What happened here?

On each of the 136 Great Lakes Basin (GLB) islands I visited, I found myself asking islanders variations on two simple questions:

  • What do you think is special about your island?
  • What would you want a visitor to be sure to see or experience while on your island? 

You’ll find the answers I got to those questions in my book, Great Lakes Island Escapes: Ferries and Bridges to Adventure. But may I suggest, you, too, might want to consider asking those questions when you visit your next Great Lakes Basin island.

And if the island you’re visiting has a historical museum–and there is no shortage of Great Lakes island historical museums and historic sites–you may want to ask a third question as well: What happened here in the past?

Below you’ll find a sampling of places where you can get some pretty exciting answers to that question. The history of the GLB islands is fascinating! Please note, this is the opinion of someone who could never (ever) have been considered a history buff. I found that, much like finally learning English grammar when I learned a foreign language, you can understand a tremendous amount of very interesting American history by following the history of the GLB islands.

Some may say I got carried away with including so many island museums (they’re in the order in which I visited them), but take a skim through and look at how wonderfully unique the 30 of them appear from the outside!  Wouldn’t you like to see the interiors?

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Grosse Ile’s Historical Society’s museum is housed in the old Michigan Central depot; the nearby U.S. Customs House is also owned by the Society. Grosse Ile (Michigan) is in the Detroit River.
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Ottawa City General Store Museum, established and run by Don and JoAnn Rhodes, provides a look at nineteenth-century Catawba Township. Catawba Island (Ohio) is (now) a peninsula in Lake Erie.
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The Cedar Spring Visitor Centre on Beausoleil Island is managed by Parks Canada’s Georgian Bay Islands National Park. Beausoleil Island (Ontario) is in Lake Huron.
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The Neilson Store Museum shares space with Weasel & Easel Gallery on Amherst Island, (Ontario) in Lake Ontario.
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The Jacobsen Museum, just one of a number of museums/historic sites on Washington Island including: Jackson Harbor Maritime Museum (housed in two former fishing sheds), Washington Island Farm Museum, Fisherman’s Cottage (Christianson House) and the Historic Island Dairy.  Also: Washington Island Art & Nature Center (in an old schoolhouse) and the Stavkirke Chapel (built in the 1990s, but patterned after a wooden stave church in Borgund, Norway from the 1100s), all on Washington Island (Wisconsin) in Lake Michigan.
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Two historic sites, Chester Thordarson’s Boathouse and Viking Hall (above) and the Pottawatomie (Rock Island) Lighthouse (a “live-in” museum) are managed the Friends of Rock Island State Park.  Rock Island (Wisconsin) is in Lake Michigan.
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Kelleys Island German Reformed Church is next to, and a part of, the Kelleys Island Historical Association Museum on Kelleys Island (Ohio) in Lake Erie.
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Beaver Island Historical Museum and Mormon Print Shop in St. James on Beaver Island (Michigan) in Lake Michigan.
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Bois Blanc Island Historical Society Museum on Bois Blanc Island (Michigan) in the Straits of Mackinac.
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Finn Hall (1926), a restoration project of Sugar Island Historical Preservation Society on Sugar Island (Michigan) in the St. Marys River.
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Allenton Farm and the Villa at River Lea historic site on Beaver Island (State Park) off Grand Island (New York) in the Niagara River.
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The Grand Island Visitor Contact Station at Williams Landing. Other historic sites on Grand Island (Michigan) in Lake Superior include the Stone Quarry Cottage, the Mather Lodge, and “The Brownies” (historic cottages).
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The Madeline Island Museum in La Pointe is managed by the Wisconsin Historical Society, and is made up of four historic log structures all containing historic artifacts–the American Fur Company building (1835), La Pointe Town Jail, Pioneer Barn, Old Sailor’s Home. Madeline Island (Wisconsin) is in Lake Superior.
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Lost Villages Museum in Ault Park in Long Sault, Ontario tells the story of the Long Sault Islands (Ontario) in the St. Lawrence River.
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The Lightkeepers’ House on Flowerpot Island (Ontario) in Lake Huron. The ground floor serves as a small museum.
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The Ojibwe Cultural Foundation on M’Chigeeng First Nation land is on Manitoulin Island (Ontario) in Lake Huron. Seven museums are on the island as well.
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Fort Mackinac on Mackinac Island (Michigan) in the Straits of Mackinac. (Photo courtesy of Lynn Tiessen)
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Dossin Great Lakes Museum on Belle Isle (Michigan) in the Detroit River.
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Pelee Island Heritage Centre in West Dock on Pelee Island (Ontario) in Lake Erie (Photo courtesy of Pelee Island Heritage Centre archives)
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Nindawaabjig, the Walpole Island Heritage Centre, in Bkejwanong Territory on Walpole Island in the St. Clair River.
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Harsens Island St. Clair Flats Historical Society Museum in San Souci on Harsens Island (Michigan) in the St. Clair River.
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The Old House Museum in Marysville on Wolfe Island (Ontario) in the St. Lawrence River.
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Thousand Island Park Museum is located on the ground floor, off the porch, of the Wellesley Hotel in Thousand Island Park on Wellesley Island (New York) in the St. Lawrence River.
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South Manitou Island Visitor Center, a part of the Sleeping Bear Dunes National Lakeshore, is on South Manitou Island (Michigan) in Lake Michigan.
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Les Cheneaux Historical Museum (2014 recipient of Winner the Superior Award from the Historical Society of Michigan) is in mainland Cedarville, en route to Les Cheneaux islands, an archipelago in Lake Huron.
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Drummond Island Historical Museum on Drummond Island (Michigan) in Lake Huron.
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St. Joseph Island Museum Complex, begun in 1963, includes over 7,000 artifacts in five buildings:  Zion United Church, the island’s original school from Sailor’s Encampment, a log cabin, a barn, and the Kentvale General Store, located on St. Joseph Island (Ontario) in Lake Huron.
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Lake Erie Islands Historical Society Museum on South Bass Island (Ohio) in Lake Erie.
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The Tom Ridge Environmental Center at Presque Isle State Park just before the causeway to Presque Isle (Erie, Pennsylvania) in Lake Erie.

Be sure to plan to visit one of these fun places on your next trip to a Great Lakes Basin island!

(Note: The featured image of this posting is the bell tower of the Washington Island Art & Nature Center, a former schoolhouse.)

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