When a local author tells you to point your car south to experience a fascinating chapter of regional history, you listen. Especially when they’re in your back seat. And so we arrived at Fayette Historic State Park, near the tip of Garden Peninsula, with an idea we’d be introduced to something very interesting.
We’d already made the requisite pilgrimage to Kitch-iti-kipi, Michigan’s Big Spring, located in Palms Book State Park. There isn’t a lot to the park, but what you’ll see is spectacular.
Kitch-iti-kipi is 200 feet across, 45 feet deep, 45 degrees Fahrenheit year round, and amazingly clear. The spring basin is formed by numerous bubblers and vents at the bottom.
While you can peer into it from the edges, a hand-cranked raft on a permanent cable lets you float over it and peer down to the bottom through a center opening in the raft, like a glass bottomed boat with no bottom. Accordingly, people drop things through it, like the glasses and iPhone the ranger pointed out among the trout resting below.
Purchased in 1926 from Palms Book Land Company, the spring basin was cleaned up and improved by the Civilian Conservation Corps, who also built the original raft. While a ranger guided it across on our visit, much of the time you simply do it yourself.
When Kath also suggested Fayette Historic State Park, we had plenty of time to continue on down to it. This historic village is down near the tip of the Garden Peninsula that arcs into Lake Michigan west of Manistique, perhaps 30 minutes from Kitch-iti-kipi.
We expected a ghost town – that is, ruins. When similar towns in Florida tapped out a resource, they crumbled. But this ghost town is a well-preserved record of a late 1800s industrial town along the Great Lakes.
Iron was smelted along the scenic shoreline of Snail Shell Harbor, a spot of breathtaking beauty with ancient cedars clinging to its cliffs. From the setting, it’s hard to believe that such an industry was the primary purpose of this compact coastal community.
A blast furnace dominates the waterfront, along with the pilings of the old docks beneath the clear shimmering water. Starting after the Civil War in 1867, residents manufactured charcoal pig iron.
They lived in grand homes, in humble cottages, and in simple cabins. There was a market, a butcher, a barber, and blacksmith.
A hotel dominated the middle of town. It offered a two-story outhouse, something we’re still puzzled about as to how that worked.
Limestone was quarried from the cliffs to use in the kilns. The charcoal kilns looked like giant brick volcanoes.
The smelting operation shuttered in 1891, once the market for pig iron took a dive. While the hotel remained for a couple of decades, most residents left to seek new employment.
Obtained in 1959 by Michigan DNR from a land swap with Mead Paper Company, the town and its many structures – some restored, some very rough, and others having only foundations remaining – became a state park. More than twenty buildings are well preserved and interpreted. The site has been on the National Register of Historic Places since 1970.
What did we learn by visiting two Michigan State Parks in one day? Plenty. It certainly helped to have Kath guiding us to Fayette, as we would not have guessed how detailed and interesting it was otherwise. Another great tip? Buy a parks pass. At $32 for a non resident pass, it will serve us well in the rest of our travels in Michigan.