Michigan is a state that is rich in history and overflowing with natural resources — and when you visit Fayette Historic State Park as part of an Upper Peninsula road trip, you get to experience both the beauty of the past and the present.
This state park, which is located in the Village of Garden in Delta County, features a historic townsite as well as a campground, harbor, beach, and five miles of trails.
Historical Fayette Michigan
Fayette was established in 1867 on the Garden Peninsula of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, taking advantage of the region’s rich resources. It was named after Fayette Brown, one of the agents for the Jackson Iron Company which founded the town.
The town was built around a large iron smelter, which was the heart of Fayette’s industrial operations. The Jackson Iron Company chose this location due to its proximity to hardwood forests, limestone, and iron ore—key ingredients for iron smelting. The charcoal iron produced here was of high quality and in demand for various manufacturing processes.
At its peak, Fayette had a population of approximately 500 residents. The town was well-developed for its time, featuring over 20 buildings, including homes, a company store, a hotel, and schools. The community was largely self-sufficient, with most of its residents working in the smelting operation or related services.
Despite the industrial nature of the town, Fayette had a vibrant community life. Social events, community gatherings, and recreational activities were common, fostering a strong sense of community among residents.
The late 1880s brought significant challenges to Fayette. The demand for charcoal iron began to wane as new steel-making technologies emerged, particularly the Bessemer process, which made steel production more efficient and less costly. Additionally, the depletion of local resources, such as hardwood forests for charcoal, made operations more difficult.
By 1891, the economic pressures became insurmountable, leading to the closure of the Fayette smelting operation. This closure marked the beginning of the end for the town, as residents moved away in search of employment elsewhere. Fayette gradually turned into a ghost town, with buildings and infrastructure left to the elements.
Preserving the History of Fayette
Recognizing the historical and cultural significance of Fayette, the State of Michigan purchased the site in the 1950s. Efforts were made to preserve and restore the town, leading to the establishment of Fayette Historic State Park.
Fayette Historic State Park now serves as a window into Michigan’s industrial past. Visitors can explore the well-preserved buildings, learn about the iron smelting process, and gain insights into the daily lives of the people who lived and worked in this once-bustling community. The park includes a visitor center, historic townsite, museum exhibits, and recreational facilities, making it a popular destination for history enthusiasts, educators, and tourists.
Fayette, Michigan, stands as a testament to the industrial era’s impact on the American landscape, offering valuable lessons about resource utilization, technological advancement, and community resilience. Its preservation as a historic state park ensures that these lessons, and the stories of those who lived there, are not forgotten.
Visiting Fayette Historic State Park
Fayette Historic State Park is truly something to behold. Once a bustling company town at the tip of the Garden Peninsula, the well-preserved buildings have now been standing for nearly 150 years, and it’s a wonderful place to spend an afternoon.
The park rests on one of the most scenic parts of Lake Michigan’s shoreline (think huge limestone bluffs and rocky beaches) and there’s a nice campground right there for those who wish to stay a while. It’s one of the finer points of the Upper Peninsula.
Fayette Historic Townsite
Your day at this Michigan summer bucket list attraction should begin at the historic townsite, which features more than 20 buildings that have been lovingly preserved so that visitors can learn more about what life was like in a Michigan industrial community in the 19th century.
While Fayette Historic State Park is open throughout the entire year, you can only experience the historic townsite if you visit during the summer months. This seasonal attraction opens in the middle of May, and visitors are welcome to explore the buildings until the middle of October.
There are both self-guided and guided tour options available.
Snail Shell Harbor
After you have taken a stroll back in time, you will want to come back to the present moment and soak up the views at Snail Shell Harbor. This harbor, which is nestled in the heart of the historic townsite, has waters that are surprisingly deep.
With 15 slips available, there are boats that go cruising through the harbor on a regular basis.
In addition, visitors are able to scuba dive within the harbor, but only during specific and scheduled times. A permit is required to scuba dive, but those who participate may discover hidden treasures below the water — some of which include artifacts from shipwrecks.
The key is to look at the treasure, but not to touch. Everything must be left exactly as you found it.
Hiking Trails in Fayette Historic State Park
Of course, no visit to the Fayette Historic State Park would be complete without an adventure. Throughout this 711-acre park, there are more than 5 miles of hiking trails.
Visitors of all skill levels can hike along these trails in order to experience the natural wilds of this park and appreciate the panoramic views that surround them.
Our Visit to The Ghost Town of Fayette
My wife and I (Jesse) drove over to Fayette with our daughter this summer. It was only my second visit to the place, the first being a sixth-grade field trip over twenty years ago, so my memories of the place were a little fuzzy. Fond, but fuzzy.
So here’s how it went down…
We breezed through the admissions area (thanks to our Michigan recreation passport), parked in a spacious parking lot and made our way down a little hill into the main welcome center. Guided tours go out every half hour, I was told, and the next one would be starting in about five minutes.
A few minutes later, we were being led through the town by an enthusiastic college student who seemed to have a pretty comprehensive knowledge of the place. She was super friendly and gave a short but informative tour that ran through the entire history of the town, from it’s beginnings in 1867 as a company town to it’s present date status as a state park.
After the tour we were free to roam about the town on our own. We spent an hour or so poking our noses into well marked historic buildings and reading interpretive signs about the town’s past, but could have just as easily spent half a day here.
There’s a scenic overlook trail, a souvenir shop that sells ice cream, and plenty of open space near the harbor that would be a great place for a picnic, tossing Frisbee around or just hanging out for a while.
We had packed a lunch but left it in our car, so we ended up dining at a picnic table alongside the parking lot. Next time we’ll definitely bring our lunch down near the water. Also on our next visit, we’ll probably try to allow a whole day just for the Garden Peninsula.
In addition to Fayette, there are art galleries, wineries, and a cool little harbor at the very tip of the peninsula, so it’d be easy to blow a day here and enjoy every minute of it.Jesse Land
More to Do Near Fayette Historic State Park
When your day is finished at Fayette Historic State Park, you may be craving even more time outdoors in Michigan. There is nothing quite like a Michigan summer in the Upper Peninsula, and there are so many places to explore.
If you are interested in visiting another park near Garden, you may want to consider a stop at Ludington Park in Escanaba.
This coastal park is located on the shores of Lake Michigan, and it features a bicycle path, a swimming beach, and a fishing pier. If you happen to be visiting during the week, you may want to make time for the weekly outdoor concerts that take place at the Karas Memorial Bandshell on Wednesday evenings. It is one of the most relaxing and enjoyable ways to finish a day in the U.P.
Upper Peninsula Lighthouses Near Fayette Historic State Park
As you continue to cross off items on your MI bucket list, don’t forget to add a few Upper Peninsula lighthouses to your itinerary.
There are several Michigan lighthouses that are located near Fayette Historic State Park, including the Sand Point Lighthouse in Ludington Park and the Manistique East Breakwater Light in Schoolcraft County.
Where to Eat Near Fayette Historic State Park
With all of these outdoor adventures, you won’t want to forget to make time for a few good meals.
And if you’re hungry (or thirsty) while in the area, Sherry’s Port Bar is a neat little family-friendly spot for a meal or a beer. I’ve heard they have a good all-you-can-eat whitefish fish fry on Fridays during the summer season, and it’s within walking distance of the Fayette campground.
For a fine dining meal in a casual atmosphere, consider The Stonehouse in Escanaba. It is the perfect place to go when you want to get a delicious meal for an affordable price without the pomp and circumstance of a fancy restaurant.
For a more low-key meal, you may want to think about Mo’s Pub, which is open for dinner service in Escanaba.