Far up in the northern most tip of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, along a near pristine, rugged stretch of Lake Superior, stands a seemingly unlikely, yet well-preserved 1840’s military outpost. So where are we off to in this adventure? Fort Wilkins Historic Complex!
Don’t let the remote location deter you from adventuring here. This is a region well worth the discovery, and this historical site is a place well worth the adventure!
Welcome To Historic Fort Wilkins!
Fort Wilkins was built in 1844 to support the region’s booming copper mining industry. It’s goal – to keep the peace between the influx of miners and the region’s local Native American Indians. It’s mission – to oversee the copper shipping routes along Lake Superior.
Despite being garrisoned for only two short years, then again briefly shortly after the Civil War, Fort Wilkins left it’s mark on this still remote and rugged region of Upper Michigan.
Today, the fort remains as if frozen in time. Explore a well preserved 1840’s garrison, complete with officer’s quarters, enlisted barracks, even a small hospital. Wander through the garrison’s powder magazine, the guardhouse, and the quartermaster’s stores. Listen and learn what life was like here in remote 1840’s Upper Michigan.
History Comes Alive At Fort Wilkins
Step back in time with Fort Wilkin’s living history interpretations. Learn how tasks so simple to accomplish today, were much more challenging for the soldiers and their families who took up life here during the mid to late 1800’s.
Tasks like getting your daily drinking water from the nearby creek. It’s not so easy carrying buckets filled with water back to the kitchen, is it boys! A newfound appreciation for running water from a kitchen or bathroom tap was learned today.
Explore other aspects of daily life out here in the northern frontier. Tasks like doing laundry, or cooking a meal. An appreciation of the hardships of life in this rugged region then, as compared to today, is quick to be discerned.
Image life out here with minimal contact with the outside world. Now that’s a frightening thought for today’s teenagers – no phones, no emails, no wifi! Yes, life at this remote outpost could be quite harsh indeed! It was a very isolated life for Fort Wilkins’ residents.
Military Life at Historic Fort Wilkins
First and foremost, Fort Wilkins was a military outpost strategically placed to protect the interests of the region’s copper mining industry. That meant soldiers, and a military way of life ruled during the fort’s existence. From mid-June into August, Fort Wilkins visitors can look back in time, into the life of the soldiers who once called this isolated military outpost home.
Wander through the spartan barracks where the enlisted soldiers lived. Compare and contrast the lifestyles of the enlisted with the officers, who’s houses where dramatically different. Imagine living through the winter in either of these living quarters, in an area where 200 or more inches of snow blanketed the ground most winters.
Explore Sutler’s Store, where soldiers purchased supplies. See how meager their choices were. Step into the Quartermaster’s house. Who knows who you might run into here. Perhaps it’s the quartermaster himself, in search of new recruits. First lesson – how well can you handle your weapon? And no, it’s not loaded!
It wasn’t always easy living and working at Fort Wilkins. Winters were long and snowy. Life was mostly isolated, and often harsh. And sometimes bad behavior resulted in a night in the stockade! Don’t worry, we’ll come back for you tomorrow.
Step outside into the courtyard, right up to a cannon whose sole purpose was to protect the fort and it’s interests from threats. But what kinds of threats were there in this sparsely populated region that might need the protection offered by a cannon? I don’t think the Fort Wilkins cannons saw much action, do you?
Plan Your Day At Fort Wilkins State Park
Fort Wilkins Historic Complex is located within Fort Wilkins Historic State Park, just past the tiny town of Copper Harbor, near the end of U.S. Highway 41. The fort itself is free to enter, but there is an entrance fee for the state park.
The fort is open from late May through early October. Living history interpretations begin in mid-June and run into late August. Time permitting, extend your day with the boat ride to Copper Harbor Lighthouse, one of the first beacons built on Lake Superior, or take advantage of the state park’s hiking trails. It will be worth the day’s adventures into this remote area.
Exploring Fort Wilkins can be accomplished in several hours. It is an informative, fun day trip that should be included on any Keweenaw Peninsula road trip. Learn more about this historic site, and how to plan your own day trip to the fort and it’s surrounding areas.
- Fort Wilkins Historic State Park
- Fort Wilkins Natural History Association
- Fort Wilkins and Copper Harbor Lighthouse Visitor Information
Fort Wilkins Historic Complex is a “Cooperating Site” of the Keweenaw National Historical Park. Read more about our other adventure in this National Historical Park at Going Underground at Quincy Mine & Hoist.
Have You Been To The Keweenaw Peninsula?
Fort Wilkins was one day in an awesome, week-long road trip through Upper Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. So much fun, so much learned. And though our time here was well-spent, there is still so much more to see in this amazing slice of land way “up north” in Michigan. Stay tuned as I continue to expand upon our week in the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Have you been to Fort Wilkins, and the Keweenaw Peninsula? What did you enjoy most while there? Where else did you go? Do share!
Images by C.Biederman.