Background of IofC at Mackinac

History by Frances Roots Hadden

Background of IofC at Mackinac

History by Frances Roots Hadden

The Story of Mission Point

The following document is one of four that has been saved at the Mackinaw City archives of the Mackinac State Historic Parks. One of these is a typed document called “An Informal History”, created in 1973 by Frances Roots Hadden. The other three documents are transcripts of taped conversations with Phil Porter, Director of the Mackinac State Historic Parks. These conversations happened in 1992 and 1993 with, variously, Willard T. Hunter, Vern and Meryl Eriksson, Basil Entwistle, and James and Ellie Newton. These people were present when the events took place on Mackinac Island, and were often participants. As such they were able to speak with credibility. All except Phil Porter are now deceased.


The document which follows is titled: 


An Informal History

Compiled Summer of 1973 by Frances Roots Hadden

In 2009 the hardcopy source materials were converted to computer-based files using OCR (Optical Character Recognition) and were then edited by Susan McGregor using Microsoft Word. The editor corrected verifiable errors in wording and in spelling but made no changes that would affect the meaning of the original document. To the extent possible, margins and paragraphs resemble the original document. The original had 13 pages which was reduced to 10 pages as a Word document, given the font and formatting used.

Contact Information:

Mackinaw City Archives
Brian S. Jaeschke
Mackinac State Historic Parks
P.O. Box 873
Mackinaw City, Michigan 49701
(231) 436 - 4100 Ext. 107
(231) 436 - 4210 Fax
Email here

Susan R. McGregor
154 Brixham Crescent
London, Ontario, Canada
N6K 1L2
(519) 472-0744

Email here


Mackinac Island, Michigan

An Informal History

Compiled Summer of 1973 by Frances Roots Hadden

INDIAN LEGEND holds that Mackinac is a sacred island, and that this end of the island (the southeast tip) is the special abode of the Manitou - the Great Spirit. In one of the many legends of Arch Rock, the Gitchi-Manitou lives in the bottom of Lake Huron during the winter, comes up from the waters in the spring and enters the island through this natural bridge of stone to dwell on Sugar Loaf throughout the summer months. Understandably Mackinac, and what has been known as "Mission Point" (long ago there was an Indian mission here), has been blessed by this special spirit.


This is one of the oldest houses on the island - some claiming it to be the oldest - and was originally part of a Protestant mission to the Indians. Many famous travelers stayed at Mission House when it became a popular summer hotel in the 19th century. Edward Everett Hale, the famous writer (1822-1909), wrote his popular tale The Man Without A Country while staying in this inn. It was first published in The Atlantic Monthly in 1863, was republished many times and widely read. This story was written to inspire patriotism during the Civil War, and had been suggested by the remark of a certain Mr. Vallandigham that he did not wish to live in a country that tolerated Lincoln's administration. Although the actual story was entirely fictitious, it had a realism that made people believe it to be true. Walter Damrosch in 1937 wrote an opera based on this story.

THE THEATRE: built winter of 1954-55. Architect: William Woollett

This was the first major construction undertaken for the future college buildings. In the log trusses, stone fireplaces, and general design, the Los Angeles architect, William Woollett, has captured the early American atmosphere of Mackinac.

Its Construction - a dramatic story

Since the Grand Hotel was built in 1887, this was the first attempt at major winter-time construction on the island. For the first time in three generations, all the men on the island had full year-round employment.

Ground was broken in October 1954. The same month huge timbers, 150 years old, were selected and cut down across the straits on Bois Blanc (locally pronounced "Boblo") Island. The logs were towed across the stormy waters of Lake Huron shortly before the straits froze over for the winter, were floated to the shores of Mission Point and shaped into 60-foot trusses for the theatre roof.

Because of the freezing over of the straits for three months every winter, each autumn construction materials for the college building had to be stockpiled on the island. This time materials continued to be brought across the nine-mile "ice bridge" by motor sled, four-seater plane, or dragged by horse sleigh from St. Ignace. In spite of the heavy snows, only two working days were lost during the winter, and the theatre was dedicated on June 4, 1955.

Why a Theatre on Mackinac Island?

