Fort Wilkins was built to keep law and order in the western Upper Peninsula's booming nineteenth-century copper mining district. This typical frontier army post was garrisoned by small numbers of federal troops from 1844 to 1846, prior to the Mexican War, and from 1867 to 1870, following the Civil War. Between periods of military occupation, and for a half century thereafter, civilians periodically used fort buildings as summer residences and as hunting camps. The property was acquired by the State of Michigan in 1923 as part of a state park.
Since 1923, restoration and reconstruction efforts have transformed Fort Wilkins into a frontier garrison once again. The site is an impressive formation of vernacular military architecture, symmetrically arranged to face south across the parade ground toward Lake Fanny Hooe. These rectangular buildings were constructed of hewn timber on stone masonry foundations, with gabled and wood-shingled roofs. Some of the buildings, notably the three containing officers' quarters, are sided with weatherboards and whitewashed. Green shutters frame the windows, and a broad piazza fronts each block of quarters and faces both the parade ground and most of the other important buildings in the fort. To each side of the officers' quarters stand a mess hall, with kitchen attached, and a company barracks. A bakery, hospital, quartermaster's building, sutler's building, powder magazine, and an ice house also stand inside the reconstructed log palisade. Located outside the stockade to the east are three reconstructed married enlisted men's cabins. Less polished dwellings than the officers' quarters, or even the company barracks, these buildings are reconstructed of unhewn logs, horizontally laid, with sharp-notched corners.
Both individually and as a strategically arranged whole, the buildings of Fort Wilkins tell about military life on the northwestern frontier at mid-nineteenth century. Military service at Fort Wilkins, however, was routine and uneventful, and today's visitor to the restored fort is most struck by the isolation and severe climate with which its occupants, housed in simple log buildings, had to cope.