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History Carved in Wood

Scattered around Mackinaw City are several wooden sculptures carved by local resident Jerry Prior, each depicting a person of historical importance in town. Prior started wood sculpting in 1989, shortly after he retired from the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT), where he worked as a road designer. His sculptures, which are part of the Mackinac City Historical Pathway, include:

Chief Wawatam 

Chief Wawatam, an Ojibway Indian living in the Straits of Mackinac, befriended the British fur trader Alexander Henry as a brother. During the Indian attack on Fort Michilimackinac in 1763, Wawatam protected his friend and cared for him as a member of his only family. At one point, Wawatam hid Henry in an ancient limestone cave on Mackinac Island. After spending a night in the dark and damp cave, Henry work with horror to discover that he had slept on a bed of human bones. Skull Cave, as it is known today, is one of Mackinac Island’s popular historic sites.

Chief Wawatam has long been revered for his bravery and fidelity in protecting his English brother Henry. As faithful as its namesake, the coal-powered railroad ferry Chief Wawatam plied the waters of the Straits of Mackinac carrying rail cars between Michigan’s two peninsulas for more than seventy years. This statue Wawatam was carved by local craftsman Jerry Prior from a one-hundred-year-old piece of local white pine. Once again, Chief Wawatam proudly stands on the shores of the Straits of Mackinac.

Find this sculpture in Wawatam Park. Wawatam Park was also partially constructed with Coastal Zone Management Funds. The Village of Mackinaw City has transformed the water tower and sanitary sewer lift station site into a very appealing waterside park. The park provides views of Mackinac Island, the marina, and the Bridge. The park provides picnic facilities and a playground for children

Alexander Henry

In 1871, Alexander Henry from New Jersey was one of the first English traders to venture into the interior of Michigan and came here to fort Michilimackinac.

Each summer, thousands of Indians led by their chiefs came to receive presents from the King. They also brought furs, corn, and game to trade with the local traders, for blankets, clothing, powder, shot, rum, and trinkets. The Indians, essential to the fur trade, could be dangerous.

In 1763, the local Chippewa Indians surprised and captured the fort. The leader of the attack, Chief Matchekewis, lived during the summer in the village of Cheboygan, sixteen miles to the southeast of here.

Trader Henry lived within the stockade and his story is the only detailed report of the massacre which he wrote later in 1809 after returning to England.

In the course of dreams and visions, it was revealed to Chief Wawatam, a local Indian chief, that later in life he would adopt a white man as perhaps a son, friend or brother. Wawatam though that, through his guiding spirit, Henry was that person. Henry did live part of the time with Wawatam and his family.

Just before the attack broke out, Chief Wawatam told Henry to go back to Sault Ste. Marie, but Henry couldn’t understand what Wawatam wanted him to do so he ended up staying at the fort and living through the attack with the help of Wawatam.

About a week after the attack, the Indians, about 350 men, women and children decided to cross over to Mackinac Island. Wawatam and his family, in which Henry was included, also moved to the island. While there the Indians acquired some rum that they had taken from the traders and began to drink. Fearing Henry’s safety, Wawatam led him out of camp by night to the interior of the Island to a place called Skull Cave. Henry stayed there until Wawatam brought him back to camp.

That winter, Henry accompanied Wawatam and his family to the vicinity of the city of Ludington where he hunted and trapped with Wawatam and his sons. In the spring, they returned back to Fort Michilimackinac. All was not well yet; a band of Indians arrived from the Saginaw Bay area and upon learning of Henry’s presence, proposed to kill him. To escape such a fate, Wawatam took Henry to the Les Cheneaux Islands northeast of St. Ignace. From there, Wawatam would send Henry to Sault Ste. Marie for his safety.

Alexander Henry later went to England and wrote about his experiences here in the Straits area. Born in New Jersey in 1739, he lived 85 years. Chief Wawatam continued to live here in the Straits area until his death on Mackinac Island; the date is unknown.

Find this sculpture in Alexander Henry Park. Located at the northern end of Henry St. this park provides the best view of the Mackinac Bridge and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. This facility is linked to the State Historic Park sites by a gorgeous 1,800-foot waterfront walkway. The Park is filled with interpretive displays, landscaping, picnic accommodations, and restrooms.

British Major Arent Schuyler DePeyster

The fur trade frontier was rough and its activities went far beyond the Great Lakes. Pelts gathered from the Great Lakes frontier were linked to the outside world. The European lust for furs put a big demand on the fur market in  this region.