A modern theatre was needed to house what the great European actress, Elisabeth Bergner, called "the theatre of tomorrow" - an unparalleled upsurge of plays and musicals which were born out of the worldwide program of Moral Re-Armament, popularly known as "MRA". (See the end of this account for "Most Asked Questions - What is Moral Re-Armament?")

At the time of building there were already 28 different casts performing around the world in eight different languages on five continents, all of them demonstrating what has been variously called "a theatre of hope", "the theatre of humanity", and "a theatre with a uniting idea".

Hollywood was already playing a significant part in this new theatre. Directors like Alfred Hitchcock, Lewis Allen and Frank Lloyd, together with movie "greats" like Cecil B. DeMille and Louis B. Mayer, offered encouragement and often their own personal or professional aid. Choreographers like Nico Charisse were designing the dances. Many actors, among them Joel McCrea and Frances Dee, were offering help while the great character actor Reginald Owen, (recently of Mary Poppins fame), traveled a whole year with one major cast on a special round-the-world cultural/dramatic mission with one of these musical plays. Lauritz Melchior, famed star of the Metropolitan Opera, spoke of this musical as "a revelation", and Ole Olesen (of Olesen and Johnson fame) said, "In my 40 years on the stage I have never seen anything so dramatic". Many of these "big names" eventually came to Mackinac and were in this theatre.

The "theatre of hope" aimed to present a picture not just of reality, but of society as it could be, believing deeply that it was not enough to send people out of the theatre motivated, bored, discouraged or despairing. Mackinac became known around the world for plays and musicals created or performed in this building. Among them were The Forgotten Factor, The Vanishing Island, Broadway's Jotham Valley, The Crowning Experience, The Good Road and Space Is So Startling. Even the currently popular Up With People shows were originally born here.

When the building was completed islanders said, "This theatre will be talked about for the next hundred years". Indeed the current trend towards an affirmative approach in certain recent television programs, (Ironsides and Gunsmoke among others), may be reflecting the influence of this type of theatre.

THE FILM STUDIO-FINE ARTS BUILDING: built 1959-60. Architect: Edwin B. Cromwell of Ginocchio-Cromwell Associates, Little Rock, Arkansas

The Film Studio-Fine Arts Building was built well after the main conference buildings had been completed, and was considered a fantastic achievement. The Managing Director of Scottish Television called it "one of the finest studios in the world", and a United Press International reporter claimed that the saga of its building was "the greatest news story of our age". A partner in the architectural firm which built it said, "I have built many buildings, but this is the first one that has ever built me".

With one of the largest motion picture sound stages in the world, at the time it was built it was the second largest television studio in America.

The circumstances of its building were similar to those of the theatre, and the reasons for building it were related likewise, this time to accommodate filming and processing both movies and television. Again, large quantities of materials and technological aid were donated by people and concerns who wished to support this type of theatre and films, firms like RCA, Kliegl Brothers Lighting, Clancy Stage Rigging, etc.

250 volunteer workers from many countries gave their services, and many of them received, at the same time, invaluable on-the-job training in all phases of crafts and construction.

The entire floor space for the huge sound studio (8O'x120') was built in one continuous pouring of concrete, all done in one all-night session in mid-winter.

The building standards were incredibly high. Representatives of the Otis Elevator Co., for example, were amazed when they checked on measurements for the elevator shaft. Always in other cases, they found they had to make alterations or adjustments because of careless work. Here there was never any deviation from standard measurement more than one fourth of an inch, and not one change was needed to install the elevator.

Many people attributed this high level of achievement to the calibre of the workers - men and women who selflessly gave in order to achieve something important. Many were men of personal faith. All had sacrificed to come and work. All believed this quality of character was what was needed in our present day society, and must be demonstrated, not just talked about.

The studio building contains: two major sound stages; rehearsal rooms for stage and music, including orchestral rehearsal rooms; costume designing, sewing and storage rooms; set designing and construction shops; an extensive "props" department; hairdressing salons, make-up and dressing rooms; art studios; sound mixing rooms; a huge lighting switchboard; and laboratories for processing and editing of film. In other words, this building is a completely self-contained unit with all aspects of motion picture production from start to finish. The 108' glassed-in tower, built primarily for architectural balance, dominates the skyline.

