In appearance, Northeast Michigan  has come nearly full circle in 200 years. Its first inhabitants were Native Americans, who left the land much as they found it, until the Europeans arrived in the 17th century. By the mid-1800s, logging companies that had exhausted the nation’s eastern forests had moved on to Michigan’s fertile ground, making it the largest lumber-producing state in the country between 1850 and 1910, with an estimated 700 logging camps and more than 2,000 mills.
Before the rush of settlers to Michigan in the 1830s, more than 13 million of the state’s 37 million acres were covered with white pine. These majestic trees thrived in sandy soil, grew up to 200 feet tall, and could live an incredible 500 years. By 1900, however, all that was left of these once awe-inspiring forests were stumps. Logging had devastated the terrain, leaving behind a wasteland.
In 1909, the federal government established the Huron National Forest , the first of many such preserves that sought to repair years of damage. A century later, much of this region is once again forested, and it’s possible to hike for miles through towering, whispering pines. While the impenetrable white pine forests that once characterized this part of the state are a thing of the past, one 49-acre stand of old-growth white pine remains, a glimpse of the grandeur that once blanketed this landscape.
Mackinac Island , of course, has its own unique history. The Ojibwa and Ottawa peoples called it Michilimackinac, which some scholars claim means “The Great Turtle,” an apt description for this hump of limestone. The Indians summered here, hunting, fishing, and trading some of their catch for grains and produce from other tribes.
French missionaries were the first Europeans to settle in the area, erecting a mission in nearby St. Ignace  in 1671. The French were also the first whites to exploit the rich fur harvest, establishing a trading post in St. Ignace in the late 1600s. In 1715, they erected Fort Michilimackinac  in Mackinaw City . The British, meanwhile, were also eager to expand their territory. They regularly skirmished with the French, and Fort Michilimackinac traded hands more than once—that is, until the 1763 Treaty of Paris gave all French land east of the Mississippi to Great Britain.
Upstart colonists became the new enemy. In 1780, the British commander abandoned Fort Michilimackinac in favor of Mackinac Island, where the high limestone bluffs offered better protection from attack. Though American troops never came, they won the fort anyway, gaining title to the northern territory after the American Revolution. Still, the British refused to turn over the fort until 1796.
During the War of 1812, British troops landed at the northern end of the island in early morning darkness, dragged a couple of cannons up the bluff and aimed them at Fort Mackinac  below. The surprised Americans surrendered without firing a single shot. The British once again controlled Fort Mackinac until 1814, when the Treaty of Ghent passed the land back to the United States once and for all.
In 1817, John Jacob Astor set up the American Fur Company here, bartering with the Indians for beaver pelts and storing them in warehouses on the island. Until overhunting decimated the fur industry and commercial fishing became the area’s mainstay, Astor ranked as the richest man in the United States.
By the second half of the 19th century, Mackinac Island  had evolved from a battleground to a gracious getaway. Wealthy Midwesterners, who had heard about the island’s lovely waters and clean air, began arriving by lake steamer to summer here. Hotels sprang up, soon followed by private homes along the bluffs—30-room Victorian “cottages,” complete with carriage houses, stables, and servants’ quarters.
To minimize its potentially destructive impact, the automobile was banned from Mackinac Island as quickly as it arrived. Today, roughly 600 horses are stabled on the island in summer, used for hauling freight, pulling carriages, and private recreation. The horses, carts, carriages, bicycle fleets, and well-preserved Victorians all blend to give Mackinac the magical, frozen-in-time feel that has turned it into one of the most popular vacation spots in the Midwest.