My adventures in the woods, streams, rivers, fields, and lakes of Michigan

My vacation in the UP, Fayette Historic State Park

When I left off this series, I was in the Porcupine Mountains, and running very low on energy. It was Thursday morning, and I was as far from home as I could be and still be in the State of Michigan, so I decided that it was time to turn for home. That would give me time to recharge a little, stop for some real food for the first time that week, and make a stop on Michigan’s Garden Peninsula, which is where Fayette Historic State Park is located.

I’ll start with a few facts and figures about the park from the Michigan DNR’s website.

Fayette Historic State Park houses a Historic Townsite, a representation of a once bustling industrial community. On the second Saturday of August the annual Heritage Day is held in Historic Fayette Townsite. The event celebrates the “hey-day” of Fayette as a bustling iron smelting company town. Activities for the day include period displays, food, and music. For more information contact the park.

Once a bustling industrial community that manufactured charcoal pig iron from 1867 to 1891, Fayette offers visitors the unmatched serenity of a Lake Michigan harbor, white cliffs and verdant forests. This well-preserved museum village features 20 structures including the furnace complex, charcoal kilns, machine shop, office, hotel, town hall, company store, superintendent’s house, and employees’ homes.

 A modern visitor center, museum exhibits and walking tours recall another time when Fayette was a noisy dirty company town with an immigrant population that shared daily hardships, joys and sorrows. Located in Fayette State Park, Fayette Historic Townsite is administered by the Michigan Historical Museum System in the Michigan Department of Natural Resources.

Located within the Historic Townsite is the Snail Shell Harbor. approximately 300 feet of lineal dock provides overnight or day use boating opportunities. The protected waters of Snail Shell Harbor are deep enough for larger pleasure crafts.
Scuba diving is allowed in Snail Shell Harbor during certain times of the day. A fee and use permit is required for this activity so all divers may participate. All submerged artifacts are to remain in place and nothing is to be removed from the harbor bottom.

I do enjoy history, so this was a must stop during this vacation, which was a scouting trip in a way for future vacations when I can spend more time in each area. I will definitely be returning to the Garden Peninsula for the birding, but more on that later, first up is the main attraction of Fayette Historic State Park, the iron smelting complex and the “ghost town” surrounding it.

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

In this next photo, the smelting complex is to the right, you can see the harbor and limestone cliffs in the middle, and then some of the town’s buildings to the left. This was an ideal place for an iron smelting operation, with a safe harbor for shipping ore to the smelting operation, and iron from it. The limestone was quarried to use in the smelting operation, and the forests surrounding the area were cut to be turned into charcoal for use in smelting the iron ore.

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Most of the interior displays were behind glass partitions, making photographing the displays almost impossible, but here’s two shots from inside one of the buildings that weren’t glassed off to give you an idea of what’s inside the buildings.

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

While walking through the wooded section of the park, I couldn’t help but notice hundreds of migrating birds in the trees overhead. The only lens I had with me was the 15-85 mm, so I couldn’t get a close up of any of the birds, but I shot this one to remind myself of having seen so many birds.

Unidentified warbler

Unidentified warbler

I thought that rather strange at first, since the Garden Peninsula is a peninsula after all, and I wondered if the birds had made a wrong turn in their migration. Then I remembered that there is a chain of islands extending from Michigan’s Garden Peninsula to Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula, so I began to form a theory that the birds were working their way south down the Garden Peninsula, then would “island hop” to Wisconsin. Later research confirmed that theory.

Fayette Historic State Park

Fayette Historic State Park

This cedar tree expressed how I was feeling.

Smiling cedar

Smiling cedar

The limestone cliffs at Fayette State Park

The limestone cliffs at Fayette State Park

The superintendent's house

The superintendent’s house

Inside the superintendent's house

Inside the superintendent’s house

Even though I had to shoot through a glass partition, I had to take this photo to show a little of the interior of the superintendent’s house.

Inside the superintendent's house

Inside the superintendent’s house

Then it was on to the smelting complex itself.

Furnace complex at Fayette State Park

Furnace complex at Fayette State Park

Informational sign

Informational sign

Informational sign

Informational sign

Inside the casting room

Inside the casting room

Inside the casting room

Inside the casting room

One of the furnaces

One of the furnaces

One of the furnaces

One of the furnaces

Charcoal kiln

Charcoal kiln

Charcoal kiln

Charcoal kiln

What it looked like in operation

What it looked like in operation

Informational sign

Informational sign

What it looked like in operation

What it looked like in operation

Oven

Oven

Informational sign

Informational sign

Informational sign

Informational sign

I’ve only scratched the surface here as far as what there is to see within this park. I wish that I could have posted more photos from inside the buildings, as that’s where you can get the best insight into how people lived, worked, and played back when Fayette was a bustling little town.

Other than just a paragraph about birding, I haven’t touched on the recreational opportunities that one can partake in while in the area. There’s camping within Fayette Historic State Park, along with a boat ramp for boating or fishing. There’s world-class fishing in Bay DeNoc for smallmouth bass, trout, and salmon. I’ve never kayaked Lake Michigan in that area, but I plan to in the future, as there are more limestone cliffs in the area that I would like to see, and there are several other nearby places to launch a kayak, other than the state park. There’s hiking and cross-country ski trails within the park, and nearby areas. But, I’ll have a little more about the Garden Peninsula in a future post. For right now, here’s a map of the area.