This studio brought to birth many outstanding films which have since circled the earth. It has trained innumerable young people in all branches of the industry. The full length Technicolor feature film, The Crowning Experience, was largely filmed and completed here, starring Muriel Smith in a musical version of the life of one of the great black leaders of her time, Mary McLeod Bethune, founder of the National Council of Negro Women.

At the time of Mackinac College, this studio was a fitting Fine Arts Center of unusual diversity, providing wide training in many fields. Its largest sound stage was converted temporarily into a college gymnasium which was also made available to the island school children for sports.

THE GREAT HALL COMPLEX: Conference Rooms, Dining Rooms, Kitchens and Dormitory-Residences: Constructed immediately after the Theatre during the winter of 1955-56. Largely completed by late summer of 1956. Dedicated September 24, 1956. Designed to provide a million cubic feet of space and to accommodate 1000 people. Architect: William Woollett of Los Angeles.

An Indian legend, which came to light after the tepee-shaped building was being erected, states that at this especially sacred end of the island, one day the Manitou - the Great Spirit - would gather the nations under a great tepee, or wigwam, and together they would find the secret of peace.

There have been many wigwams erected on Mackinac Island since the beginning of time, but never has there been such a mighty one built as this unique circular structure, one of the finest conceptions in architecture in this country. People who see this building have often called its architect, William Woollett, a genius. Woollett himself, a builder-designer of many churches among his works, simply says: "I consider this building my masterpiece. I was asking for inspiration about this building, and one morning early the thought came to me to create a huge tepee or wigwam of the natural North Country timbers. Once I had accepted this basic idea, all the details fell into place and The Great Hall was born. Only considerably later did I learn from islanders of the Indian legend of the Great Tepee”.

Students of Mackinac College revere this place. It has seen endless creative outpourings of music, theatre, film, variety nights, lectures, conference sessions, and, in the days of the first college, gatherings of young people to discuss or study or to play. As Cathedral Hall it housed many services, and long before that it served as the scene of countless weddings, occasional funerals, concerts and celebrations of all kinds, including the climactic graduation ceremonies of Mackinac College in 1970.

Legend was translated into historic fact when these conference buildings were first opened and dedicated in 1957. Construction workers and their families mingled with the nations of the world gathered together under the great pine beams, men and women in colorful robes and costumes, people of every race and color, every religion and political point of view, rich and poor, labor and management. Youth formed a high percentage of the delegates.

Indian chiefs were there, and some raised their own traditional wigwams out on the slopes. Together they explored the secret of making peace and propagating it in a society of conflicting ideas. Their aim - the aim of Moral Re-Armament - was the establishment of moral and spiritual foundations for the technological age.

Construction Story and "The March Miracle"

Feeling the urgency of the times, 210 construction workers from all over Michigan bent their energies in a race once again with the weather, stockpiling 3000 tons of supplies and equipment before winter freeze-up. As before, their first task was to find the timbers for the massive 51' log beams needed to form the cone-shaped roof of the Great Hall. And once again trees were cut from one of the last stands of virgin Norway pine left in the Michigan north woods. This time, when the logs were roped together to be floated across miles of lake waters, a storm came up and some of them broke away. Tracking them down was a feat in itself, but eventually they were brought back to the slipway, newly built at Mission Point for the motor barge Beaver which was helping load materials.

A contemporary news account continues the dramatic story of that winter's "March Miracle":

"A point was reached in early March, at the height of winter, when the project almost came to a standstill. On Friday the workmen returned to their homes. The last boards of the stockpile of lumber had been used and the Straits were still locked in ice. That weekend there took place what has become known on the island as "the March Miracle". A warm wind blew the ice clear of the main channel. Ice in the shipway was dynamited. On the mainland 36 inches of ice were sawn through to make an approach. There was just a chance that the power barge Beaver, manned by a volunteer crew, could break through. The sun shone, the ice gave, and the Beaver moved out into the Straits. In 24 hours 100 tons of lumber and other materials were brought in. At 8 o'clock in the morning the last load pulled into the slip and was tied up. By 9 o'clock the ice began to form and for another four weeks the island was locked in ice. But the vital cargoes were in. The job went on."

