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.