Most of the places I’ve written about recently are on my itinerary for Trip 7, the Lake Michigan Circle Tour, in my e-book, How to Visit All 50 States in 12 Trips. Fayette Historic State Park is not, at least right now, though it will most likely make the next edition. Why didn’t I include it? It’s simple enough–I wasn’t aware of it then. That’s why I’m so glad I had the help of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula Travel and Recreation Association to arrange and host my trip. They included the attractions I requested, and also added in others they thought my family would enjoy. I’m glad they included Fayette Historic State Park.
My family has been to many historic sites over the years. What I liked about Fayette was that it covered a different time period and situation than the others. Fayette was a small industrial company town in the late 19th century with immigrant workers that manufactured pig iron. When you arrive, start in the Visitors Center which has a miniature model of the townsite. Press a button to hear a presentation about the history of Fayette.
Be sure to use the restroom at the Visitor Center before you head down to the townsite.
About 20 of the buildings are open for self-guided tours. Instead of having costumed interpreters and attended buildings; the rooms are visible through Plexiglas barriers with signs about the displays. There are pros and cons to this approach. The positive is that the minimal staffing results in a very low admission fee. On the negative side, I think it’s much harder to engage kids in historical exhibits that have signs instead of people.
I take my job as a travel writer seriously which means that I try to see each attraction as thoroughly as I can in the time allotted, even when things are not as interesting as my kids would like them to be. My kids didn’t find Fayette nearly as interesting as I did, but we had an ambitious travel schedule and all of us were getting tired by this point, so that could have been part of the problem. (It has taken me over a month to write about all the places we saw in three days.) The good news for my readers is that I’ve done the hard work for you. You can just pick and choose the buildings that interest you and your kids and skip the rest. Since there isn’t a hefty admission fee, there’s no need to stay all day to feel like you’ve gotten your money’s worth.
Since the town existed because of the smelting operation, the Furnace Complex is a logical place to start your tour.
The tall sections in the middle are blast furnaces. Here’s a close-up look.
You can also see the charcoal kilns.
You can even go inside a kiln.
When you go inside the kiln, be sure to loop up.
You can learn as much as you desire about how the operation worked and even see how the offices looked.
You’ll also want to learn about the people who lived there. In this small town, there was a middle class and a working class. The Superintendent’s and Doctor’s houses were much larger and had finer furniture than the laborers’ cabins.
You can also learn about community life in a company town. There are many exhibits and you can spend as much or as little time as you’d like learning about Fayette. You might want to visit the Music Hall, the entertainment hub of the community. My daughters couldn’t resist the urge to put on a little show.
Traveling performers were brought in for entertainment and had a tradition of signing their names on the walls backstage. It is very cool that these have been preserved.
Kids can especially relate to the Kids at Fayette exhibit which shows how the lives of children in 19th century Fayette compare to the lives of kids today.
This is a hands-on exhibit that my kids found more interesting than other parts of the town.
Learn about the kids’ chores, their favorite toys and recreational activities, how they dressed, and what school was like.
You can learn more at the Kids at Fayette online exhibit.
In addition to touring the historic townsite, plan to spend some time enjoying the natural beauty of the park. My kids loved exploring the rocky shore.
They never miss an opportunity to skip some stones.
Even without the historical value, it is a very pretty area.
The park has a few trails you can hike, and although we didn’t check it out, the map shows a beach and picnic area. The Visitors Center has a shop that sells souvenirs, popcorn, and ice cream from Jilbert’s, a dairy in the Upper Peninsula.
Ready to Visit?
Fayette Historic Park
4785 II Road
Garden, MI 49835
Open seasonally; typically mid May to mid October, 9 a.m.-5 p.m.
Extended hours from mid-June through Labor Day weekend; open 9 a.m. until dusk.
Michigan Residents – Recreation Passport ($10 annual fee) is required
Non-residents – Motor Vehicle Permit required ($8 daily or $29 annual)