The story became song:

The cold and the frost were grinding
And the Lake was a frozen floor,
When the beams were pointed to heaven
By the men of Mackinac

The finest of materials again were given to beautify and equip the entire complex of dining rooms, kitchens and residential quarters. Stouffers Restaurants gave the furniture of the dining rooms. Lee Carpets supplied the best in extensive wall-to-wall carpeting. Mackinac City's Friedrich Grebe, a craftsman artist and stone mason, built the handsome fireplaces and much of the landscaping stonework.

The first meal was served July 11, 1956, and Father Ling of the island's St. Anne's Church gave the blessing for over 200 construction workers and their wives in the lovely rooms panelled with cypress and over-arched by the gleaming trusses of Norway pine. Cooks from six nations served roast turkey and all the trimmings to the log workers, carpenter crews, plumbers, metal workers, electricians and masons and the island's new "Home for the nations" was launched, full of promise and good will.

For the next ten years these buildings were the scene of innumerable international conferences, housing distinguished delegates from the leadership of all segments of world society, and contributing an endless succession of plays, films and musical shows that would inspire millions in Asia, Africa and Europe.


Portrait Panels

The artist, Erling Roberts of Ojai, California, in a montage of painstakingly vivid portraits, captured the likenesses of some of the personalities associated with Dr. Frank Buchman, the American initiator of Moral Re-Armament, the man who inspired the building of this conference center. These murals today adorn three of the panels in the main building.

Fireplace Murals

In the Great Hall, these murals are the work of a young American Indian painter and a delegate to the youth conference on "Tomorrow's America" held here in 1964. (Artist: Angelo John - ed.)

Where the Great Lakes mingle lies Mackinac
To the Indians it was a sacred island.
The French built a mission on it.
The British built a fort.
And the Americans a trading post.
Finally, as foretold long ago-
Under a mighty modern wigwam,
It became a home for the nations.

WEST RESIDENCE BUILDING: constructed in the winter of 1956-57

The Grand Hotel prides itself on having "the longest porch in the world". Out of friendship for its owner, W. S. Woodfill, the builders enabled him to keep that title by making their new residence building one foot shorter than the Grand.

Mackinac College used it as their men's dormitory with administrative offices in its basement. In its earlier years it served as a residence for many of the delegates to conferences on Moral Re-Armament. Its central lobby room, the Johnson Room, extending two floors high, was the scene of one of the most dramatic moments in the film The Crowning Experience, ­ the Lincoln Scene.


The college was founded in 1965, opened its doors to the first charter class in September, 1966, and inaugurated its president, Dr. S. Douglas Cornell, formerly Executive Officer of the National Academy of Sciences in Washington, on the same day. Its early opening was made possible by MRA's outright gift of its entire Mackinac Island properties to the new college. This independent, liberal arts college - co-educational and non-denominational - was established with a charter from the State of Michigan, gathering its outstanding faculty from several other countries besides the United States.

For four years Mackinac College - its motto was "To Learn, to Live, to Lead" - launched a series of profoundly innovative programs, both academic and social, many of them initiated by the students themselves. In recent years it has been apparent that many of the experiments conducted at Mackinac were widely observed and increasingly imitated on other campuses across the nation where upheaval and disillusionment demanded fresh approaches.

PETER HOWARD MEMORIAL LIBRARY: built winter of 1965-66. Architect: Edwin B. Cromwell of Ginocchio, Cromwell Associates, Little Rock, Arkansas

This striking three-story structure, with its overhanging roof canopy and elongated dormer windows, was designed both for its view of lake and forest and for protection against the winter winds which sweep across this end of the island.

Story behind the Library and College:

The original catalog of Mackinac College states: "It is appropriate that the first structure built specifically for Mackinac College should be named for the late Peter Howard1, British author, playwright, journalist and world leader, who first envisioned a liberal arts college on Mackinac Island, dedicated to the furtherance of high academic quality and high human purpose".

By 1964 it was apparent that a new ferment was affecting the youth of America, which sought expression not in test, but in an eagerness, even a hunger, for involvement in the creating of a future they could believe in.

Something new exploded that summer in the theatre studios of the island, and what was later to become known as Up With People - "one of the most exciting musical reviews experienced theatre buffs have seen in decades" - was born at Mackinac. Walt Disney called it "the happiest, most hard hitting way of saying what America is all about".

Peter Howard, beloved and sought after by the young on campuses all across America, had sparked this forward-reaching program in the crowded months before his untimely death.

