Saturday, March 14, 2020

Fort Algonquin & More

I have two random slides for you today, along with a few vintage postcards to support each scan. 

First up is this 1955 photo of "Fort Algonquin", located in St. Ignace, Michigan - on the Mackinac Trail, not far from the shores of Lake Huron. After a little research, I discovered that the fort was built to commemorate the site of an old Huron trading post, established north of St. Ignace. St. Ignace is the third oldest community in America, behind St. Augustine, Florida and Sault Ste. Marie, Michigan. The outpost was easy to pinpoint from the Mackinac Straits by aiming between the Rabbit's Back ridge and Castle Rock Peak.

This vintage postcard is so similar to my slide! More history: H. Vaughan Norton purchased the property in 1926, and it opened for business in 1927. The tourist trade boomed after WWII, and Vaughan decided to display his collection of “fully intact skeletons, a medicine bag, a huge collection of muskets, and a full sized Eagle Feather head-dress from out west”.

Apparently the roadside attraction experienced some hard times, and a number of the museum's displays fell victim to thieves, who even took finger bones from the skeletons. "Mom will love this!". I found an online article announcing the reopening of Fort Algonquin in 2016, but Google Maps marks the location as “closed”, which is always sad to see.

Next is this scan that was a mystery to me, but after scanning it, I could read the words " Rockerville Stage Line" on the Stagecoach. This is Rockerville, South Dakota, about five miles southwest of Rapid City! It was originally established as a gold mining camp. 

It was a tourist town in the 1950s and 1960s because of its key location on US Highway 16 between Rapid City and Mount Rushmore National Memorial. It had a variety of tourist attractions, including a "Mellerdrammer" (Melodrama) live theatre, a "Ghost town" of various buildings with tourist shops and small amusements, "It's a Small World" Museum (featuring an 1880 Tiny Town model and other miniature collections), a motel, campgrounds and RV parks. 

However, in the conversion of US Highway 16 to four lanes in the mid-1960s, the original townsite was placed literally between the two separate roadways, as there was no way to widen the original highway through the town without completely destroying it. With construction of at least three exits into the town from both directions, the town continued to be a vibrant tourist attraction in the 1970s and 1980s. The tourist could take in daily wild west shows, shootouts, stagecoach rides and gold panning. Fine dining was and still is available at the Gaslight Restaurant. Travelers could stay in town at the local Trading Post Motel, buy groceries and gas up their cars at the Rockerville Trading Post.

Here's a vintage postcard featuring the same Stagecoach that is seen in my slide. In the 1990s, the town virtually died, as a lack of visibility to tourists zipping down the highway at 55 miles per hour sent the local economy into a nosedive from which it never recovered. The only remaining business within the generally accepted city limits is the Gaslight Saloon, which was recently rebuilt after a devastating fire. Virtually all the older tourist-era businesses have long since closed, fallen into decay, and been demolished.


Nanook said...


Golly - a covered wagon and one of them [late model] new fangled 'horseless carriages" - a 1951, or 52 Chevrolet. I'm thinking that green beauty being obscured by the Fort Algonquin covered wagon in the second image is a 1949 Dodge. And in the third image we have a blue/white, 1955 Buick; a 1955 Ford station wagon is next in line; and finally, what looks to be another 1951 (or 52) Chevrolet. Not enough info to figure out that last car.

I love the "sullen family" in image #4. (Perhaps they had disappointing results from that "gold mine" we see in the background).

What fun these places appear to be - Thanks, Major.

TokyoMagic! said...

So THAT is where Disney got the name for their boat ride, with singing children from around the world!

In the photo of the "sullen family" in front of the there a headless figure up on the hill, holding a gold pan and pointing towards the woods?

By the way, Elvira's dog was named "Algonquin."

JC Shannon said...

I love these pop up, post war roadside attractions. So very cool. I had the opportunity to live in Rapid City and environs during a runway closure in 1983. We were TDY to Ellsworth AFB for three months. I remember Rockerville, and all the fun we had as tourists in our off time. We soon visited all the hot spots, and of course, the local pubs. Nanook, my Kingdom for the 55 Ford!
Thanks Major, for these wonderful scans.

Chuck said...

Spent a couple of weeks in the Rushmore area on vacation in 2005, but we never heard of this place because it was apparently not there anymore. It's sad when towns die due to the lack of access or visibility to highway traffic.

Jonathan, there are worse places to be TDY for three months than Ellsworth. How did they work alert for you guys? Did they rotate you through with crews from the 28th? Or were you spared alert duty for the duration?

A retired RAF chum of mine from my days at Lakenheath spent a month there with a VC10 K2 crew in the '80s and absolutely loved it. He brought a folding bike with him and apparently biked from the base to Mount Rushmore. He was locally referred to as "the Crazy Brit."

K. Martinez said...

Rockerville? Did they have any good metal bands there?

Love old roadside attractions from the 50'and 60's. We still have our Mystery Spot roadside attraction in Santa Cruz, but it's mainly supported by Asian tourists in which the Spot is usually included in their tour package, otherwise I think it would've closed along ago.

Anyway, love these pics and postcards. Thanks, Major.

Major Pepperidge said...

Nanook, glad you liked these, and that you liked the old autos!

TokyoMagic!, yes, Walt must have passed through St. Ignace, Michigan, and he totally stole the idea of “It’s a Small World”! Scandalous. I think the “headless figure” was one of those “fun photo” opportunities where guests could put their own heads! Wow, talk about trivia, I would have never in a million years been able to tell you the name of Elvira’s dog. I wonder how she (or her writers) came up with that one, of all things?

Jonathan, so YOU are the person who was causing so much trouble in Rapid City in 1983. I KNEW IT! Very fun that you had a chance to really get to know that area, how often does that happen.

Chuck, I always find it to be very sad when I hear about these little parks withering away or being torn down for a new development. It’s not only the loss of a charming piece of Americana, but the end of somebody’s hopes and dreams.

K. Martinez, unfortunately Rockerville was so named because they had the world’s largest rocking chair. Turns out, nobody cared much! “I want to see the giant ball of string”. “No, I want to see the largest ball of tinfoil!”. I can’t say I blame them. I haven’t been to the Mystery Spot for 20 years, but it was busy when I went. It was the height of Summer, of course.

Nanook said...

@ JC Shannon-

No need to part with the entire kingdom - merely 'five figures' for a well-restored example.