Fayette Historic State Park is located at the tip of the Garden Peninsula on the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Dipping into Lake Michigan, it is a place that blends the charm of history and the beauty of nature together. We are camping here for the busy Labor Day weekend. Revisiting Fayette gave us more time to appreciate it.
Once a bustling iron-smelting site of Jackson Iron Company, now Fayette is a ghost town with empty furnace complex, workshops and restored buildings. Fayette looked like “a little Chicago” with boats coming in and out of the Snail Shell Harbor. Cargoes of charcoal iron were shipped out, supplies, machinery, and bricks were shipped in. In its 24 years operation from 1867-1891, Fayette produced about 230,000 tons of iron. Operation was closed due to the decline in the charcoal iron market.
The old buildings in town are windows to the past. Touring the old buildings, we could imagine what life was like here in the 19th century. The east side of the town is the workshop area by the harbor. The beating heart of the town was the furnace complex. Once a place where workers sweated among the loud noise from the engines, the smell from the smelting, and the heat from the furnace, now only a pile of slag and junk left inside the Gothic arch shaped hearth. And a flock of pigeons made their home on the furnace stacks. Workers were paid at $1.60 per working day. The shutdown of the operation made this place a ghost town.
A reconstructed charcoal kiln sits by the furnace complex. It is a beehive shaped construction with a hole at the top. Went inside the kiln through the small opening at the front, I was once again awed at the pattern of the bricks illuminated by the natural light. More than 80 kilns were in operation at its heydays. There is a lime kiln right next to the limestone quarry at the nearby bluff. Lime was another product of Fayette.
Workers and their families lived by the shore. Lower class workers and families lived in small log cabins, and middle class workers and families lived in two story houses. Superintendents and their families lived in a 2,500 square feet two-story house on top of the hill overlooking the harbor and the town. The company store only has stone walls with windows left. Looking across the empty store, the square windows frame the view of the Dolomite Cliff. Other major buildings are the machine shop, the Town Hall, a hotel, and the doctor’s house.
Fayette was chosen as the location for iron smelting operation because of three natural features. The bay provided a site for shipping iron ore and other supplies, limestone on the cliffs was used as a flux in smelting, trees were burned into charcoal to fire the furnace. I am glad that the industrial operation didn’t exhaust the local natural resources. Today we are able to walk among the ancient forest of Northern White Cedar trees, appreciate the grandure of the sheer cliffs, enjoy the sight and sound of Lake Michigan and the bay.
One of our favorite trails was the trail along the shore from the campground to the historical town. Ancient northern white cedar trees line up the trail. Through the gap of the trees, we had a glimpse of Lake Michigan. The nice melody of the rushing waves rose from the foot of the cliffs. Then a gentle uphill Shore Trail in town walked us through the middle class houses and white cedar trees. Northern white cedar trees have multiple trunks at the ground level. Some white cedar trees grow on the limestone cliffs by the shore with their roots firmly grasping the stones. Don’t know how they could survive the poor living condition for such a long time. Northern white cedar is a relatively short-lived tree, but they seem to live longer on these limestone cliffs, a geologic formation that is termed as Niagara Escarpment. The oldest living cedar tree in the park is over 1,400 years old. The beach by the town is filled with pale square limestones and discarded slags. We sat on the bench enjoying the view of Lake Michigan. Monarch butterflies kept flying over us to the lake. There is no stop on the water. How could such a fragile little thing cross the Great Lake? Beyond the lake, monarch butterflies will cover thousands of miles to the distant Mexico. Bon voyage, little butterflies.
Another favorite trail is the Beach Trail. It is only minutes away from the campground. There is a narrow sandy beach and a designated swimming area without lifeguards. It was a nice place to watch sunsets above Lake Michigan. The sand glowed as gold in the sunset. I used a branch to draw some figures on the beach, and the waves washed them away in a minute. Last night’s sunset was the most brilliant with a red western sky. I rushed to the trail and saw the last colors of the sunset. The red sky highlighted the waves with cherry color. The glowing waves pushed one after another traveling towards the shore, and the front waves rolled into white waves touching down the shore in a roar. Good night, Fayette.