The massive expansion of activity that resulted from this initiative proved the necessity for a more mobile type of operation, rendering the Mackinac facilities idle for much of the year. With the departure in 1965 of MRA's main program and operations from the island, the new college plunged into preparations for its opening a year later.

It was especially appropriate that this first great building, so crucial to any college, should have been constructed almost entirely by young volunteers. Many different countries sent carefully selected young men and women for on-the-job training, not only in construction work, but in running the maintenance for kitchens, living quarters and stores, and in a preliminary assembling of books and periodicals which came flooding in for the new library.

CLARK CENTER FOR THE ARTS AND SCIENCES: built winter of 1967-68. Architect: Edwin B. Cromwell of Ginocchio, Cromwell Associates, Little Rock, Arkansas

This handsome new classroom-laboratory building was ready for use in September, 1968, Mackinac College's third academic year. Its 75,000 square feet of floor space housed 30 classrooms and laboratories, as well as faculty offices and lounges. It included a 300-seat lecture-recital hall and a l50-seat natural science demonstration room. Named for its donors, Mr. and Mrs. Van Alan Clark of New York, the center provided facilities for an eventual student body of 1000. Styled to blend with both the library and the theatre-studio buildings directly above it, Clark Center, with its unusual rooftop plaza, commands a sweeping view of playing fields and the waters of the Straits of Mackinac.

One unusual feature is that the roof is built of 18 inches of concrete, designed to support a carriage driveway from Mission House and the Residence Building directly in front of the Theatre and Fine Arts Building to end eventually at the Great Hall.


For four years Mackinac College struggled to keep alive. First founded from a sense of urgency, it was launched in faith that it would play out its role at this particular time in history because it must. By the spring of 1969 it was increasingly clear that the college would be unable to stabilize financially, and a program of slow phasing-out began. Another academic year was allowed for those of the charter class who wished to complete their studies to remain and graduate. The story of that last academic year is one of heroic courage, of sacrifice, of doubled loads on the remaining faculty, some of whom taught without salary, doubled loads on students who carried many non-academic responsibilities to keep things going - long hours, hard work, achievement.

Four years earlier the new President had welcomed the charter class with these words:

"We have before us the greatest adventure of our lives. We are out to build a concept of education to meet the challenge of an age that is characterized by its breathtaking opportunity and its appalling danger. Can we learn together to take the best in the human mind and spirit, to infuse it with the essence of the knowledge and wisdom of the ages, to kindle it with the spark of high purpose, and thus to produce men and women with the intellectual grasp, the carelessness of self, the understanding of issues, and the lion hearts to match the time in which we live? For we are out to do nothing less. There will be nothing easy about this road. Real learning is not easy. But it will be an exhilarating road, an unexpected road, a road of beauty and of danger, an infinitely rewarding and satisfying road".

And it was, for four exhilarating, unexpectedly heartbreaking and infinitely rewarding years.

Mackinac College graduated its charter class on June 20, 1970 before finally closing its doors.

But Mackinac College lives on, having had the great good fortune to be born on the southeast tip of the island where a mighty wigwam was raised for the Great Spirit.

So what if the ice-bound waters hide the Manitou in winter? In spring comes the time of greening. And he who listens for the sound of that spring, lives again.


In 1971 the original Mackinac College properties were sold to Rev. Rex Humbard of the Cathedral of Tomorrow, Akron, Ohio. In September, 1972 the college reopened under the same name, having been able to secure the same Michigan state charter. The new Mackinac College remained open until June, 1973.


1.What is Moral Re-Armament?

MRA is hard to confine to one single definition. Much depends on who makes the definition. Here are some samples:

"It is not a political faith, not a religion, but a way of life. You do not join it, you do not resign from it, you just live it." - The Afro-American, Washington, D.C.

