While we were visiting all the Mackinac stuff, we stayed at Straits State Park in St Ignace, Michigan. Because of the proximity of the park to the town, we spent two days doing the Historic Walking Tour of St Ignace.
The town of St Ignace only has 2,500 year-round residents, but the population swells in the summer. Lots of people stay in St Ignace overnight for day trips to Mackinac Island. The ferry docks are the busiest place in town, which makes for lovely, uncrowded rambles through the historic downtown area.
The first day we spent in St Ignace we drove to town. Although it was only a mile, we were doing laundry, so we needed the Shaw truck to haul our stuff. There is one laundromat in St Ignace, The Captain’s Quarters, and it is as quirky and fun as the town. When you first enter the laundromat, it looks really small. But then you realize that there is another room, and another room, and another room connected to it. We found washing machines in all sizes with reasonable rates. It never takes long to do the laundry in a laundromat because you can do all the loads at once. We washed and knit and talked and the time flew by.
When our laundry was finished, we took a walk along the riverfront boardwalk. The boardwalk isn’t in great shape and there were several places where it was under construction. One sign said it was under construction for the next 25 miles. This was especially humorous because we could see the end of town less than a mile away. It may be a mile, but it felt like 25 to someone.
The second day we wanted to get some exercise, so we hiked from Straits State Park. It was about a mile into town, and then we spent some time exploring the parts of town we had not seen the previous day. We ended up walking close to five miles all together, but it didn’t feel like that much because it was so interesting.
St. Ignace’s history dates back to 1671 when French Jesuit priests founded the St Ignace Mission. The area was previously inhabited by the Wyandot, Ojibwe and Ottawa tribes of Native Americans. St Ignace soon became the center of fur trading with the French. It was incorporated as a village in 1882 and a city in 1883. The Mackinac Bands of Chippewa and Ottawa Indians is headquartered at St Ignace, and the city continues to have a high population of Native Americans.
St Ignace calls itself the “Gateway to the Upper Peninsula.” The downtown area has a lot of traffic with people passing through. St Ignace also hosts lots of festivals and special events in an effort to get folks to stop for a while. The weekend we left town, they were hosting the Richard Crane Memorial Truck Show with hundreds of new and historical semi-trucks coming into town.
As we continued our walk of historic St Ignace, we read lots of waysides about the history of the area. We saw one about the Griffon, the first ship to sail the Great Lakes and also the first shipwreck on the Great Lakes. The Griffon came to St. Ignace in 1679 and disappeared somewhere between St Ignace and Green Bay. No sign has ever been found of the ship.
Native Americans and New French Voyageurs were the primary travelers in the area before the 1800’s. Commercial fishing picked up in the area after 1800 along with logging and ship building. After the Civil War, tourism became a prominent source of revenue for St Ignace.
We walked past the Historic Fort de Baude Museum (closed since the beginning of the pandemic) and saw several of the historic churches in town. Bentley’s Café is a historic soda fountain and ice cream parlor that is still a favorite place to eat today. It has the original counters, stools, and booths. The Colonial House was built in the 1840’s and is a Bed and Breakfast today.
Behind the main street in town, we found St. Anthony’s Rock. The limestone formation juts into the air and is pretty impressive. St. Anthony’s Rock is made of Mackinac breccia, which is an aggregate formed 350 million years ago.
Along with the historic sites, we also spent time going into some of the shops along the main street. I already told you about Murdick’s Fudge, but there were other fudge shops, candy stores, and ice cream places. We stopped in at a “Made in Michigan” store and looked at some of the t-shirts and sweatshirts for sale. On our way back to the campground, we stopped in a smoked fish store and picked up a few items at the grocery store.
We loved our time in St Ignace and were glad we had time to explore it at our leisure. It is a wonderful little town that we would be glad to visit again.