Astor House – A Page in Mackinac Island History 6/5/2010

Good Saturday morning!

Lowell & Faye, of Olivett, Michigan, are two very loyal readers of this blog.  Lowell worked on Mackinac Island “back in the day” and remembers well the Astor House on Cadotte Avenue.  He asked if it was still standing and if so, would I photograph it with the lilacs blooming.  I’ve never been one to turn down a fan request, so Lowell and Faye – this one’s for ya’ll!

First a little history about the house (you know I have to make this worth-while for all you readers who don’t know the “rest of the story” like Lowell and Faye do).

At about the same time French missionaries were attempting to convert the Native Americans living on Mackinac Island (the 1670’s), French fur traders were seeking the Indians’ assistance in the rapidly growing fur business.  For 150 years, Europeans shipped canoe-loads of goods to Mackinac to trade for Indian-trapped beaver, muskrat, otter, and fox pelts.  By the 1820’s, Mackinac had become one of the most valuable trading posts in the country. 

Madame LaFrambroise (you remember us talking about her in the “Side Street” story as the original owner of what is now Harbour View Inn) was well known throughout the Straits area for her fur trading knowledge.  When she retired, she sold her interests to John Jacob Astor’s American Fur Company, which made him America’s first-known millionaire.  Fur trading dominated life on Mackinac island, and Astor became a household name.

Astor established Astor House as headquarters for the American Fur Company, and for a time one of his sons, William Backhouse Astor, ran the business from that house and lived there also.  When John Jacob Astor died in 1848, his estate was estimated to be worth at least 20 million dollars.

On a separate historial note, another John Jacob Astor – the first Astor’s great-grandson (John Jacob IV) and his pregnant wife were aboard the Titanic on its ill-fated maiden voyage from England to New York City in 1912.  He was the wealthiest person on the sinking ship, and history recounts that he asked to be allowed to follow his wife into a lifeboat because of her “delicate” condition.  When he was told there simply were not enough lifeboats, and women and children only could board them, it is said that Astor gave his wife his gloves and moved aside.  At his death that night, as owner of the Astoria Hotel, as an author and inventor, and coming from one of the wealthiest families in history, his net worth was $37.0 billion dollars.

And, for the most part, that wealth began on Mackinac Island in this house.




Note #1:  The Stuart House Museum on Market Street is a wonderful place to visit to relive the exciting times on Mackinac Island when the fur trading business flourished. 

Note #2:  Most of the historical information furnished here is from Mackinac Island: Horses, History, and Hospitality published by the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau.


12 thoughts on “Astor House – A Page in Mackinac Island History 6/5/2010

  1. Brenda,

    Well, you’ve outdone yourself this time. You’ve made me feel like a star, even it’s an incidental star.

    Faye read this blog and promptly said to me, “You have to save that.” So I have. In my “History” folder. I hope you don’t mind, but I added this note:

    “NOTE By Lowell Greene: The blog is written by Brenda Horton, who is married to Ted Horton. Their home is in South Georgia on Lake Blackshear, 13 miles west of Cordele. They summer on Mackinac Island, Michigan from the middle of May until the first of November. Brenda writes the best and most interesting blog I have ever seen on the internet.”

    I don’t know if it will ever happen, but I sure hope I can meet you and Ted someday.

    Until you are better paid, Thank you again for writing the blog. I really appreciate it.

    By the way, I’ve wondered for 56 years where Willie’s mother and/or father ever came up with the name Backhouse for a middle name.

  2. I remember passing by that home several times when we were there, but the next time I see it, it will mean so much more. I’ve also wondered about the connection between the names and the Titanic, now I know the rest of the story. Thanks Brenda and thanks Lowell for asking. Beautiful pictures as always.

  3. I too wondered about the Astor connection with the house. I wish it was open to tour instead of employee housing.


  4. WOW! I love the history! That was really interesting! Thanks so much. The pictures are gorgeous also. I can’t wait to get to the island and the end of this month!

  5. I am a direct decendent of the man who purchased the Astor property and turned it into an hotel. James Franklin Cable was my 3 great grandfather. At one time my mother had one of the registry books from the hotel, but it did not survive the many moves she and my dad had during their marriage and now she is gone so I cannot ask what happened to it.

  6. I went and toured the Astor house. In it it said that there has the one existing registry books from the fur trade days. I searched and found at least some microfilm copies at the Chicago Historical Museum and at the Detroit Public Library the Burton Manuscript Collection.

  7. I worked at the Grand Hotel the summer of 1974 and lived in this house. The Grand Hotel used it as a boarding house for it’s female employees and deducted the rent from our paychecks. I was just college student and did not pay much attention to the history of the house, but now I am glad that I found this site and learned some history!

  8. As an employee of the Grand Hotel in the summer of 1974, I lived in this house on the first floor. The Grand Hotel ran it as a boarding house for some of it’s female employees. I was a college student at the time and did not realize the rich history of the house. Fascinating!

  9. I would love to know what the house looks like inside, and what it once looked like. Can anyone share info on the interior?

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