"A philosophy of life applied in action ... creating a moral climate in which true brotherly unity can flourish, overarching all that today tears the world apart." - Robert Schumann, former Prime Minister and Foreign Minister, France

"It is not an institution, not a point of view; it starts a revolution by starting one in you." - Attributed years ago to a Dutch parliamentarian

"An ideology of the heart and conscience which seeks to supersede the class struggle by the eternal struggle between good and evil." - Radio Moscow

"They oppose the cross of the swastika with the cross of Christ." - Official Gestapo report discovered after World War II

"They are doing what you have always known in your heart you ought to be doing, and doing it all day, every day." - A U.S. admiral

"A global crusade to win the world to the actual practice of the New Testament standards of purity, honesty, unselfishness and love." - A chaplain of the U.S. Senate

"Can be compared with the great struggles against slavery and feudalism ... It is fire from heaven which must kindle into flame the hearts of all men." - A prominent Italian Catholic priest and political philosopher

"If MRA should bring about a Church aflame, and if in the process the very name should be lost, it will have achieved its highest destiny." - Dr. Frank Buchman, American initiator of MRA

"Moral Re-Armament stands for faith in God, sound family life, people more important than profits, work as important as wages ... the incorruptible man ... You can't live crooked and think straight." - Peter Howard

2. When and how did MRA come to the island?

MRA is still listed on the most recent wall map of the island at the Visitors' Center. The actual fact is that MRA has had no operations on the island since 1965, the year its properties were deeded over to the new independent Mackinac College. Rex Humbard in turn bought the properties directly from Mackinac College in 1971.

Moral Re-Armament held its first conference on Mackinac Island in 1942 at the Island House.

It happened that Dr. Frank Buchman, founder of Moral Re-Armament, was visiting his old friend, Mrs. Henry Ford in Dearborn, during the spring of that year. When she learned that his plans for a summer conference were not yet clear, she said, "What about Mackinac Island? It's a beautiful place." "Yes, I know," he replied. "I was there as a young man," whereupon Mrs. Ford picked up the phone and called Michigan's Governor Murray van Wagoner, who immediately suggested the old Island House as a conference center. "It's been out of use for some years, but we could make it available for a dollar a year."

When the first people arrived to clean it up, solid layers of ice covered the floors, the entire kitchen was encased in layers of black soot, and the plumbing was in shambles. In the next few years, $15,000 plus endless man hours of labor were invested in restoring the historic Island House for immediate use, and preparing it for eventual return to commercial use, until its final total restoration in 1972. Meanwhile, hundreds of delegates from all over the world came to this conference center, including scores of servicemen during the war years.

Bennett Hall: Eventually the facilities proved inadequate and, as MRA expanded, its social benefits to the island became more apparent. Bennett Hall, made available early on as a clinic and infirmary for the conference center, was manned by Dr. Irene Gates of New York who made herself loved and indispensable to the island. All this may have provided fresh incentive for the much-needed new and modern Medical Center that now serves the entire island, on whose walls hangs a memorial to Dr. Gates.

Other buildings long out of use were bought by friends to accommodate more conference guests: Chateau Beaumont, Pine Cottage, La Chance, Bonnie Doone, Maple View, Mission House, and other homes near the old Mission Church. In each case there was restoration or outright modernizing.

Stonecliffe: In 1949 this large estate out near the airport was acquired and used for smaller gatherings and for special entertainment of distinguished guests.

Cedar Point (now Mission Point Resort [1991]), with its properties down to the lake shore, and soon a tent was raised on its land at the exact site of the present Cedar Dining Room.

Cedar Lodge, later to become Cedar Dining Room and the first building around which the Great Hall complex was built (see earlier notes), was built in place of the tent in the summer of 1952. Its timbers were cut from the Stonecliffe property, and originally it was a plain shed with sides open to the weather, serving as a temporary conference hall. It was walled in by the summer of 1953 and beautified, as plans were laid for the first major construction, the new theatre. It was to be begun the following year and to stand on the west side of the old Curry Barn at the foot of East Bluff.

Later summers saw strange happenings as the old Barn was picked up, put on wheels and dragged around the completed Theatre to attach itself to the opposite side of the stage and fly gallery. About the same time its neighboring cottage, Small Point, was also put on wheels and moved - fully furnished with its occupants waving out the windows - past the Theatre and Mission House, down to the Lakeshore road, and back toward the eastern tip of the island where it now rests at the foot of the huge bluff called "Robinson's Folly".


  1. Peter Howard: Reginald Owen, Hollywood star and veteran actor, says of Peter Howard's plays; "They are timeless ... there is no dramatist living in the world today as great as Peter Howard".