Mackinaw Island - Not a One Horse Town

Watch Your Step on Mackinaw Island

Colorful horse-drawn carriages wait to take visitors to the many points of interest on Mackinaw Island Michigan. Note that even the state troopers ride bicycles on this island where no autos are permitted. 

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Route Map of the Pere Marquette Railway for Michigan's Summer Resorts 1913

Map Taken From the Last Page of

Michigan summer resorts: including the Michigan east coast resorts: a guide to the summering places in the lake and river region of the state of Michigan.

Pere Marquette Railroad. Passenger Dept. (1913). Michigan summer resorts: including the Michigan east coast resorts: a guide to the summering places in the lake and river region of the state of Michigan. 1913 ed. Detroit, Mich.: Passenger Dept., Pere Marquette Railroad.

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Massasauga Rattlesnake, Michigan's Venomous Rattler

Snakes Need Better Public Relations

Massasauga rattlesnake- From Michigan Department of Natural Resources

They have been vilified since the earliest of Bible tales, and their overall reputation hasn’t improved markedly since.

But there are plenty of people who have more respect for snakes – especially those species not well-regarded.

In fact, Michigan has become an important laboratory for the study and preservation of one of them, the eastern massasauga rattlesnake, the only venomous viper that inhabits the state.

Massasauga rattlesnakes were listed as a federally threatened species under the Endangered Species Act in 2016 and are thereby protected animals.

The massasauga rattlesnake is Michigan's only venomous snake. By rattlesnake standards, massasauga rattlers are small, averaging about 2 feet long as adults, reaching a maximum of about 30 inches.
From Michigan Department of Natural Resources

The term “massasauga” means “great river mouth” in the Ojibwe language and was likely given to these snakes because of the places the pit vipers are found.

They inhabit wetlands and feed upon small mammals such as mice and voles, frogs, and other snakes. They are ambush predators, remaining motionless and striking when they detect prey through heat, sound, motion or odor. They inject venom that destroys tissue and incapacitates the prey.

Eastern massasaugas range from southern Ontario to Missouri and from central New York to eastern Iowa. There are a couple of subspecies found in the American southwest and into Mexico.

“Massasaugas are rare in Michigan, though more common than in most other parts of their range,” said Tom Goniea, a fisheries biologist and herptile expert with the Michigan Department of Natural Resources. “There are records of their existence in every county of the Lower Peninsula.

“They’ve never been found on the mainland of the Upper Peninsula, though they have been found on Bois Blanc Island, which is in Mackinac County,” Goniea said. “Like all reptiles and amphibians, they were once more widespread and numerous throughout the state than they are today.”

Habitat destruction and persecution have led to their decline.

“They’re really rare; very few people will ever encounter these animals in the wild,” Goniea said. “They’re pretty docile,Tom Goniea, a fisheries biologist and herptile expert with the Michigan DNR, holds a massasauga rattlesnake with a snake stick. not a particularly aggressive animal. In my 14 years as herptile specialist with the DNR Fisheries Division, I’ve averaged being notified of less than one bite a year.”

Rattlesnake bites, while rare in Michigan, can and do occur. Many bites are the result of people handling them, though people walking through tall grass in rattlesnake habitat near and around wetlands without adequate footwear or long pants could potentially be bitten.

Snakebites are less likely to occur when following some basic safety precautions. Anyone who has been bitten should seek immediate medical attention.

“They can only strike about one-third to one-half their body length, which for a typical Michigan rattlesnake is 8 to 15 inches, so a person has to get really close to be in any danger,” Goniea said. “They are not going to lunge out and bite you from several feet away.”

There are no records of fatalities in Michigan since the post-World War II era that Goniea knows about.

Other Snakes Often Misidentified as Massasaugas

“Probably 95 percent of the calls we get from people who are sure they have a massasauga are verified with pictures as something else,” Goniea said.

Much of the focus of massasauga rattlesnake study in Michigan is at the Edward Lowe Foundation property in Cass County, where a viable population of the creatures inhabits the wetlands.

From Michigan Department of Natural Resources
Mike McCuistion, vice president of physical resources at the foundation in Cass County, said staffers have found dead rattlesnakes on the roads of the property over the years, and because “conservation is part of the foundation’s charter,” the foundation decided to investigate them.

The foundation engaged a student studying reptiles to survey the area. He found one.

Later, a graduate student's research involved studying how fire – such as controlled burns – impacted the snakes. He used the Lowe property as his control (non-burned) area, and he found a number of the rattlesnakes.

That information allowed the foundation to conduct controlled burns without affecting the snakes.

Massasauga rattlesnakes are found in wetland areas in Michigan.“We know where the snakes are and we know where the hibernacula (hibernation locations) are,” McCuistion said. “We can burn when the snakes are hibernating.”

The presence of the rattlesnakes inspired the foundation to get involved with the snake’s Species Survival Plan. The plan, largely a function of zoos and aquariums, is sort of an insurance policy for species – should they ever disappear.

Zoos that have massasauga rattlesnakes have been selectively breeding them for genetic diversity. These zoos would have a population of the snakes available.

The Lowe foundation agreed to host the annual meeting of the Species Survival Plan nine years ago in exchange for team’s cooperation in surveying the grounds annually for the snakes.

“The nice thing about this population is that it’s centrally located in massasauga range,” McCuistion said.

Over the course of the last seven years, the surveyors have identified more than 800 individual massasaugas on the property, with a stable population of about 150 adults.