Fort Michilimackinac, at the junction of lakes Michigan and Huron, was the crossroads of this empire for nearly a century. This area needed a true and honest diplomat to keep the Indians and the fur traders at peace.

The man whose conduct was most befitting such a position was a true son of the British empire, born in New York City in 1736 of Dutch descent. In 1751 at the age of 16, he was sent to London to further his education and obtain his first commission as an ensign in the British army. Serving in the British army in northern New York during the Seven Year War, DePeyster was captured by the French at Oswego and taken to France as a prisoner of war. He later was released back to England in 1757 and alter that same year was sent to Germany. Returning to Scotland with his regiment after the war he met and married Rebecca Blair from Dumfries. Their marriage was a happy one and Rebecca accompanied her husband throughout his career.

The 8th Regiment left England for Quebec in 1768 and was stationed in Montreal. DePeyster was promoted to captain that year and spent this next six years in Canada. In 1774, DePeyster was appointed commandant of Fort Michilimackinac.

The DePeysters arrived at the Straits of Mackinac in the wooden gun schooner “Dunmore”. After dropping anchor, DePeyster and his wife, Rebecca, were taken to the shore by tow-boat. Lining the shore along with departing Captain Vattas were most of the Fort’s inhabitants, soldiers, children chasing their dogs, mothers waving and flintlock muskets being fired into the air to welcome the new commandant.

Michilimackinac had passed to Great Britain as a result of the Seven Year War. Consequently, British traders surged westward, traders like Henry and Askin, merchants such as Bostwick and Solomon had stores in the Fort. Askin bluntly told DePeyster that his duties as Indian Superintendent would require his utmost skill, patience, and diplomacy.

This community always had thousands of summer visitors, even back in the 1700s, except back then there was no law and order. When disputes arose, it would be DePeyster’s job to find a solution. Much of the violence associated with the fur trade was caused by the use of liquor by both Indians and whites. Captain Vattas stayed at the Fort for awhile after he was released by Captain DePeyster.  Vattas told DePeyster during the summer months this area would be visited by thousands of undisciplined summer visitors and that the noise and brawling would end when the cold weather would come.

Captain DePeyster and Rebecca stayed at Fort Michilimackinac five years. In recognition of his hard work and abilities, DePeyseter was appointed major of the 8th Regiment in 1777. Even though DePeyester did his duty and put his whole heart into maintaining and keeping peace at the fort, he and Rebecca didn’t really like the rough frontier way of life. He had asked different times to be transferred.

Finally, in the summer of 1779, Mayor DePeyster received his transfer papers, which also stated that Lieutenant Governor Patrick Sinclair would be sent to replace him. Soon after Lt. Governor Sinclair came, both DePeyseter and Sinclair visited Mackinac Island to look over the ground for building a new fort. In the same year, DePeyster was removed to Fort Detroit to succeed Gov. Hamilton, who had been captured by George Rogers Clark. DePeyster remained at Detroit until 1784, afterwards going to England where he trained troops. DePeystser and his wife retired to Dumfries, Scotland, where he died in 1822.

NOTES: DePeyster purchased the sloop “Welcome” from merchant John Askin on behalf of the British army and in October of 1779 departed aboard the “Welcome” for Detroit.

In 1781, Sinclair built a new Fort and moved from Fort Michilimackinac to Mackinac Island (Fort Mackinac). In the summer of 1782, Captain Daniel Robertson replaced Lt. Gov. Patrick Sinclair.

This sculpture is found on Straits Avenue, west of I75, outside of Fort Michilimackinac.

Perry Darrow

An Emmet County online audio tour ( shares this background about Perry Darrow:

Perry Darrow was a special person in our community. Wherever he went he had a smile and willing hands to help. He was born in Neffenville a small settlement of Mackinaw City near Dry Dock Lake. His parents, Glen and Bo Darrow, settled here in 1932 and raised nine children: Don, Jim, Bud, Dwayne, Dick, Nancy, Glenda, Perry and Pat.

During the summer of 1962, Perry met a summer employee and college student Katie Houlihan from Lake Orion. They were married January 15, 1964. Two children, a son Darby and a daughter, Cindy who died at an early age, were born to them. Darby and his wife, Mary, have three children: Dylan, Elizabeth and Caitlin. They brought many joys to Perry, especially when he would hear the words “Papa Perry.”

As owner of Darrow Brother Excavating, Perry continued the Darrow family legacy in Mackinaw City and played a significant role in the construction and development of our hometown. Perry’s life was distinguished by service to his God, country, family, friends and neighbors. Perry died while deer hunting on November 15, 1995 at the age of 56.

