Fayette Historic State Park is a state park in the U.S. state of Michigan, located between Grand Marais and Munising on Lake Superior’s North Shore near Finlandia National Forest. The park preserves the former town of Fayette, Michigan, which was once one of America’s most productive iron-smelting operations. It contains remnants of the smelting facilities as well as houses that are being restored to appear as they did when the town was at its peak in 1880 – 1890. The park is operated by the Michigan Department of Natural Resources, with support from volunteers working under the auspices of the non-profit Friends of Fayette. Fayette began operation in 1867 after James B. Wilson purchased land for $1.00 an acre (0.40 ha) and established the St. Joseph Iron Company there.
In time, this became one of America’s leading producers of pig iron, cast iron, and steel. At its height, Fayette had a population of nearly 2000, two newspapers, three churches, a school, stores, saloons, brothels, blacksmith shops, carpenter shops, icehouses, stables, and other businesses. Most buildings were built of locally quarried stone or manufactured using local materials. Nearly all homes had their own firewood supply, water source, and means of refrigeration. There was no garbage collection or sewage treatment, but rather open outhouses and septic systems. Houses were heated with either coal or steam heat, lit with gas or kerosene, cooled with air or snow, and cleaned with soap and water. Life was hard; children worked from sunup to sundown, often starting as early as age five. Those who completed their tasks quickly enough could earn as much as fifty cents per hour, more than double the national average.
The campground has been expanded into a full service facility offering flush toilets, showers, dump station, picnic areas, and a boat launch. The historic smelting house has been fully reconstructed and now serves as the visitor center for the park. Other buildings have undergone varying degrees of restoration. The church, schoolhouse, and general store/post office building are partially rebuilt, while the mill, garage, and carriage shop buildings are completely modern replicas constructed on-site. Visitors can enter the General Store where items dating back to 1870 still remain in place, including shelves stocked with canned goods, cigars, and hardware. Tours of the town and the surrounding area are available throughout summer season, Monday through Friday, 10am-4pm.
The park grounds close NovemberFebruary for winter maintenance. Campsites are available year round. Half of the campsites are available for self-registration on a first come first serve basis, the remainder require reservations. Reservations can be booked through the park reservation system, online through the Reservation Agent, or over the phone. Advance campsite reservations can be made up to 11 months before arrival. Backcountry sites can be reserved up to 26 months before arrival. All campsites share access to swimming beach, playground, bike path, hiking trails, sauna, hot tub, and volleyball court. Modern cabins are available AprilOctober, unguarded. Each cabin sleeps six people and has electric lights, heat, refrigerator, stove, microwave, countertop, table, chairs, and futon sofa. Outside of cabins are a fire ring and picnic table. Tent and RV camping are permitted outside the designated campground during off-season months, NovemberFebruary, at no cost.
No pets are allowed inside the cabins or on the grounds. Accessibility for the disabled was assessed by WestRock, Inc., in partnership with the American Disability Association, in 1997 and again in 2003. Both assessments found issues regarding accessibility to restrooms and ramps. The report issued in 1997 noted that although some steps toward compliance had been taken, considerable work needed to be accomplished. The assessment in 2003 found that improvements had been made, but concluded that additional modifications were needed. The park offers approximately 200 campsites, 100 of which have sewer, and another 50 of which are walk-in tent sites.
The remaining 50 sites are specifically for horseback riding, mountain biking, or cross country skiing. These sites do not allow tents, and rely upon rustic equestrian facilities such as hand-built wooden stable shelters, individual portable toilet facilities, and primitive roadways. Approximately 20km of footpaths and 15km of bridle paths exist within the park, along with 7km of ski trail. Additionally, a popular mountain biking route known as the Fireline Toe Trail begins just west of the park entrance. The park includes a sandy beach on Lake Superior, accessible via a ramp adjacent to the parking lot. Boats may be launched directly from the beach into Silver Creek, without requiring a portage around the rock pile.
Fishermen may find cod, scallops, crawdads, crabs, lobsters, and clams. The park features a small group lodge, conference room, cafeteria, indoor pool, outdoor pool, tennis courts, softball field, soccer fields, basketball courts, horseshoe pit, sledding hill, toboggan run, and canoe rentals. An extensive network of trails allows visitors to hike, mountain bike, cross-country ski, or simply explore on horseback. The park boasts a strong volunteer organization, active in maintaining trails, providing educational programs, and enhancing public awareness of environmental issues related to mining. The Friends of Fayette organization works closely with the DNR in organizing annual events like the Jefferson Hikes, held in July, and the Big River Days Festival, held annually in September. The festival includes music, crafts, food, and promotes environmental awareness through displays and presentations.
On August 12, 1886, a catastrophic explosion and fire reduced the town to almost nothing. Only seven of the nineteen original founders remained. Of these, four died in the disaster, including the founder and president, James B. Wilson. Although many of the survivors moved away, some chose to begin anew about ten miles northwest of Fayette at Newberry. This new community also failed soon after, falling victim to a combination of factors including poor quality ore, flooding, financial troubles, and personal disputes. Eventually, only one smelting house remained, along with several others that served as housing for miners or managers. Preservation efforts got underway when locals showed interest in saving what remained of the town.
They formed the “Fayette Historical Society” and acquired a donation of land from William Pryor, one of the sons of the deceased J.B. Wilson. Local architect George Wyth Memorial designed the park’s visitor center, which opened May 1, 1940. He also oversaw restoration work done over the next twenty years, adapting the surviving structures for use as storage facilities, while trying to maintain historical accuracy. However, funds were always limited, and progress slow. A significant setback occurred in 1960, when a dam across Silver Creek delayed reconstruction of the smelting house until 1966.
Further delays resulted from lack of cooperation among federal, state, and municipal agencies, each of whom had responsibility for different parts of the site. Nevertheless, the project received funding through 1970, when further deterioration of the smelting house necessitated closure of the park. Once reopened, attendance declined rapidly, due to tourists’ distaste for driving past fields of dead trees and litter left behind by decades of illegal camping. As a result, in 1976, less than half the park was ever open, and it was closed entirely in 1980. When reopening, it was primarily as a campground, with minimal amenities.
- historical interpretation
- nature walks
- cross-country skiing
Common game fish include:
- northern pike
- rainbow trout
- lake trout