Many of you have heard of the Old Mission Peninsula, located just north of Traverse City in Grand Traverse County, Michigan. Perhaps you wondered about the derivation of the name Old Mission.
Founded in 1839
Old Mission is the name of the village at the tip of the peninsula, as well as the name of the peninsula itself. The oldest permanent settlement in the Grand Traverse area, Old Mission was founded in 1839 by the Rev. Peter Dougherty. He was sent by the Presbyterian Board of Missions in 1838, and the Old Mission area was scouted in advance by Henry Schoolcraft and chosen because of its natural harbor.
This replica of that original mission church/school now sits near the original site and is open to the public.
Dougherty actually settled first near the present day Elk Rapids but soon moved several miles across the east arm of Grand Traverse Bay to Old Mission. There, Reverend Dougherty worked with Native Americans, led by Chief Ahgosa, to build the first church – a building that doubled as a school. It was built with logs cut near the border of the harbor and covered with shingles and boards brought from Mackinac Island, where the Reverend Dougherty had spent the previous winter. There are still pilings in the water that are the remnants of the dock he built.
The Old Mission and the New Mission
In the summer of 1842, while on a trip “back east” to secure supplies, the Reverend Dougherty married Maria Higgins, with whom he had nine children. Peter Dougherty kept a diary of his time at Old Mission, as well as a log of baptisms and marriages he performed. It is said he planted the first cherry tree there in 1852.
Rev. Peter Dougherty
As the years went by, many Native Americans living at Old Mission became frustrated that they could not purchase property. So when the neighboring Leelanau Peninsula was opened up for settlement, and the Reverend Dougherty offered to build an Indian boarding school there, the time was right for yet another move across the water. He built the boarding school over the course of a year and when he moved in 1852, many of his original students followed. The boarding school was across the west arm of Grand Traverse Bay in Leelanau County. It was first called New Mission, later Omena, and the name Old Mission was accorded to the original settlement area.
Peter Dougherty’s house at Old Mission is currently being restored by members of the Old Mission Historical Society and the Peter Dougherty Society. For further information on that project, see Peter Dougherty Historic Home Site
Holmes, Amanda J. Omena, A Place in Time. Omena Historical Society, 2003. Print.