On this site Perry and his eight brothers and sisters attended Mackinaw City Public Schools. Many remember his as an exception a basketball player who set many scoring records.* As a testament to his legacy, his family, friends, community organizations and village of Mackinaw City developed this playland where children can find joy in each other and the great outdoors.

This spruce log sculpture of Perry Darrow was crafted by the gifted and caring hands of the artisan Jerry Prior who also carved Ojibwa Indian Chief Wawatam and English fur trader Alexander Henry, prominent 18th Century Statesman living in the straits region. These sculptures stand in Mackinaw City parks named for them. The parks are located on North Huron Avenue.

*In 2016, Perry Darrow was inducted into the Mackinaw City Sports Hall of Fame.

This sculpture is found in Old School Park, the former site of the Mackinaw City elementary and high schools, located near the corner of Jamet and Henry Streets. The park also includes a basketball court, picnic pavilion, swing set and a large wooden playground.

Edgar Conkling

Edgar was born in New York during the War of 1812, while Mackinaw City was still a British territory. He was raised in New York City. As he approached adulthood in the 1830s, it was a time of great western movement inspired by improved modes of transportation such as the Erie Canal and the trans-Appalachian road. It was also a time of deadly cholera epidemics in New York City.

Edgar’s family moved to Mt. Vernon, Ohio in 1831 when Edgar was 18 years old. At 20 years old he married Belinda Longworth whose father owned acres of rolling Appalachian foothills, which held salt springs. He had a salt producing business in which Edgar probably participated. In 1836, when the trees to fuel the fires were all burned, both the Longworth and Conkling families moved to LeRoy, Illinois.

This was a promising town with the arrival of a railroad eminent. Here Edgar ran a merchandise store and speculated in land development. From Mackinaw City’s perspective this was a critical time. While living in LeRoy he undoubtedly became aware of Mackinac Island. Only a few miles from his home in LeRoy was the town of Mackinaw, Illinois. This Mackinaw was named by the fur traders whop sent the winters in Illinois and the summers on Mackinac Island. This was the peak of fur trading times.

Edgar also learned about platting land. In LeRoy, he platted sections of town with the specifications that the lots be 40 feet wide and 125 feet deep. The streets were 66 feet wide. His land speculations failed even though he built 25 “spec” houses to encourage purchases. The recession of 1837 slowed the wild western expansion drastically.

In 1841, at the age of 29, he and Belinda moved to Cincinnati, Ohio, the 6th largest city in America. Here he started a paint company. Demand for paint was great because homes were now being made of wood siding rather than logs. Siding needed to be painted. He was apparently very successful. He also speculated in railroad stock and again in land development. His paint company was merged with others and today is the company Eagle Pitcher, a Fortune 500 company that makes appliance paint and batteries for space vehicles.

Once the railroad between Cincinnati and Toledo, Ohio was completed, Edgar and Belinda took a vacation trip to see Mackinac Island. They went by rail to Toledo and then steamship to Mackinac Island.

The land developer in Edgar could not help but be impressed by the potential of northern Michigan. James Strang, of Beaver Island, was the region’s legislator, and he was bringing government and roads to northern Michigan. In 1853, he had the counties ow name Emmet and Cheboygan laid out and government organized. As a 2-time state representative in 1852 and 1954 he was constantly pushing for roads to connected Mackinaw to the north and south.

Also, at this time the Soo locks were being constructed, and in 1855 they opened bringing large numbers of freighters past Mackinaw on their way to Chicago. The region was also receiving federal attention with a lightship parked at Waugoshance Point, and by 1856 a lighthouse was built on the site.

No wonder Edgar foresaw this area as the Chicago of the north.

IN 1854 he bought 1800 acres of land, including land as far south as Cheboygan and as far north as St. Ignace. But the Mackinaw City area showed the most promise, and in 1857 he had the town platted in anticipation of the arrival of railroad line and roads.

Unfortunately, the bigger world again upset Edgar’s development plans. The Civil War interrupted railroad construction; Mackinaw languished until well after the Civil War. The first settles did not arrive until the 1870s with the Stimpsons of Cheboygan moving here.

Edgar was doggedly loyal to his dreams for Mackinaw. He had promoted and defended his lands for decades. He and Belinda moved here in 1870. Belinda died in Mackinaw City in 1871. Edgar then moved to New York City. When his health declined he moved back to Illinois to live with family. He died in 1881, one day before the arrival of the railroad to Mackinaw City. He and Belinda are buried in Bloomington, Illinois.

