2018-08-24 / Columnists

A Look at History

Time Creates Vanishing Roads and Trails on Mackinac Island

Reese Road

My mother had a question. “Whatever happened to Reese Road?” she asked. We both remembered the north-south road in Mackinac Island’s interior. Until 1964, it had been the main pathway from Mackinac Island’s main street, harbor, and hotels to the Crack-in-the- Island and adjacent Cave of the Woods. Starting in the 1930s, the woods way became even busier as the road to the Island’s small grass airstrip. When Mackinac Island expanded the airstrip into an airport, however, authorities built a security fence around the runway and taxiway. After the fence was built, the once-busy road came to a dead end. The right-of-way was still marked on some maps published in 2018, but trees had grown up and down its length. What was once its busy intersection with Annex Road had almost completely disappeared.

Reese Road had once been in heavy use by us Americans. Our horses, bikes, and feet trampled down its once-French name. On the 1915 Morgan Wright map, the road is named as “Résé Road.” Monsignor Frank O’Brien, the friend of Edwin O. Wood and bestower of many of the names marked on the once-definitive map, named the road after the Rt. Rev. Frederick Résé. Résé had, in 1833, been appointed the pioneering Bishop of the new Catholic Diocese of Detroit. His fundraising work in Europe had played a major effort in enabling and solidifying the missionary presence of that Church in the Upper Great Lakes, at a time when it was facing major and well-financed competition from Protestant leaders such as Mackinac Island’s William and Amanda Ferry. However, when we Americans see acute accents many of us get a little dull, and “Résé” at some point got Englished into “Reese.”

Note a line of light from the treetops showing the pathway of the vanished road. Note a line of light from the treetops showing the pathway of the vanished road. The pathway to the Crack-in-the- Island was used heavily for half a century as “Reese Road.” Not even a peanut-butter cup wrapper can be found on its overgrown right-of-way now, though. For some years after 1965 a faint trail wound through the hardwoods of upper Mackinac Island to show where it had once run, but by 2018 even that was gone.

It is easier to cut down trees and build a road or trail than it is to pull one into disuse. Many readers know of the new routes and cuts that have been built on the Island in our lifetimes. A shorter – but still significant – list can be made of the pathways that have reverted back to forest, or are blocked or are no longer in use for some other reason. In some cases, these losses have knocked a chunk out of our Island’s memory by withdrawing from common use a name that ought to be remembered. In the late 1800s, the Early family were leading residents of Mackinac. Brothers John and Peter Early divided large chunks of the Dousman farm, the land that makes up the northern quarter of Mackinac Island, between them. Their active farming and apple-growing led to deep memories on Peter’s land at Wawashkamo Golf Links and elsewhere on Mackinac Island, with some of the stones pulled out of Peter’s thin soil going to build golf hazards. Builder Frank Rounds used other Early farm fieldstones to raise the Little Stone Church in 1904.

In the 1920s, the state acquired the Early farms and added them to Mackinac Island State Park. The State Park made part of the new acquisition accessible, and memorialized the Early brothers and their families, by cutting and naming the Early Trail. The new trail was a public pathway that spanned much of John Early’s farm and connected British Landing Road with Scott’s Cave Road and Tranquil Bluff Trail. The trail ran along the northeastern segment of the British defensive line of the Battle of Mackinac Island August 4, 1814. However, the need of the Island for more landfill space during the tourist boom of the 1960s forced the permanent closure of the historic trail. Authorities then built the current Island solid waste handling facility on top of this section of the landfill. No trace of the former Early Trail is known to exist today.

Other trails have disappeared because their rights-of-way are now being used for new, publicly accessible purposes. The semicircular Moss Trail once beat the boundaries of the former “Private Claim No. 2,” the historic name for the parcel of land north and west of the airport that has been redeveloped as Sunset Forest. Thousands of people continue to follow the route of what was once Moss Trail today, but they are players of golf on the 14th, 15th, and 16th holes of what is now Grand Hotel’s “Woods Nine” golf course. Similarly, part of the length of what was once Norton Trail on west Mackinac Island was developed into “Pine Cove Lane” in Stonebrook North.

Still other trails still exist but have been truncated. Gratiot Trail, named after Col. Charles Gratiot (chief engineer of the American expeditionary force in 1814), was once a shortcut from Harrisonville’s Hoban Road to State Road and Wawashkamo. Like “Reese Road,” Gratiot Trail’s original right-of-way was cut off by the airport security fence. A fragment of the old trail goes down the hill from Annex Road and then swerves eastward to join British Landing Road in a thicket of wild raspberries. The Harrisonville half of Medicine Man Trail has also been officially cut off; this reduces trespassing into the Amelia Lane housing complex in the northwest corner of the Village.

Many of this column’s readers may know of other vanished roads and trails of Mackinac Island.

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