At the end of August, I had the pleasure of visiting the Victorian Era. No, not by means of time machine. I simply took a ferry across Lake Huron to Mackinac Island, near Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.
Mackinac Island gained renown in the late Victorian Era as a summer vacation resort for the wealthy. (Apparently having servants at your beck and call to perform all menial labor and change your fashionable ensembles multiple times a day was most exhausting.)
Thanks to an island-wide ban on automobiles, very little has changed on Mackinac. (The dangerous and raucous machines frightened the horses, you see. Rather impractical.)
This resulted in Mackinac Island turning into a time capsule. Horse and carriage is still the dominant form of transportation. Victorian architecture remains intact on store fronts and homes, preserved with reverence rather than modernized. And cell reception is…sparse. While time on Mackinac may not actually move backward, it certainly slows to a rhythm unfamiliar to us 21st century dwellers. Yet it’s a peaceful pace that is utterly refreshing. I highly recommend it as a MUST vacation spot for every amateur historian and 21st Century Victorian!
Since we can’t venture there today, let’s enjoy a brief cyber-tour of Mackinac Island: A Victorian Oasis!
The Island does have the modern addition of a Starbucks, lest the tourists perish from deprivation, but even this 21st century staple transforms under Mackinac’s Victorian influence. (From your morning brew, I actually recommend the local establishment one street back—Lucky Bean Coffee House. They have a fabulously foamy Earl Grey Latte called London Fog.)
Aside from Victorian aesthetic, Mackinac is famous for its fudge. Nearly every other shop on the island’s main street beckons with the delicious aroma of chocolate! After copious taste-testing, I recommend Joann’s Fudge. You can even have fudge shipped to your home or a loved one, for a reasonable price.
Along with being a Victorian oasis, Mackinac is also an equestrian paradise! Horse motifs are repeated in decor and architecture while noble steeds clip-clop across every street. My horse-whispering heroine Sophia would love it there!
Yes, the street honors those Astor’s—as in the famous Lady Astor of Old New York!
The Victorian Grand Hotel opened in 1887— Architect Alphonzo F. Howe and Contractor Charles W. Caskey. The Grand is the largest building on the island. Some of its 390 uniquely designed rooms were decorated by First Ladies, including Jacqueline Kennedy. To enjoy these luxurious accommodations prepare to pay lavishly—the rooms cost between $500 and $4,000 dollars a night!
There is a museum quality art galley within The Grand Hotel, which can be viewed by guests and non-guests alike. (NOTE: Non-guests must pay a $10 admission fee to enter the hotel.)
Visitors can enjoy afternoon tea—complete with attentive wait staff dressed in livery and live harp music—in The Grand Hotel’s lovely Victorian parlor. It is WELL WORTH the separate fee! (Afternoon tea for two costs around $60.)
Afternoon tea consists of a plate of savory sandwiches, a plate of desserts, a tea for one setting with unlimited refills, and a secondary beverage choice which can include cranberry juice or even champagne. Don’t let the mini-size food fool you, ’tis quite filling! And all delicious!
During the summer season, there are over 600 horses on the island. Since cars are banned on the island, this army of steeds is kept quite busy with everything from carriage tours to making deliveries for the USPS. The favored breeds on Mackinac Island are Percherons, Belgium Draft horses, and a few Clydesdales.
The second portion of the carriage tour—a must during a Mackinac visit—makes a stop at Arch Rock where you can enjoy the wonder of nature’s beauty.
The island offers many eating establishments at varying price points from affordable to oh-my-giddy-aunt-are-you-quite-serious?! Be sure to get an island tour manual at the Visitor’s Center, which includes a list of restaurants and helpful notations on menu costs. I highly recommend having lunch at The Carriage House. Not only is the food delicious, but the veranda tables offer a gorgeous view of Lake Huron! Totally worth the medium ($$) price range.
What intrigues you most about Mackinac Island—the horses, the Victorian architecture, the fudge? I’d love to hear from you in the comments below. And for those looking for an immediate visit to the Victorian Era, download an e-book copy of THE BEST MAN IN BROOKSIDE in The California Gold Rush Romance Collection, which features my horse-whispering heroine Sophia and a rather marvelous carousel.