Specimens are collected, aged, sexed, measured, weighed and photographed. Adults are implanted with PIT (passive integrated transponder) tags and all are returned to where they were found. The tags identify the snakes individually.

Endangered Massasauga Being Bred in Zoos

Penny Felski, herptile manager at the Buffalo Zoo and a member of the Special Survival Plan team, has been on every survey at the Lowe property since they started.

“The Buffalo Zoo has been working with this species since the 1960s, but our first successful breeding was in 2012,” Felski said. “It took a while to figure out the husbandry.”The massasauga rattlesnake is Michigan's only poisonous snake

Essentially, when potential mates are selected, the snakes are introduced in the fall and kept together until breeding has been witnessed. Young are born live the next summer. The female at the Buffalo Zoo has produced 13 offspring over the years. All are now at other zoos.

Eric Hileman, who recently earned his doctorate degree from Northern Illinois University for his work on eastern massasaugas and is now a quantitative biologist at Trent University in Ontario, said roughly 70 percent of adult massasaugas survive annually, but only 38 percent of newborns (neonates) survive their first year.

“I think freezing over the winter is the big problem,” Hileman said. “They don’t know how to do it.”

Unlike many other rattlesnakes, massasaugas hibernate alone, often using crayfish burrows for hibernacula.

Hileman said massasaugas have been known to live up to 20 years in captivity, which is up to 30 percent longer than they live in the wild.

For more information on the threatened status of the massasauga or for frequently asked questions about the listing, please visit the US Fish and Wildlife Service massasauga information page.

To report sightings and learn more about the massasauga, please visit the Michigan DNR page on the species at Eastern massasauga.

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US Life Saving Stations in Michigan

Disaster on the Great Lakes Prompts Creation of the Life-Saving Service

By the mid-1800s, during the beginning of Michigan's lumbering era and intense growth and settlement of the Upper Great Lakes the shipping industry was facing disaster. Over 4,500 vessels foundered, 1,300 people dies, and tens of millions in monetary damages occurred on the Great Lakes. These astounding losses prompted Congress to authorize legislation putting the United States Life-Saving Service (USLSS) into operation on the Great Lakes in 1854.

The service replaced the previously all-volunteer life saving stations were converted to house paid crews.

The Life-Saving Service was merged into the United States Coast Guard in 1915.

United States Life-Saving Service (USLSS)
Tenth District
Lake Huron

Sand Beach/ Harbor Beach, 1881

US Life Saving Station Harbor Beach

Pointe aux Barques, 1876

US Life Saving Station Pointe Aux Barques

Grindstone City/Pointe Aux Barques/Port Austin, 1881

US Life Saving Station Pointe Aux Barques
Courtesy Library of Congress

Ottawa Point, 1876

US Life Saving Station Ottawa Point

Sturgeon Point, 1876

US Life Saving Station Sturgeon Point

Thunder Bay Island, 1876

Thunder Bay Light House 1913
Courtesy US Coast Guard

Alpena/ Middle Island, 1881

US Life Saving Station Alpena/ Middle Island

Hammond's Bay (formerly Forty-Mile Point), 1876.
Bois Blanc, 1891.

Lake Superior

Vermillion Point, 1876

Crisps Point, 1876

Crisp Point Lighthouse, Lake Superior, Luce County, Michigan
Courtesy US Coast Guard

Two-Heart River, 1876.
Muskellunge Lake,1876.

Marquette, 1891

Marquette Harbor Lighthouse
Courtesy US Coast Guard

Ship Canal, Mich., near mouth of Portage, 1884.

Mackinac Island Station House, 1915

Mackinac Island Lifesaving Station House

United States Life-Saving Service (USLSS)
Eleventh District 
Lake Michigan

Beaver Island, 1876

Beaver Island Light and Station
Courtesy US Coast Guard

North Manitou Island, 1876

US Life Saving Station North Manitou Island

Point Betsey, 1876.
Frankfort, 1887.
Manistee, 1879.

Grand Pointe au Sable, 1876

Ludington, 1879

US Life Saving Station Ludington

Pentwater, 1887

US Life Saving Station Pentwater

White River, 1887

US Life Saving Station White River

Muskegon, 1879

US Life Saving Station Muskegon

Grand Haven, 1876

US Life Saving Station Grand Haven Event

US Life Saving Station Grand Haven

Holland, 1886.
South Haven, 1887.

St. Joseph, 1876

Sleeping Bear Point, 1901

Pigeon Michigan Amusement Parlor c1900

Amusement Parlor - Pigeon Michigan
This picture of a street scene in Pigeon, Michigan is thought to be taken right around 1900. The amusement parlor or penny arcade was popular in the 1890s through early 1900s. These storefront shops were stocked with slot machines, phonographs, muscle testing machines, guess your weight scales and fortune telling card depensors. The clientele was typically men and these storefront amusements were very popular. 

The most popular attraction was kinetoscope, a moving picture peep show that some called penny vaudeville. By the time this picture was taken, it's likely that the owner was also showing moving picture shows for five cents a sitting. The typical amusement parlor or dance hall would wall off a back room and set up benches, a screen and projector. One reel shows could be shown for a nickel. These small initial theatres sprung up like weeds in large cities and small towns as they were inexpensive to set up and run.

Despite our best attempts we don't know too much about this amusement parlor. Maybe someone has some background. We will go out further on a limb and make a guess that the old amusement parlor was on the same location as Thumb Cellular. I'm sure someone will chime in if that is not the case.

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