Fort Wilkins is a historic military outpost located in Copper Harbor at the northern tip of Keweenaw Peninsula. It was established in 1844 by the U.S. Army during a time of increased tensions between miners and the local Ojibwe people in the Keweenaw Peninsula, which is known for its rich copper deposits. The fort was named after Secretary of War William Wilkins.
The Army built 27 structures, including a guardhouse, powder magazine, 7 officer’s quarters, two barracks, two mess halls, hospital, storehouse, sutler’s store, quartermaster’s store, bakery, blacksmith’s shop, carpenter’s shop, icehouse, four quarters for married enlisted men, stables, and a slaughter house, to house the operations of two full-strength infantry companies. Several of these structures still survive. Others have been rebuilt following archaeological excavations.
Fort Wilkin’s Purpose
The primary purpose of Fort Wilkins was to maintain order and protect the interests of copper mining companies in the region and to protect the country’s interests in the Great Lakes region. It was one of several forts built in the Upper Great Lakes area during the mid-19th century.
After its establishment, Fort Wilkins served as a military post for only a short period. Due to declining copper prices and improved relations with the Ojibwe, the fort was left in the hands of Sgt. William Wright, in 1846. The rest of his fellow soldiers were sent to Texas, he was the only man to remain.
After Sgt. Wright passed in 1855 the fort was Leased to Dr. John Livermore. He was hoping to open a health resort for “invalids and others during the hot months”. With his death in 1861 the plans were never completed.
Fort Wilkins reactivate after the Civil War
However, it was reactivated in 1867 after the Civil War and remained in service until 1870. The fort was used as a place for men to server out the rest of their enlistments from the war. The army permanently abandoned the facility at the end of August 1870.
In 1923 the Fort became a Michigan State Park is open to the public in the summer months. Fort Wilkins is preserved as part of Fort Wilkins Historic State Park and is designated a Michigan state historic site.
The park provides visitors with an opportunity to explore the fort’s well-preserved buildings, which include officer quarters, barracks, a bakery, and a hospital.
The fort’s architecture followed typical military design of the time, featuring log buildings surrounded by a wooden palisade. The site also offers beautiful views of Lake Superior and the surrounding natural landscapes.
Visitors can immerse themselves in the history of the region, learn about the daily lives of soldiers and civilians at the fort, and gain insight into the significant role Fort Wilkins played in the development of Michigan’s copper mining industry. Additionally, the park offers camping facilities and outdoor recreational activities, making it a popular destination for history enthusiasts and nature lovers alike. Many events are provided with fund raised by the Fort Wilkins Natural History Association.
Fort Wilkins – Historical Site
Statehood Era (1815 – 1860) – Registered in 1956 and erected in 1957 – ID # S33
Located on Old State Rd west of Sand Lake Rd., Copper Harbor, Grant Township – Lat: 47.46568500/Long: -87.85775100
As soon as miners began to enter the Copper Country, appeals were made to the army for protection from resentful Indians. Thus, in 1844, Fort Wilkins was built. Two companies of infantry stood guard at this early copper mining and shipping center. In 1846, during the Mexican War, the force was withdrawn. It was replaced only from 1867 to 1869.