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Peter Dougherty. Who is this guy you’ve probably heard about? What was he doing in Old Mission back in the 1800s? And why is the home he once inhabited so important to the history of the Old Mission Peninsula? Read on…

Peter Dougherty – Man on a Mission

In 1839, the Reverend Peter Dougherty was sent to the Grand Traverse Region by the Presbyterian Board of Foreign Mission to establish a church and school for the Native Americans who inhabited the area.

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In June of that year, Chief Ahgosa of the Grand Traverse Band of Ottawa and Chippewa Indians, living on what is now Old Mission Peninsula, asked Dougherty to move his mission from the mouth of the Elk River in Elk Rapids to the present day site of Old Mission, Michigan, 18 miles from present day Traverse City.

The mission was established under the terms of the Treaty of 1836, or Treaty of Washington, at the request of the Native Americans, and the federal government paid the Presbyterian Board of Mission $3,000 per year to maintain the mission.

The Dougherty House – The First Post and Beam Home North of Grand Rapids

In 1842, needing a larger and more permanent residence, Dougherty built his “Mission House,” now part of the Dougherty Historic Home Site, in a settlement which consisted of a church, schoolhouse, wigwams, and cabins.

The home, located at 18459 Mission Road on the Old Mission Peninsula, is believed to be the first post and beam house north of Grand Rapids in Michigan’s Lower Peninsula. Dougherty stayed there for more than a decade, teaching and farming. Farming replaced the lumber industry when the lumber boom ended in the late 19th century.

Peter Dougherty Moves to Omena

When the state government opened areas of Leelanau County where Native Americans could purchase land, Dougherty and many of his Native American followers decided it would be better to move their homes to this more secure location. In 1852, they moved across the bay and established their “New Mission,” in what later became the town of Omena. The village and peninsula they left then became known as the “Old Mission.”

The Rushmore Years

In 1861, Dougherty sold his home in Old Mission to Solon Rushmore. It remained in the Rushmore family for approximately 100 years. The Rushmores farmed the land and later turned the home into an inn. With its ten guest rooms, the inn catered to resorters arriving by steamship in Old Mission Harbor. This inn was among the first guest homes in the area.

In 1956, the home was placed on the Michigan Historic Sites Register. In 1961, it was sold to Virginia Larson. After her death, her heirs, David and Dan Larson, granted an option to purchase the home and the surrounding 15 acres to the Grand Traverse Regional Land Conservancy. In 2006, it was acquired by Peninsula Township, and today, it is administered by the Peter Dougherty Society.

Here’s a photo of the Rushmore family farming the land in Old Mission, date unknown. Buy this photo at OldMissionPhotos.com.

The Rushmore Family farming the land in Old Mission once owned by Peter Dougherty
The Rushmore Family, farming the land in Old Mission once owned by Peter Dougherty

Restoring and Preserving a Historic Treasure

In 2008, an ice house matching the foundation dimensions and appearance of the original Rushmore ice house was discovered and moved from a nearby home site. This ice house was restored and placed on the old ice house foundation behind the Dougherty home.

In 2009, a privy, originally built by Durante Rushmore in the 1880’s when the house began functioning as an inn for summer visitors, was restored using wood from a collapsed 1870’s barn near Bowers Harbor on Old Mission Peninsula.

Also, in 2009, a half-mile Heritage Trail and Handicap Trail was developed. The trail is well marked, and there are three benches along the trail for visitors to rest and enjoy the scenery.

In 2010, work began on restoring the adjacent Rushmore era summer kitchen/carriage shed. This restoration included rebuilding the foundation, replacing damaged siding, adding a cedar shake roof and reestablishing the interior. This restoration was completed in 2014.

From 2012 to present, restoration of the home has taken place, including re-roofing the roof in cedar shakes, repairing and replacing all the windows and doors, replacing the foundation and much more.

Old Mission Dougherty House Gets a New Foundation
The Dougherty House Gets a New Foundation | Jane Boursaw Photo

In 2011, the Peter Dougherty House, later known as the Rushmore Inn and today known as the “Mission House,” was placed on the National Historic Register, securing its proper place as a significant part of Michigan and Native American history.

Love history and want to meet new people? Consider being a docent for the Dougherty House tours. Learn more here.

A NOTE FROM JANE: I started Old Mission Gazette in 2015 because I felt a calling to provide the Old Mission Peninsula community with local news. After decades of writing for newspapers and magazines like the New York Times, Los Angeles Times, Family Circle and Ladies' Home Journal, I really just wanted to write about my own community where I grew up on a cherry farm and raised my own family. So I started my own newspaper.

Because Old Mission Gazette is a "Reader Supported Newspaper" -- meaning it exists because of your financial support -- I hope you'll consider tossing a few bucks our way if I mention your event, your business, your organization or your news item, or if you simply love reading about what's happening on the OMP. In a time when local news is becoming a thing of the past, supporting an independent community newspaper is more important now than ever.

To keep the Gazette going, click here to make a donation. Thank you so much for your support. -jb

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