A Short History of the Dougherty House

By Carol Lewis & Jackie Burns
(Except for the last paragraph, which was added as an update, this article originally appeared in the April, 2005 newsletter.)


Reverend Peter Dougherty arrived in Old Mission in 1839. Under the terms of the United States Treaty of 1836, the government was required to provide for the Ottawa and Chippewa, a farmer, a blacksmith and a carpenter. Peter worked to also provide them with a mission, a school, and a Christian education. In return, the U.S. would open up the lands for sale on which the Ottawa and Chippewa had hunted, farmed and lived for many generations.

After discussion with the Ottawa and Chippewa, it was decided to place the mission on the Elk Rapids side of East Bay. One log building was completed there before the Native Americans requested Peter to move to the Old Mission side of the bay. Peter and the Native Americans built structures for a mission, a church, and a home for Peter on the shore of Old Mission.

The original log building was moved by the Native Americans from Elk Rapids to Old Mission, piece by piece,  and rebuilt as a church. A replica of that church now sits near the original site on land donated in 1939 by Bertha Gilmore.

 In 1840, Dougherty married 21-year-old Maria Higgins, an educated woman from Princeton, New Jersey, who returned with him to live her life among the Ottawa and Chippewa, teaching medical skills, administering to the women and children, and learning their language. In 1842 with the help of the Native Americans Peter built "The Mission House" for his family, about  a mile west of the harbor.  Eight girls and one boy were born to the Doughertys while they lived there,    

During their stay in The Mission House, Peter and Maria wrote and published, in 1844, a translation in Ojibwa with parallel English text, of James Gall’s Initiatory Catechism, containing the Ten Commandments and the Lord’s Prayer. They also made significant contributions to the study of local tribal language by writing and  publishing A Chippewa Primer for use in the  Native American Schools. In 1847, Dougherty wrote to the Presbyterian Board: "Six years ago the site occupied by the [Old Mission] village was a dense thicket. The village now extends nearly a mile in length, containing some twenty log houses and some good log stables belonging to the Indians….  the Native Americans have cleared and cultivated some two hundred acres of new gardens...[and] raised for sale several hundred bushels of corn and potatoes."

In 1850, the village included 40 log dwellings, a church, a school and several mechanics shops. By 1853, the first meeting of Peninsula Township  planned to create nine "highway" districts.  But in 1850, the land the Ottawa and Chippewa were occupying in Old Mission was still the property of the State of Michigan, and when the terms of the 1836 treaty – which had given the entire Old Mission Peninsula as a reservation – were re-negotiated, there was no longer any assurance that the lands of Old Mission would remain in the Indians’ hands instead of being sold off to white settlers in large farm lots. As land in Leelanau County across West Bay was available, the Native Americans used their Government annuity and purchased acreage near what is now Omena. In 1852, the Presbyterian Board of Missions had Dougherty relocate the mission near Omena as well, and continue his work with the Native Americans there.The Mission House remained in Old Mission, unused and in excellent condition until 1866, when the Doughertys, having bought the deed from the Presbyterian Church in 1861, sold it to Solon Rushmore, whose descendants turned The Mission House into the "Rushmore Inn," building a small Victorian porch on the front for their guests to watch the great steamships come into the harbor at the turn of the century. The deed to the Rushmore house did not pass from the Rushmore family for 95 years.  Old Mission had become a thriving community of agricultural pursuits and resorters, with the Rushmore Inn, the opening of the Old Mission Inn nearby, the Hyslops’ resort in the village, and the cottagers who built on the Leffingwell Preserve along Old Mission Point.

Minnie Lane Rushmore was the daughter of Sarah Lane, who served as light keeper from 1906 to 1907 after her husband, John’s, death at his post. She was one of the few women light keepers on the Great Lakes, thus binding together in one family two of the most important structures in Old Mission: Old Mission Point Lighthouse and the Dougherty Mission House.

The Rushmore House sold for only the third time when Maurice Rushmore, sold it to Virginia Larson in 1961. Virginia lived across the street, and used the house to store her many items, in preparation for opening the  Mission House as a museum.  As recently as seven years ago, Virginia suggested that Peter Dougherty’s dresser was still in the house.  A builder she hired to do minor repairs reported that structurally the house was solid. One of the few three seater outhouses in Grand Traverse County still stands behind the house.

In 2004, upon Virginia’s death, her sons, David and Daniel, contracted with the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy to sell the house to Peninsula Township, to preserve and protect it as the last remaining structure in Old Mission representing the beginnings of European settlement in the Grand Traverse region, and a compassionate partnership between the Ottawa and Chippewa and the first residents of European descent in the Grand Traverse region.

In 2005, the Old Mission Peninsula Historical Society, working with Peninsula Township and the Grand Traverse Regional Conservancy, executed an option to purchase the Dougherty Homestead and its fifteen acres from the Virginia Larson's heirs.  Plans are now being formulated to renovate the house and develop programs that will illuminate the homestead's central place in the history of not only Grand Traverse but as part of the westward expansion of the country in the mid- nineteenth  century.