A Window Into The Past – Fayette State Park

View looking up from inside a restored kiln used to produce charcoal for the smelting furnaces.

Fayette State Park, an abandoned iron smelting town, was on our short list of places to visit in the UP (Upper Peninsula of Michigan) for many months. Over the past three years, I have come to understand the significant economic, cultural, and environmental impact that the mining and processing of iron has had on the Upper Peninsula. Fayette State Park is a beautiful place to learn about the explosive growth and ultimate demise of one such iron town. The state of Michigan has done an excellent job restoring the town. Both the industrial and residential areas have been restored. It is a fascinating look back at a once-thriving community.

Fayette Historic Townsite represents a once-bustling industrial community that manufactured charcoal pig iron between 1867 and 1891 at the tip of the Garden Peninsula. Visitors may walk through the well-preserved buildings that have been standing for 150 years. And learn about life during the 19th century. There are self-guided and guided tour options (summer months only) available.”

Michigan DNR

The well-protected harbor allowed for easy access from Lake Michigan. The limestone cliffs supplied “flux” for the blast furnaces.

Sheree’ and Izzy gaze up at the two giant blast furnaces.

Iron Smelting

Fayette was once one of the Upper Peninsula’s most productive iron-smelting operations. Fayette grew up around two blast furnaces, a large dock, and several charcoal kilns, following the post-Civil War need for iron. Nearly 500 residents—many immigrating from Canada, the British Isles, and northern Europe—lived in and near the town that existed to make pig iron. During 24 years of operation Fayette’s blast furnaces produced a total of 229,288 tons of iron, using local hardwood forests for fuel and quarrying limestone from the bluffs to purify the iron ore. But, when the charcoal iron market began to decline, the Jackson Iron Company closed its Fayette smelting operations in 1891.


Huge timber piles from local forests wait to be burned and converted into charcoal in the kilns. As can be seen in the image above, in its hayday, Fayette was a bustling place.

Fayette Hotel

Sheree’ and Izzy out on the back porch of the hotel.

Vaccines would have been a welcome addition to the doctors bag.
View from the superintendent’s house, overlooking the town.
Parlor in the superintendent’s house.
Recreation included baseball and horse racing.

Camping and birding at Fayette State Park

Fayette is a decent birding location during some months. Because it is near the end of a large peninsula, it serves as a gathering area in the fall before birds head south across the lake. And in the spring, it is a rest area for north-bound birds. We birded a few eBird hotspots. By and large, it was fairly quiet because of the heat and time of year.

Birds seen or heard –

Yellow-rumped Warbler
Blackburnian Warbler
Northern Rough-winged Swallow
Black-capped Chickadee
Great Crested Flycatcher
Downy Woodpecker

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Oso dreams of his escape down to the lake for a swim.

Unfortunately, the campground was marginal due to the sites being too close together. Also, it was very dusty and undoubtedly muddy when it rains. On the positive side, the restrooms and showers were nice enough. We had a decent site that backed up to the woods above the lake. Overall, we enjoyed our two-night stay. Of course, while we were there, the dogs enjoyed a few swims.

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In conclusion, Lake Michigan sunset behind our campsite.

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