Fayette Historic State Park combines nature with history in this restoration of a once-bustling industrial community from the late 19th Century.
The state park features more than 20 original historic buildings, miles of trails, a campground, a harbor, a visitor’s center, day-use area, swimming beach, and a boat launch.
Fayette Historic State Park, in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, is not to be missed.
History of the Fayette Community
The 711-acre Fayette Historic State Park was once home to the village of Fayette and the Jackson Iron Company. From the late 1860s to 1891, the community smelted more than 230,000 tons of iron ore into pig-iron bars. The bars were shipped to steel producers in places like Chicago and converted into railroad rails and steel.
While the area seems very isolated, Fayette Brown, manager of the Jackson Iron Company, selected the site for its location. It sits on a smaller peninsula of the Upper Peninsula that juts into Lake Michigan and surrounds Snail Shell Harbor.
According to the Michigan History Center, “the harbor was essential for the transportation of people, supplies, and iron ore. The limestone cliffs provided flux for the smelting process and construction materials. The surrounding forests provided charcoal to fuel the blast furnace.”
Around 500 people lived in Fayette, including the wives and children of the workers. The town had a post office, town hall, a company store, a school, a horse-racing track, and a baseball team.
Additional community-sustaining businesses included a butcher, blacksmith, barber, doctor, and carpenter. There was even a two-story hotel, with a two-story outhouse. The hotel is still standing, and you can see the doors at the top that once led to the outhouse walkway.
When the Jackson Iron Company ceased operations, most everyone moved away and the site became a tourist destination. In 1959, the state of Michigan acquired the land to save and preserve.
Today at Fayette Historic State Park
Visiting Fayette Historic State Park today you will find many of the buildings still standing, although for some you will find only the foundations. The state has done a good job stabilizing the remaining structures and providing many interpretive signs and exhibits around the property to explain and show what life was like during the town’s heyday.
Remaining structures include one of the kilns and the blast furnace. Around 10 of the still-standing buildings are open to the public including residences, the company office, town hall, machine shop, and hotel.
The Superintendent’s residence, known as The White House, is one of the most well-known buildings still standing. It sits on the hill overlooking the harbor and the village. During our visit, we remarked at the beautiful view the house has of the harbor and cliffs. It’s hard to imagine that at the time it was in use it overlooked a very dirty and noisy industrial community.
To fully explore Fayette Historic State Park we recommend allowing a minimum of 3 hours. Begin your tour at the visitor’s center. There is a narrated diorama of the village that you’ll want to acquaint yourself with before heading down to check it out in person. Not all of the buildings are ADA accessible due to stairs. Bikes are allowed to be ridden around the village.
Activities at Fayette Historic State Park
South of the village about 2 miles is the Day Use Area. It is relatively small, with a pavilion, a few picnic tables and grills, one swing set and a horseshoe pit. The only designated swimming beach at the state park is down a flight of stairs. A boat launch provides access to Big Bay de Noc, which offers excellent fishing.
Snail Shell Harbor is located within Fayette Historic State Park right next to the village. The protected waters are deep enough for larger pleasure craft. It features 15 transient slips ranging up to 60 feet with 30- and 50-amp electric pedestals for day use or overnight parking.
A special activity not found at any other state park is scuba diving. Divers can explore the harbor, with a permit, as long as nothing is disturbed or removed.
Approximately 5 miles of trails meander through the state park for hiking year-round or cross-country skiing in the winter. One of the trails takes you onto the bluffs providing a spectacular overlook of Snail Shell Harbor, the village, and Lake Michigan beyond.
State Park Campground
The modern campground at Fayette Historic State Park has only 61 sites and is usually full on summer weekends. It is divided into 3 U-shape loops. The middle U has been upgraded into pull-through sites with 50-amp service. It is a very “traditional” state park campground feel with lots of trees and shade, although little privacy between sites.
The campground is located about a mile south of the historic village. Trails connect the campground to the village and the day-use swimming beach.
Getting to Fayette
Fayette Historic State Park is definitely a destination, as it is located halfway down the Garden Peninsula, not on the way to anything. It is about 25 minutes south of US-2 and 40 minutes from Manistique, the closest “big” city. But it is well worth the trip back in time.
If you can’t get campground reservations at Fayette, the next closest state park is Indian Lake State Park near Manistique. If you don’t camp, check out the hotels or bed & breakfasts in the Manistique area.
And if you’re looking for other unique things in the area, don’t forget to check out Kitch-iti-kipi at Palms Book State Park.
We have plenty more adventures to come, so subscribe to this blog and our YouTube channel. We have a video about Fayette Historic State Park here. You can follow us on Instagram, our Facebook page, and Twitter. Plus, you can see our progress as we visit each park on this interactive Google Map. You also can keep track of our activities on social media with the hashtags #hikecampgo and #mistateparks100.