Map of the Garden Peninsula and island chain

Map of the Garden Peninsula and island chain

I selected the view in the map above to show how the Garden Peninsula ends in a chain of islands that extends south to Wisconsin’s Door Peninsula, which is where Green Bay, Wisconsin is located. Ships plying the Great Lakes and were bound for cities in the area, like Fayette when it was still active, Green Bay, Wisconsin, or Escanaba, Michigan have to navigate through the islands to make it to those ports. Many ships were lost in the area, and there are several museums and lighthouses in the area that serve as monuments to the ships and men who lost their lives in those shipwrecks. I didn’t have time on this trip to explore any of them.

That about winds this one up. I fell in love with the Garden Peninsula while I was there, and where Fayette Historic State Park is located. I feel as if this post is extremely lacking, as I only had time to do a quick tour of the historic buildings, but very little else in the park.

I also stopped in Fairport that evening for more birding, there’s a township park on Sac Bay with a few trails that I strolled, seeing eagles and hundreds of migrating birds along the shores of Lake Michigan.

I spent the night at the Portage Bay State Forest Campground, which is on the other side of the Garden Peninsula, across from Fayette State Park. Some of the photos from there have already been posted in previous posts that I’ve done on my vacation to the UP.

So, I suppose this is as good of a place as any to end this one.

Here are links to the previous posts I’ve done on my vacation to Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.

My vacation in the UP, the highlights

My vacation in the UP, Sunrise, sunset

My vacation in the UP, the bridges

My vacation in the UP, Tahquamenon Falls State Park

My vacation in the UP, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by land

My vacation in the UP, Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore by boat

My vacation in the UP, the Keewanaw Peninsula

My vacation in the UP, Porcupine Mountains

That’s it for this one, thanks for stopping by!

16 responses

  1. “Once a bustling industrial community”

    Unfortunately with the export of American jobs and the overseas relocating of our industrial base this description fits far too many of America’s cities. Enjoyed the photo essay as nothing compares in Miami, Florida.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:30 pm

    • Thanks Carl!

      October 19, 2013 at 4:19 pm

  2. Nice post! Brings back fond memories! I was there years ago, try 1972, on a bicycle trip around Michigan. Really enjoyed it. Looks like they’ve made some improvements since then.

    October 19, 2013 at 12:55 pm

    • Thanks, they are making many improvements. The state has partnered with a historical society in operating the park, which saves the state money, and results in the place being better taken care of.

      October 19, 2013 at 4:22 pm

  3. That’s an interesting place. Somewhere nearby there must be huge piles of slag, unless they dumped in the lake. That peninsula must have been just about tree free at some point in the past too, since they were making so much charcoal. I’d love to visit there if I ever make it to Michigan.

    October 19, 2013 at 3:29 pm

    • Thanks Allen, you’d love it if you were to visit, but you’d probably not want to live there.

      I think that some of the slag was used to fill the old quarry, and some used to line the beach to prevent erosion, but I’m guessing. The Garden Peninsula has more farm land than most of the UP, so you’re right about the trees being mostly gone.

      October 19, 2013 at 4:25 pm

  4. Sad to see industry go but it must have been pretty hellish there when it was operating.

    October 19, 2013 at 4:16 pm

    • Thanks, I think that you’re right. I wouldn’t want to have worked there, or the mines where they dug the ore, or any other part of that industry, at least not when it was done as it was then.

      October 19, 2013 at 4:27 pm

  5. You’ve made me ashamed that I’ve never visited/camped in Fayette. Thanks for the nudge to put it on the schedule for 2014. Your blog always rocks.

    October 19, 2013 at 7:41 pm

    • Thanks! How do you think I feel, this was my first visit to Fayette. It’s really amazing how many great places that there are right here in Michigan. We may not have every type of scenery, but a person can spend a lifetime here and still never see all there is to see.

      October 19, 2013 at 7:45 pm

  6. What an excellent park! I’m a big history fan!

    This reminds me of southeastern Ohio and the charcoal blast furnaces constructed in the woods to smelt iron in the 19th century.

    October 19, 2013 at 8:43 pm

    • The people of Michigan thank you! This would be very similar to the blast furnaces in Ohio, but I believe that they used coal rather than wood, didn’t they?

      October 19, 2013 at 9:02 pm

      • I think they used both, but coal became a bigger factor as time moved along. There are still state forests and preserves with names like Vinton Furnace that harken back to the smelting that went on there.

        October 21, 2013 at 9:36 pm

  7. What a super cool place to explore. There is nothing more fun than discovering history. Great post.

    October 28, 2013 at 8:48 pm

    • Thank you Emily, I thought you’d like it. I wish that they didn’t glass off the interiors though.

      October 29, 2013 at 2:08 am

  8. Pingback: Garden Peninsula birding | Quiet Solo Pursuits