Fort Wilkins Historic State Park
|Fort Wilkins Historic State Park|
Flagpole in front of Lake Fanny Hooe at Fort Wilkins
Keweenaw County, Michigan
|Nearest city||Copper Harbor, Michigan|
|Area||1.09 mi² (2.83 km²)|
|Governing body||Michigan Department of Natural Resources|
|Location||Fort Wilkins State Park|
|NRHP reference #||70000279|
|Added to NRHP||July 8, 1970|
Fort Wilkins Historic State Park is a historical park operated by the U.S. state of Michigan at Copper Harbor, Michigan. It was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, and is a "Cooperating Site" of the Keweenaw National Historical Park.
Copper Harbor is located at the northern tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, bordering Lake Superior. It is one of the best natural harbors in Keweenaw County and was a quick focus of attention after copper was discovered on the peninsula in the 1830s.
In the early 1840s, a copper rush took place, with fortune-seekers moving from all directions to the peninsula. The U.S. government was concerned about possible disorder and violence, and lake shipping interests asked the government to build an aid to navigation so that essential supplies could be shipped in and the copper moved out.
The U.S. Army occupied Fort Wilkins, located east of Copper Harbor, Michigan on the strait of land between Copper Harbor and northern shore of Lake Fanny Hooe, in 1844. The troops stationed there were intended to help with local law enforcement and to keep the peace between miners and the local Ojibwas; some Chippewa opposed the Treaty of La Pointe that had ceded the area to the United States in 1842-1843.
However, the fort proved to be unnecessary. The Chippewa largely accepted the influx, and the miners were law-abiding. The Army built 27 structures, including a guardhouse, powder magazine, 7 officer's quarters, two barracks, two mess halls, hospital, storehouse, sutler's store, quartermaster's store, bakery, blacksmith's shop, carpenter's shop, icehouse, four quarters for married enlisted men, stables, and a slaughter house, to house the operations of two full-strength infantry companies. Several of these structures still survive. Others have been rebuilt following archaeological excavations.
When it was first garrisoned in 1844, two companies (A and B of the 5th infantry) were stationed there. When war was declared with Mexico, the soldiers were needed elsewhere. Companies A and B were sent to Texas and were replaced by Company K. The next year Company K was also sent to Mexico, and in 1846 the fort was temporarily abandoned, leaving behind a single caretaker, a Sergeant William Wright.
While the passing of Wright in 1855, the fort was subsequently rented by a Dr. Livermore, who hoped to open a health resort for people to come and take the bracing lake air. This plan fell through after his death in 1861. Dr. Livermore's tombstone and that of his daughter can still be found in the Copper Harbor Cemetery.
After the American Civil War, the U.S. army reoccupied Fort Wilkins for three years in 1867-1870. The U.S. Army needed a place for men to serve out the rest of their enlistments from the war. Company E was stationed there from 1867 until May 1869, when they were replaced by Company K First Infantry. The army permanently abandoned the facility at the end of August 1870.
In 1848, the Copper Harbor Lighthouse complex was begun on the tip of the eastern point of land, also sometimes called Hays Point, that sits at the entrance of the harbor. In 1923, the fort and adjacent lighthouse became a Michigan state park.
The historic portion of Fort Wilkins and nearby lighthouse are operated as a unit of the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and Environment's Park and Recreation Division as the immediately adjacent state park.
As of 2010[update], the facility is open to the public in summer months. For ten weeks each summer (June–August) the fort is staffed with costumed personnel; they are historical interpreters portraying Army life during the fort's final summer as an active post.