Photo of the Day: Tompkins Road Dogs & Memories of Mae Cowan

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I love driving by the horse farm on Tompkins Road, because there are always horses out and about in their colorful winter sweaters. And I usually see a few of those fluffy white dogs guarding the pasture, but the other day, I counted NINE fluffy white dogs! Pictured above are a few of them. (I couldn’t get them all in one place at the same time.)

For longtime OMPers, this is the farm where Mae Cowan lived, on the corner of Center Road and Tompkins Road, out by Mission Point Lighthouse. Mae’s house and barn are still there, next to the new horse barn. Back in the 1960s and early 70s, I would ride down with Mom on Sunday mornings to pick up Mae for church. She was a lovely soul, and she and mom were kindred spirits, as they were both nurses.

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Mae Cowan’s house and barn on Tompkins Road | Jane Boursaw Photo

I found the notice below in the Traverse City Record-Eagle, dated May 3, 1958, which notes that Mae attended a nursing conference presented by the Grand Traverse County unit of the American Cancer Society and Michigan State Nurses Association. The event took place at Gilbert Lodge, and Mrs. Fred Dohm, Mrs. Ray Carroll, Mrs. Robert Fuller and Mrs. Oscar Thomas were other OMP nurses in attendance.

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Traverse City Record Eagle, 5-3-58

According to Mae’s obituary, which I’ve included below (Traverse City Record-Eagle; March 20, 1977), Mae was born on the Old Mission Peninsula on March 15, 1895, to parents John and Rose (Quaife) Tompkins. On Oct. 11, 1933, she married David J. Cowan in Peoria, Illinois. They only had a few years together, as he died on Oct. 1, 1936.

The obit notes that Mae “graduated at Traverse City State Hospital as a registered nurse,” and was employed in South Haven; Louisville, Kentucky; and Peoria, Illinois. I wonder if her husband’s passing prompted her to move back home to the Old Mission Peninsula, because in 1938, she began work as a private duty nurse at Munson Medical Center.

She was a member of the Order of Eastern Star, Old Mission Women’s Club, Farm Bureau and Ogdensburg United Methodist Church.

The obit also says that she was survived by her cousins, and close friends, Mr. and Mrs. Jim Horton and family of Old Mission. Does anyone know more about that family connection? If so, tell us in the comments section below.

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Mae Cowan Obituary, Traverse City Record-Eagle, 3-20-77
Bay View Insurance of Traverse City Michigan


  1. I don’t believe they were related.. I think Mr. Horton worked for Mae. She was related to the Tompkins clan, perhaps married to one of the five Tompkins brothers…

    • I wondered, too. The way the obit was written, it’s unclear whether the Horton’s were cousins or close family friends. And according to the obit, Mae’s parents were John and Rose Tompkins. So that leads me to believe that her house on Tompkins Road was where her parents lived and where she grew up…?

    • From what my parents told me, the Tompkins brothers arrived from Ogdensburg, New York, and settled on what was later Mae’s land. It was pretty much blow sand, not good for farming, so the men bought up other parcels. My grandfather’ father, Seth and his wife Matilda bought the land where Len and Eddie Ligon now live. My grandpa Murry’s brother, William Gill bought land on Center Rd. The farm my parents owned, on Center Rd. was owned by Guy Tompkins.

  2. There were a lot of nurses that lived out here, including my mother, Reba Dohm who was trained in Ann Arbor and served in WWII in England. Mae was who she called whenever she had a medical question.

  3. I remember as a young child that whenever my sister, brother or I had a minor illness, Mom always took us to see Mae. She was so thorough and there was no nonsense about the home care to follow. We never minded going to see her. I have thought of her often. Thank you so much for the background history.

  4. We stopped to watch the dogs a few weeks ago on a relatively warm, sunny day. They obviously had Spring fever and were running and playing with each other. They were hilarious to watch as they ran full speed at and around each other.
    The history of Mae and her property brings her to life.
    Thanks for sharing.

  5. The Horton,s Mae Cowan were not related. My father James Horton worked for her and in the 60″S bought the farm from brother and i called her aunt mae. Which is my middle name. She remained in the farm house until her death. She met her husband in Illinois. He was an attorney. They never had children and she took my brother and myself under her wing.she was a special lady. She taught me how to sew, cook,bake and can fruits and vegetables from the garden. I miss her to this day. The farm house was her parents. She came home to help her mother with the farm. Her father had passed away and her mother was not in the best of health. I was brought home from the hospital to that home as was my daughter.

  6. As my sister stated the Horton’s and Mae were not related. The family that is mentioned in the obits. is in reference to my sister Sandra and me. We were like family. To my knowledge she had no family left in the area after her mother passed away. She did have cousins in Clinton MI. and in the U.P. north of Houghton. As mentioned by others she was the community nurse. If you were ill everyone called Aunt Mae. There was a huge wooden bar on the property west of the farm house. In the seventies that barn was tore down and the lumber was sold to her cousin in Clinton, MI. He used the lumber to remodel the inside of his restaurant. On the farm we always had a dog, cattle, horses, pigs, chickens, guinea hens, and at times peacocks. My sister and I had a pony named Sambo. Our family lived in the house up Tompkins Road to the east. As Sandra stated my folks purchased the farm in the sixties. When my folks decided to retire they sold the farm to American Farmland Trust who in turn deed restricted the property to one house per 20 acres. My folks did not want their property to become a sob division.

    • And don’t forget aunt mae and her love for cats. Also her mother was confined to bed because of diabetes and aunt mae was her care giver. I can remember reading to grandma Tompkins and holding her hand. Sandra

  7. From Jackie Thomas:

    My grandmother, Edith Tompkins, Brinkman, LaBatt, was a cousin of Mae Tompkins. Their fathers were cousins and grandsons of Robert Drake Tompkins who came here to Old Mission in 1855 with his wife and nine children.

    Mae and Edith were both widows and both owned farms here. Therefore, it was necessary for both of them to work the farm along with their hired help.

    The cousins enjoyed discussing farm problems together, trading recipes, and visiting.

  8. I live in Colorado now but spent many happy summers visiting my Aunt Gert Lardie in Old Mssion. I remember as a young girl I was frantically pointing to my nose and screaming buzz, buzz. My Aunt Gert called Mae who carefully removed a Buss fuse from my nose. Thank You Mae!

    Sue Lardie Smith


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