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!
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.
But guess what? The city is only part of Mackinac Island.
In fact, Mackinac Island State Park makes up more than 80 percent of the island. The state park is overseen by Mackinac State Historic Parks, which is part of state government. So, when it comes to who’s in charge of iconic Mackinac Island treasures such as Arch Rock and Sugar Loaf, it’s actually the state, not the city. The state even keeps the Michigan Governor’s Summer Residence on Mackinac Island.
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!
Although Fort Mackinac no longer is a U.S. military stronghold, the federal government still plays a role on Mackinac Island.
After all, you can’t get to Mackinac Island without going by boat across the Straits of Mackinac or by flying into Mackinac Island Airport. The U.S. Coast Guard and the Federal Aviation Authority oversee both of those forms of transportation to make sure you can arrive safely.
- During the COVID-19 pandemic, leaders from all levels of government and the private sector, too, have teamed up to create a safe environment for visitors, residents and workers on Mackinac Island. Everybody is playing a role, from Mayor Doud and members of the Mackinac Island Tourism Bureau to county and state health officials to federal epidemiologists at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control.
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:
- 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!