Press "Enter" to skip to content

Fort Holmes

Reconstructed Fort Holmes ( From Garret Ellison |

Fort Holmes was a military fort on Mackinac Island in Lake Huron that was a major part of the defense of the island. The fort does not have a long history since it was built in the War of 1812, and then was closed in 1817. During the time it was active it controlled by the British then the Americans both of which used it to control the Straits of Mackinaw .

The fort was important because it helped to supplement the defense of Fort Mackinac which controlled the straits of Mackinac. It provided Fort Mackinac with protection from attack from on its right flank and from behind. It also has strong ties to Fort Mackinac so much that the detail that guarded the fort came from Fort Mackinac.

Fort Holmes was built by the British during the War of 1812 to defend Mackinac Island from the Americans after the British took the island over at the beginning of the war of 1812. After the war the United States enlarge the fort to be able to mount heavy cannons in the fort to protect Fort Mackinac and the harbor below. In the winter the soldiers of fort Mackinac would close the fort because the island was closed in by ice with the last time it was closed for winter was in 1817, not to be reopen again.

Fort Holmes and Mackinac from Round Island (From

As seen in the painting the fort is on the hill that is behind Fort Mackinac and surrounded by the forest making it a hard fort to reach if an invasion was to happen from the back backside of the island. It also protected the harbor, by way of controlling the bay, and the surrounding straights because of the increase elevation it has a greater range of view, then Fort Mackinac that is at a lower elevation and can only see in one direction because of the hill behind it.

The fort was built by the British in the summer of 1814 by the British garrison and the relief force, that came in preparation for an American assault that happen in July, it was also worked on by the locals that were drafted by the British. The Fort was original called by the British as Fort George in honor of King George the III. The only difficulty that the British had with the fort was that it was difficult to supply the fort with water.

The United States gain the fort in the treaty of Ghent thy renamed it Fort Holmes after the Major Andrew Holmes who was killed in the battle of Mackinac Island. The Americans after obtaining the fort worked on the improvements that the British started then worked on repairing the structure in 1816 and 1817. So the design of the American fort was identical to the British design. Some of the improvements made by the American’s was the placement of heavy mounted artillery because it could reach the bay and the channel between the island and the Round island, which is the next closest island. The cannons at Fort Holmes could not see or target the harbor.

The fort was seen to be superior to Fort Mackinac because of the ground work and the strength of the design but it could be easily starved out because the guns in the fort could not control all the island. The land surrounding the fort was bare to allow the defending garrison to open fire with musket and cannon fire at an attacking enemy.

The fort was a critical part in the defense of Mackinaw Island and the upper great lakes after the war of 1812. The fort was seen this way because of the British garrison at Drummond Island. The British if they were to attack would have to take Fort Mackinac and Fort Holmes to control the island, would attack from their north which fort Mackinaw could not see so Fort Holmes would be the key in the defense of the island if the attack came.

The fort was so seen as being stronger then Fort Mackinac that if war came again to the Upper Great Lakes that Fort Mackinac would be all but abandoned in favor of the more defend able fort Holmes. In 1815 if war was to come Captain Benjamin K. Pierce, the brother to future president Franklin Pierce, Artillery Company would gain control of the fort and make it ready to protect the island. There were plans to remake the fort out of brick and stone instead of the original wood, to make it one of the strongest small forts that was around.

The Fort had two types of guards the regular guard and the Piquet guard. The normal sentry guard detail of ten men that if there was station there to give warning for when of an attack to allow the soldiers in Fort Mackinac to prepare for an attack, but it was decreased when the piquet guard was put in to service. The sentry duty was augmented in the 1817 with the piquet guard detail of twenty men to help hold the fort if there was an attack and were in charge of the fort at night.

Fort Holmes was closed for five months out of the year because of the ice that closed the straits made it impossible to reach the island in force. Fort Holmes did not have their Artillery guns mounted all year round, they were stored for the winter when the fort would be closed down for the winter to protect the guns. It also did not have a barracks or a fire place in the block house so the guards could not be station there or be able to survive the winter. So despite the important that the fort had on the protection of the great lakes it was only open for seven months out of the year

The last time that the fort was closed for winter was in the 1817 to never open again. The fort was then fired upon from an artillery gun that was set up behind Fort Mackinac. The artillery gun took out the block house of Fort Holmes, showing how the fort was no longer able to do the duties that it was originally meant to hold. The fort was then dismantled and used for other buildings around Fort Mackinac. Then after the forts demise fort Mackinac declined in military importance because a further northern border.

In 1852 Lieutenant George G. Meade made observation towers on the spot of Fort Holmes  that would be used tourists. After accidents on the towers in 1908 they were removed.

Fort Mackinac and the land of Fort Holmes were still garrison by the United States army till 1895 with the many duties of the soldiers where to keep up the national park on the island. The Fort in 1895 then went from being Mackinac National park to a State park.

Fort Holmes blockhouse was then reconstructed back on its original spot in 1907. With the rebuilding of the block house some of the members of the state commission hoped for the rebuilding of the fort in light of the centennial of the war of 1812. In 1933 the rebuilt block house was burned down.

Then in 1934 the entire building was then rebuilt using the original plans. It was then not maintained and it started to become a danger. In 1960’s the fort was then dismantled do to safety concerns and the showing decay of the building.

The original fort was left to decay after the United States military removed all the artillery and equipment from the fort. It was later rebuilt in the 1930’s to help the local economy in the great depression, but that too was left to decay. There is now work on the Mackinac Island to rebuild the fort in honor of the bicentennial of the war of 1812.


Primary Sources

  1. Belton, Francis. 1817. N.p., 2015. Web. 21 Nov. 2015.
  2. McKenney, Thomas Loraine. Sketches Of A Tour To The Lakes, Of The Character And Customs Of The Chippeway Indians, And Of Incidents Connected With The Treaty Of Fond Du Lac. Barre, Mass.: Imprint Society, 1972. Print.
  3. Wood, Edwin Orin. Historic Mackinac. New York: Macmillan, 1918. Print.

Secondary Sources

  1. Dunnigan, Brian Leigh. Fort HolmesManoogian Collection. Mackinac Island State Park Commission, 1984.
  2.  Small Fort Plays Big Role in Mackinac History ,2015 [Online].
  3. R. G. Thwaites (1910). “Bulletin of the American Library Association,” Vol. 4, No. 3 , pp. 522-524
  4. University of Pennsylvania Press (1985). “Journal of the Early Republic,” Vol. 5, No. 2, Religion in the Early Republic, pp. 275-280
  5.  Grodzinski, J.R., ‘War of 1812′, 2011. [Online].