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Mackinac Island: Who’s in charge?

Few places have experienced the continuity of leadership that Mackinac Island has enjoyed over the past half-century. It was way back in 1975 that Margaret Doud was first elected mayor of Mackinac Island. Now, 45 years later and in her 70s, Doud is one of the longest-serving mayors in the nation’s history.

Worldwide, only a few leaders have been in office longer than Doud, and they’re all kings or queens in countries that have monarchies. You might say that makes Doud like royalty. In fact, she once was crowned Lilac Queen!

Arch Rock is one of the most picturesque landmarks in Mackinac Island State Park and a popular selfie spot for visitors.

But is Mayor Doud in charge of Mackinac Island?

Well, yes and no. Mackinac Island is an interesting case study of the American system of government. A visit to Mackinac Island actually makes for a nice first-hand civics lesson in how it all works:

  • For starters, Mackinac Island isn’t only an island; it’s also a city.

    The world-renowned travel destination attracts over 1 million visitors each year, but many people who vacation on Mackinac Island might not realize that about 500 people live there year-round. And just like where you live, there’s a local government that’s in charge. Like many local governments, the city of Mackinac Island provides water and sewer service, fire protection and police response. It inspects buildings to make sure they’re safe, maintains parks for community recreation and operates a library. Plus, it’s the city that pays to clean horse manure off Mackinac Island streets in the summer. Doud oversees all of that. But in a sense, the residents are the real bosses of Mackinac Island because Doud is answerable to them in a city election each spring.

Historic Fort Mackinac on Michigan’s Mackinac Island was built by the British before becoming an American military outpost.

  • Before it became the country’s first “state park” in 1895, Mackinac Island State Park was actually a national park with oversight by Congress.

    The park includes Fort Mackinac, which was a military outpost for the federal government back in the 1800s. At that time, it was the president, the nation’s commander-in-chief, who was really in charge of Mackinac Island. And, actually, before the Revolutionary War, the fort was built and occupied by the British, so at one time the king of England was boss of Mackinac Island!

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Things certainly have changed on Mackinac Island through the centuries. But part of the charm is that much of the island stays the same. For the past five decades, that tradition has included Margaret Doud in the mayor’s seat.

But even Doud’s lengthy tenure is only a blink of an eye when it comes to the history of her family on Mackinac Island.

Margaret’s great-grandfather Stephen O’Doud arrived on Mackinac Island to escape the potato famine in his native Ireland more than a century before she was even born! Since then, the Doud family has made major impacts on the development of Mackinac Island into a booming travel destination:Windermere Hotel on Michigan’s Mackinac Island is owned by Margaret Doud, who has been mayor for nearly a half-century.

  • Margaret’s grandpa, James Doud, and her great-uncle, Patrick Doud, started Doud’s Market, which remains in business today as the oldest family-owned grocery store in America.
  • Patrick Doud went on to build many cottages and homes on Mackinac Island. He also expanded and converted a 19th-century house into the beautiful Windermere Hotel, which Margaret now runs.
  • Margaret’s father, Robert Doud, served as mayor of Mackinac Island in 1939 and 1940 and also was superintendent of Mackinac Island State Park.

If you’re looking for fun trivia about long-tenured leaders, keep Margaret Doud in your back pocket. If you’re looking for a tangible experience of how the American system of government works, come visit Mackinac Island and see for yourself!

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