2013-06-07 / Columnists

A Look at History

Margaret Doud Served as Lilac Queen 50 Years Ago, Continues to Serve the Island
BY FRANK STRAUS

Lilac Festival

In June 1963, Mackinac Island’s Lilac Festival had a new Lilac Queen. Margaret Doud, the daughter of Robert Doud and Jeannette Doud (nee Chambers), was (and is) a member of two of the Island’s oldest families. The Chambers and the Douds have lived at the Straits of Mackinac since the time of the Irish potato disaster of 1845-1848.

When their heads of these families first came to our waters before the American Civil War, fishing was the big industry here at the Straits; and many Straits fisherfolk dropped their nets in many different patches of water. St. Helena Island, west of the Mackinac Bridge, is a deserted island today, with only a patched-up lighthouse to recall the days when a thriving fishing station gathered perch, trout, and whitefish there; Jeanette’s mother, Ella Chambers, was born on St. Helena in 1885. Fish caught around St. Helena, and in many other waters throughout the Straits area, would be brought to Mackinac Island to be put into salt-brine barrels or iced down for shipment; Margaret’s great-uncle Patrick Doud was a skilled cooper, a barrel-maker, before his skill with wood led him to turn his hands to building. As for ice, in the old days it was carved right up out of the waters of the Island’s principal harbor, Haldimand Bay. The big icehouse, where blocks of ice were kept packed in sawdust well into the summer months, survives at the head of the Coal Dock; and barreled or iced fish would be loaded onto steamboats and sent south to be sold in the markets of Chicago and Detroit.

In the Grand Hotel year – 1887 – a major cottage rose on Mackinac Island’s Main Street. The big house entered the hands of the Doud family in 1904. Patrick Doud’s building crew revamped this structure into the white-trimmed, yellow hostelry with the broad front porch that welcomes guests to this day. Windermere Hotel guests look out over the Straits of Mackinac and watch this generation of fishing boats leave and return to the harbor, along with squadrons of ferryboats.

Born in 1943, grandniece Margaret Doud was one of the generation of Islanders who attended what was then the Ferry School west of Marquette Park, the Manoogian Art Museum now. (The building’s educational heritage survives; the kitchen, where the pupils ate lunch, is the ground-floor room now used for children’s activities.) While attending teachers’ professional training at Central Michigan University, Margaret was chosen to be Lilac Queen in her 21st year. The Lilac Parade and Festival was only 14 years old, a comparative youngster; the traditional summer-opening parade had been founded by nurse Stella King and her friends in 1949.

After teaching in Petoskey and at the new school on Mackinac Island, Ms. Doud began to increase her responsibilities with the Windermere Hotel. She also entered Island politics, running successfully for alderman in 1974, and winning election as mayor of Mackinac Island in 1975. Islanders will remember the names of her predecessors: the alderman, longtime Mustang Lounge owner Dennis Brodeur, and the mayor, Clem Gunn, both of them Island names of the highest respect who are gone now.

In the mid-70s, the Island’s targeted tourism population, the men, women, and children who were the people Island businesspeople wanted to come and visit, was very different from what it is today. That was the time of 40¢ gasoline; working class families would get into vans and station wagons and drive up on the new interstate highways from the big cities of the southern Great Lakes to give the kids a breath of cool air. The typical visitor from this period would come to Mackinac Island’s Main Street, buy some plastic souvenirs, and leave after a few hours. Travel today is more expensive; more of us have air conditioning, and fewer of us can find motor fuel for 40¢ a gallon. More of the people who come to Mackinac Island tell us that they are looking for a unique experience; more of them, if they can, will want to stay overnight; the kinds of souvenirs and tangible goods they will want to buy are different from what they were in the 1960s and 1970s.

Many men and women have come together, as a community, to help our Island thrive in the midst of these changes. Margaret Doud, who has now been mayor for 38 years, has worked with them. After the last census in 2010, the federal government said that our Island has a population of 492 people, which means that there are about 500 different opinions about everything. Few disagree, however, with the value of Market Street’s Mackinac Island Medical Center, the modern facility affiliated with the Mackinac

Straits Health System that began providing care to Islanders in April 2003. The Medical Center, the rebuilt Community Center (1996), the restored Old Courthouse (now the Island police station), and many other infrastructure achievements and improvements have been built or approved by Mayor Doud and her City Councils.

Since 1963, 49 successive Lilac Parades have snaked down historic Main Street. A new festival will begin Friday, June 7; Mayor Doud will honor a new Lilac Queen Saturday, June 8, and the enthroned monarch will preside over the week of festivities that run up to the 50th Lilac Parade Sunday, June 16. Another summer will have begun on Michigan’s Mackinac Island.

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