crosses a dry moat, and a pile of crushed limestone waits to be spread on the paths to the right. After this picture was taken, the wooden doors of the front gate were installed earlier this week. The Fort Holmes reconstruction is nearly finished and a dedication ceremony is planned for Sunday, August 16. The earth and log works are shown surrounding the blockhouse Saturday, July 18, a bridge leading from the front gate crosses a dry moat, and a pile of crushed limestone waits to be spread on the paths to the right. After this picture was taken, the wooden doors of the front gate were installed earlier this week. The earthworks, protected by logs, encircle the blockhouse in a horseshoe shape. Inside is an elevated sentry beat, 4.5 feet off the ground, to allow observation over the wall and from which soldiers could fire on intruders. From here, visitors will see the old rifle range trail that leads to Fort Mackinac below. Only a portion of the walkway will be accessible to visitors, however, because present-day building safety codes require such elevated platforms to be enclosed by a fence. A compromise reserves much of the sentry beat for historic appearance.


Members of the Michigan War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission stand before the reconstructed Fort Holmes blockhouse Saturday morning, July 18. The group held their last meeting earlier that day at Fort Mackinac before taking a look inside Fort Holmes, which is nearly finished. Pictured are (from left) Jim Spurr of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, Dennis Moore of the Canadian Consulate, Brian Dunnigan of the William L. Clements Library, Phil Porter of Mackinac State Historic Parks, history professor Russ Magnaghi of Northern Michigan University, Jim McConnell of the Michigan Council for History Education, state representative Bill LaVoy of Monroe, and Ralph Naveaux of the Monroe County War of 1812 Bicentennial Committee. Members of the Michigan War of 1812 Bicentennial Commission stand before the reconstructed Fort Holmes blockhouse Saturday morning, July 18. The group held their last meeting earlier that day at Fort Mackinac before taking a look inside Fort Holmes, which is nearly finished. Pictured are (from left) Jim Spurr of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, Dennis Moore of the Canadian Consulate, Brian Dunnigan of the William L. Clements Library, Phil Porter of Mackinac State Historic Parks, history professor Russ Magnaghi of Northern Michigan University, Jim McConnell of the Michigan Council for History Education, state representative Bill LaVoy of Monroe, and Ralph Naveaux of the Monroe County War of 1812 Bicentennial Committee. When looking over the fort’s walls Saturday afternoon, commissioners were greeted by a thick veil of fog hanging low in the air, obscuring much of the modern landscape and strengthening the historic impression.

From the front gate, a walkway leads to the wooden blockhouse made of large hewn logs and beams. It can hold about 40 people and will be available for special events and tours.

Narrow gun slits used for defense of the blockhouse will be closed off with tempered glass to protect the interior from rain and snow. Displays interpreting the history and significance of Fort Holmes will be added.

The second floor of the blockhouse will be closed to the public. By not installing a staircase to the upper floor, Mr. Porter said, the lower floor will have more room.

The blockhouse will be closed to the public until the August 16 dedication. The blockhouse will be locked each evening, but the front gate at Fort Holmes will stay open for now.

The last blockhouse to be reconstructed at the site was damaged by vandalism and burned down by the park commission in the 1960s. Fort Holmes has already been vandalized this summer when someone cut down the flag that flew above the blockhouse. If such vandalism continues or if people ride bicycles or horses inside the fort walls, the front gate will be locked at night.

“The staff is watching to see if vandalism occurs,” Mr. Porter said. “We just spent half a million dollars reconstructing it. We can’t have people vandalizing it.”

Once the fort is dedicated, the public will be able to visit free. It will not be staffed.

There is no electricity or running water there, but an outhouse will soon be built nearby.

Among the commissioners is Island resident and historian Brian Dunnigan, associate director and curator of maps at William L. Clements Library, University of Michigan, who wrote the history of Fort Holmes for the Mackinac Island State Park Commission. Other attendees included history professor Russ Magnaghi of Northern Michigan University, Jim McConnell of the Michigan Council for History Education, Dennis Moore of the Canadian Consulate, Ralph Naveaux of the Monroe County War of 1812 Bicentennial Committee, Jim Spurr of the Great Lakes Shipwreck Historical Society, and state Representative Bill LaVoy of Monroe.

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