In 1634 Samuel de Champlain sent Jean Nicolet from Quebec to explore this area and make peace with the Ottawa and Ojibwa Indians. French traders were in the area in 1673, but they left when conflict with the Indians ensued. The French returned in 1715 and established Fort Michilimackinac, which they occupied until the English took over in 1761. The English abandoned the fort in 1781, during the American Revolution, and re-established it at Mackinac Island. In 1857 Edgar Conkling and Asbury Searles platted the present village of Mackinaw City. The village developed commercially with the arrival in 1881 of the Michigan Central Railroad, which terminated here. The Grand Rapids and Indiana Railroad arrived here in 1882. Mackinaw City was officially incorporated as a village in December 1883.
This site was the terminus of the Dixie Highway, the Mackinaw Trail, the East Michigan Pike and the West Michigan Pike. The East and West Pikes were mapped out in 1913 as gravel and dirt roads. Concrete construction began in the 1920s. Private auto clubs began making trips on the West Michigan Pike, which extended from Chicago to Mackinaw City, in 1913. The first trip, from St. Joseph to Mackinaw City, marked the beginning of an annual event that continued until 1919. Beginning in 1916 the East Pike
was used for touring. Groups from Detroit came up this eastern route. Until the Mackinac Bridge was completed in 1957, the State Highway Department managed a ferry system that transported those arriving by these routes across the Straits of Mackinac.