Sights to see on Mackinac Island: The story behind Anne’s Tablet

Published on August 14th, 2020

Constance Fenimore Woolson grew up in Cleveland. She fell to her death in Italy. And her family has ties to the New York town that’s home to Major League Baseball’s Hall of Fame.

Yet, Michigan’s Mackinac Island is where there’s a memorial to the author who penned the 19th-century novel, “Anne.”

On a bluff overlooking the Mackinac Island harbor near Fort Mackinac is Anne’s Tablet, a bronze plaque that honors Woolson for expressing “her love of this island and its beauty in the words of her heroine, Anne.” The novel offers a glimpse of life in the mid-1800s on Mackinac Island, where Anne grows up before leaving home and running in the supposedly refined circles of Victorian society out East.

Like other writings by Woolson, “Anne” gives the reader a distinct sense of place. Because part of the novel is set on Mackinac Island, the book provides a wonderful view into what the island was like as it evolved from a fur-trading center and military post into an emerging tourist destination full of natural wonders.

In fact, because “Anne” was so widely read in Harper’s Magazine before being published as a book, Woolson’s story likely contributed to Mackinac Island’s transformation and accelerated its momentum toward becoming the hugely popular travel destination that it is today.

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Woolson had first-hand experience of Mackinac Island because she visited there often as a child. She also had writing in her blood; her great-uncle was James Fenimore Cooper, America’s first major novelist and author of “The Last of the Mohicans.” (Incidentally, Cooper’s father founded Cooperstown, N.Y., which is home to the baseball Hall of Fame.)Anne’s Tablet overlooks the Mackinac Island harbor and memorializes Constance Fenimore Woolson, author of the novel, “Anne.”

Anne’s Tablet is one of many unique landmarks on Mackinac Island that are fun to seek out and find while walking around. (Cars are not allowed on Mackinac Island.) Even if you’ve never heard of Woolson or don’t much care for 19th-century literature, the view alone is worth the trip to Anne’s Tablet. It’s even possible that the view is the main reason that the memorial exists.

It was Woolson’s nephew, Samuel Mather, who donated the money for Anne’s Tablet back in 1916. As nice as it was for the wealthy Cleveland businessman to memorialize his aunt, Mather may have had another motive, according to one theory.

After the U.S. military vacated Fort Mackinac, the state of Michigan took over management of the former Mackinac National Park. In order to generate new revenue to fund operations, Mackinac Island State Park began leasing land for cottages. Mather, then a cottage owner on Mackinac Island, may have partnered with neighbors to prevent further development by placing Anne’s Tablet atop one of the more scenic parts of the island.

However, it was the state park commission that authorized placement of the monument in that location, so maybe everybody wanted to preserve the incredible view for all of the public to enjoy.

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Whatever the reason behind Anne’s Tablet, visiting the site remains a unique piece of the Mackinac Island experience. If you’d like to relive 19th-century Mackinac Island through Anne’s eyes, you can find Woolson’s novel at The Island Bookstore downtown on Mackinac Island. And there are many quiet places around the island to escape for a while and read.