Mackinac island actually used to be called Mitchimakinak by the native Ojibwa, as this means "big turtle" in reference to the island's shape. French explorers called the island Michillimackinac, which was eventually shortened to Mackinac by Americans.
Mackinac island is located 7 miles from land in the middle of Lake Huron. Lake Michigan actually lies directly to the left of the island. During the French and Indian War, Great Britain controlled the island from the 1700s up until around 1815. The island had originally been a French fur trading post. In 1815, America gained the island through the Treaty of Ghent, and two battles were fought at Fort Mackinac. One occurred during the war of 1812, and another in 1814. The Fort was later used as a prison for Confederate sympathizers during the American Civil War.
No motor vehicles are allowed on the island, and all transportation must occur by foot, horse or bicycle. Service or emergency vehicles may be used, as may snowmobiles during the winter. The ferry is the primary means of going to and from the island, but private aircraft or boats may be used too. During the winter, snowmobiles can traverse the ice to the mainland. Less than 500 people live on Mackinac Island year round. The private vacation home of the Governor of Michigan is located on Mackinac Island.