Today, I remember Edgar every time I drive the Streets. He learned from LeRoy and Platted Mackinaw City with bigger lots and bigger streets. Our lots are 50 by 150 feet and the streets are 80 feet wide. This means that 25% of the land Edgar bought for Mackinaw City he turned into public lands. We all benefit from that generosity today.

The town is laid out in a dense square arrangement, not the long linear arrangement that St. Ignace is forced to deal with. In Edgar’s dream with arriving train passengers filling the town, his street plan would facilitate walking access to all parts of town. Edgar even specified that sidewalks should be 5 feet wide, huge by most town’s standards. He made Mackinaw City the walking- friendly town which we benefit from today.

He also planned the two 150-foot wide boulevards that intersect at the village dock, now leased to Shepler’s. These were originally planned for railroad lines but serve us well as major driving arteries.

Although 150 years later Edgar’s Mackinaw City is still no Chicago, it has prospered because of Edgar’s foresight and generosity.

This statue is found just north of the Straits Harbor in Conkling Heritage Park, the location of the Performance Shell which hosts the city’s free concert series each summer, as well as many other community events. This part offers a handicapped accessible picnic table and an observation deck for viewing the lake.

Hattie Stimpson

Hattie Stimpson was one of the founding members of the Mackinaw Women’s Club some 90 years ago.

On Saturday, March 6, 2004, ninety-two people attended Mackinaw Area’s Historical Society’s first annual Cabin Fever Dinner at Audie’s Restaurant in Mackinaw City. The Society’s president, Kurt Grebe, and vice president Dorothy Krueger, led on discussion on the candidates for section of the next large wooden statue, the first woman sculpture, to be carved by Jerry Prior.

The four candidates were Hattie Stimpson, artist and Woman’s Club founder, Frances Margaret (Madge) Fox, noted author of children’s books; Julia Inglis, first president of the Mackinaw Women’s Club; and Luella Overton, the village’s first school teacher and wife of Forrest Stimpson (who drowned in the Straits), who then married John Overton, a lighthouse inspector, she also owned and operated the Mackinaw Pharmacy.

Hattie won by a 2 to 1 margin.

According to the Mackinaw City Area Arts Council:

Over 100 years ago, in 1912, six Mackinaw City women formed a club to study Shakespeare. Hattie Stimpson was one of these women, along with Julia Inglis (MWC first president), Grace Robertson, Tena Barrett, Blanche Desy, and Luella Overton. Their meetings were held at each other’s homes until 1914; by that time, they had 30 members. It was in that year that they decided to organize the Mackinaw City Woman’s Club.

In the Club’s first printed program, it stated the purpose of the Club; to create an organized center of action among women for cooperation in literacy, education and philanthropic work, for the study thereof, and for general culture, the promotion of practical interest in science, art, literature and music.

With the help of Hattie’s husband John, who made a push cart for the ladies, books were collected and taken to various meeting places in their efforts to start a library. Housing was becoming a problem. For a while they used the Village Council chambers as a library, but that didn’t work out satisfactorily with city fathers; the women would get rid of their ashtrays and cuspidors. Later, a room in the schoolhouse was used; that arrangement also didn’t work out. With all the stumbling blocks they had, this ambitious group of women fired up of the idea of building their own clubhouse. In order to raise funds, they held ten cent teas, parties, musicals and various other programs. Finally, two lots on Jamet Street were purchased for $550 from Charles Stimpson. On October 5, 1931, fifty women gathered to witness the first earth shoveled for the long-awaited clubhouse.

On January 18, 1932, with President Grace Barton presiding, the first meeting was held in the new clubhouse. And at a festive occasion in September 1938, President Grace Trumbull led the group in burning the ‘paid in full’ mortgage of $1,290.00. Hattie became the overseer of the Woman’s Club House. She made sure everything was in its place, and her husband John helped by keeping the building and grounds maintained.

Richardson was Hattie’s maiden name. She was one of Battle Creek’s most popular young ladies. She married John B. Stimpson of Mackinaw City on August 3, late in 1800’s in Battle Creek.

Both Hattie and John lived their lives at 313 Jamet St., where their home still stands today with modern renovations. As well as being an advocate for literacy, education, music, and philanthropic work, she was also an artist, using a variety of mediums. Hattie died at 73 in 1948, outliving John by six years.

This sculpture, completed at the end of the 2008 summer season, can be found on the corner of West Central and Louvingny Streets, just west of the bridge overpass.

Information included here comes from the historical markers at each of the sculpture sites. For more information on Prior’s sculptures, visit the Mackinaw Area Public Library.