By Christina VanGinkel
Located in Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula on the Big Bay de Noc, lies the remains of what was once a town founded by the Jackson Iron Company. The location of the town was chosen for numerous reasons, including the many natural resources, the hardwoods that were thick and abundant; the perfect harbor that could not have been designed as well as nature did on her own, and the plentiful limestone, all items that would prove to be useful to a company wanting to smelt iron. The town survived from 1867 until the very early 1890’s when the hustle of the town came to a close.
Jump into the future, and the town is now a bustling state park. With many of the building restored, it offers up a rare glimpse into a time not that long past, but one that seems a millennium away from the computer and electronic age we live in today. Living just a few hours away, across the state line into Wisconsin, but growing up in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, I had heard stories of this ghost town throughout my childhood and into my adulthood. One day, when my youngest son was about ten, he heard about this town from a project that he did in school on the harbors and cities of northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan. When he came home with some pamphlets that a teacher had passed out to his class, I took it as a sign that together, we would visit this town. I pinned the pamphlet up on our bulletin board, and a few weeks later when summer was in full swing, we decided to play hooky.
We packed a lunch after talking to my sister who had been to the town on several occasions, and planned to have dinner later in the day in Escanaba Michigan, about an hour away from our hometown. We started out early in the day, and arrived, not sure, if we were in the right place. It is important to note, and they have even posted a warning about this on the official website that represents this park, that there are no gas stations on the peninsula leading down to the park itself, so be sure to gas up before you turn off the main highway. The entry from that point on in is a bit bland looking, similar to the many other rural roads in any one of a hundred towns across the US, but soon you will be driving through a stand of large trees, and into a parking lot, which adjoins the gift shop and visitor center. There is a fee to pay to enter the park, but it is minimal and well worth it. A note of interest, there is a large, well-maintained campground within the park, but set away from the actual town, for those wanting to camp and explore the park over a couple of days. The campground is operated by the state, so call ahead for information about fees, regulations, and reservations. The port is also open for visits by boats. The day we visited there were several mid and larger sized boats moored up at the docks. Swimming is also allowed, depending on the weather.
After parking and taking a walk through the visitor center, we headed into town. You can walk through the old Fayette Hotel, also known as the Shelton House, visit a schoolroom where you can see some of the very items used to teach children who lived in this once bustling town. The remains of the old general store still stand, as do the giant ovens used for the smelting of the iron. Walking further into the town, we wound our way around the bay and soon found ourselves approaching what we learned were several private residences and the doctors place. The opera house that towns folk went to for entertainment still stands, as do several other buildings of interest. We were taken by the fact that this town has been left scattered as it was, that the buildings have not been raised and moved closer together to make it an easy walk around. You walk the same paths that the townspeople who lived here did.
If you want to visit a town that is truly a page out of history, be sure to put Fayette Michigan on your itinerary, as you will not be disappointed.