Fayne Island was named after an obscure British fur trapper, and remained one of the largest unsettled islands in the Great Lakes until a community of Mennonites moved there in 1801.

The Mennonites, originally from lower Michigan, were worried about temptation and influence from the world outside their sect. So they moved their entire small community to the island to set up a self-sufficient settlement in what was then the frontier.

Harsh winters and stony soil made for a very difficult time, and the Mennonites found themselves increasingly unable to farm for a living by the 1840s. Eventually, at a contentious meeting, they decided to solicit outsiders to trade for materials they could not make themselves and for food in years when harvests were bad.

By 1860, a small trading community of non-Mennonites had formed, and it grew rapidly. The first non-Mennonite buildings outside the docks were laid out in the 1870s, and by the 1880s the Mennonites were a minority on Fayne, with many having left the faith and others moving to join less tiny religious communities elsewhere. A small number of Mennonites remain, isolated and on cool terms with the rest of the population.

Fayne had become a popular summer destination by the turn of the century, and many of the main buildings date to that time. The Golden Gardenia Hotel dates to 1897, becoming a favorite of those who couldn’t afford other island hotels like the Grand on Mackinac or who simply preferred a cozier atmosphere.

The end of the lake trade in the 1950s and 1960s badly hurt what had become Fayne Township, and the island fell on hard times with many closures and a loss of population to the mainland, a trend that continues to this day. Though the economy improved in the 1990s, and the Golden Gardenia was saved from demolition, it is a far cry from the salad days of the late 1800s.

Contemporary Fayne Island finds itself at a crossroads. The population is rapidly aging, and many of the young people are moving away. While still relatively popular, tourist attractions like the Gardenia make residents worry about an influx of outsiders that could wipe away the township’s uniqueness. Many older residents are very outspoken about making the island another tourist trap for “fudges” a la Mackinac.

To open itself up to the world and possibly lose its uniqueness, or to remain isolated and possibly dwindle into nothingness–those are the options confronting Fayne Island in the 21st century.

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