Welcome to the fifth and final installment of our blog series celebrating Women’s History Month. In this blog you can learn more about restaurateur Myrtle “Myrt” Johnston.johnston myrt

Myrtle Johnston was born in Cross Village in 1917 to Edna and George Kruzel and was raised there. Later she attented Harbor Springs High School before marrying Samuel Johnston in 1934.

Known for her hardworking nature and generous spirit, "Myrt" took on the chores that face the wife of a would-be dairy farmer while earning extra money by working at the Old Trail Inn. Her summer routine was to arrive at 7:00 am to bake pies, cook breakfast, then lunch and dinner, returning home at 9:00 pm.

Myrt is best known for her years running Johnston’s Restaurant at State and Bay streets. She took over the restaurant from her brother-in-law Roy and ran the store for 17 years. The restaurant and especially her presence there made Johnston’s a fixture in downtown. Generations of Harbor Springs residents, both year-round and summer, will long remember Myrt for her hospitality and homemade cooking as well as for her fiesty temper and generous heart.

Myrt passed away in 2012 at age 94.

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Welcome to the fourth installment of our blog series celebrating Women’s History Month. In this blog you can learn more about Josephine Darling Ford. 

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The 1960s and early 1970s were a difficult time in Harbor Springs despite its distinction as a summer resort town. In the mid-1970s the charming yet sleepy town was reborn, and Josephine Darling Ford helped foster that rebirth.

Born in Harbor Springs in 1911 to Willard S. and Bertha (Stutsman) Darling, Josephine Darling Ford loved her home town and the people in it. She showed that love through service to the community on the school board for eight years, city council for four, and a term as mayor in 1975-76. During her tenure as mayor, the City of Harbor Springs was recognized as an “All American City” by the National Municipal League. Harbor Springs was one of ten cities and the smallest among the honorees. 

“I feel Harbor Springs has a lot to look forward to,” Ford was quoted in a 1976 interview about the award. “We aren’t stopping, we want to continue to make this a better place to live.” Cited in the city’s application for the designation were revitalization of the downtown business district, creation of the Kiwanis Sports Park, community school programs and a new senior center. Also listed were projects Ford championed including the creation of a public boat launch. Today that boat launch bears her name.

Following her unexpected death in 1977, city manager Robert S. Anderson, Jr. delivered Ford’s eulogy: “Josephine Ford was in a very real sense a mother to all of Harbor Springs. Sitting in the window of Rosenthal’s watching Main Street as a mother watches her children at play, seeking a chance to solve citizens’ problems as a mother waits to bandage a scraped knee, Jo tackled her community responsibilities as a mother guards her brood.”

This short feature is a part of the fourth volume of the Essence of Emmet magazine. A digital version of this magazine can be found here and hardcopies are available throughout Emmet County. 

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Welcome to the third installment of our blog series celebrating Women’s History Month. In this blog you can learn more about teacher and Odawa leader Margaret Boyd.boyd margaret

Margaret Blackbird Boyd (pictured at right as portrayed by local artist Jane Cardinal) was born in Harbor Springs around 1817. She is best known for her role as an educator and for defending Odawa land rights during the 1870s and 1880s. Margaret grew up in Harbor Springs with her family, including her brother Andrew J. Blackbird, but in her life also ventured away from the Little Traverse Bay. 

Around 1825, missionaries and local Catholic Odawa, realizing the growing importance of a Western education in a rapidly changing time, began choosing promising young Odawa to send to school. Margaret was chosen along with her brother William and their cousin Augustin Hamlin Jr. to travel to Cincinnati, Ohio. Their elders hoped that an education at the large convent school in Cincinnati would mold the young students into adults who could then help their community.  

Margaret completed her schooling and fulfilled that wish, first teaching in Detroit and later returning to the Harbor Springs area where she took up a position as a schoolteacher. She worked as a teacher off and on before marrying Joseph Boyd and establishing a farm and family of her own. 

In later years, Margaret faced harsh discrimination along with the rest of the Odawa community as a result of the flood of white settlers to the area. Hundreds of Odawa lost their land and homes, often due to illegal seizures, unethical tax hikes and intimidation. Margaret was outspoken in fighting against these forces, writing numerous letters to government officials in Michigan and working with her brother, Andrew, to help Odawa families. In 1876 she took it upon herself to intervene by traveling, alone, to Washington D.C. to meet with President Ulysses S. Grant. 

An accomplished beadworker and basket maker, Margaret sold her art along the way to pay for train fare and food and eventually arrived at the White House. She was allowed to see the President but barely had time to state her case before Grant excused himself. Devastated but not beaten, she returned to Harbor Springs are continued to lobby and fight for the rights of Odawa people for the rest of her life. 

- Gah-Baeh-Jhagwah-Buk: The Way it Happened- A Visual Culture History of the Little Traverse Bay Bands of Odawa      by James McClurken.
- Blackbird's Song: Andrew J. Blackbird and the Odawa People by Theodore J. Karamanski

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Welcome back to the second installment of our blog series celebrating Women’s History Month. In this blog you can learn more about conservationist and author Alice C. Erwin (pictured at right). 

Alice Clementina Erwin was born in 1880 in Athens County, Ohio to Albert and Ellen Young. Later in life she married Charles Fayette "Fay" Erwin and lived in Harbor Springs, where she was adopted by the local Odawa tribe in honor of her efforts to protect wildlife, forests and wetlands. Alice passed away at the Petoskey hospital in 1938 and is buried in Lakeview Cemetery in Harbor Springs. 

Alice is best remembered for her writing and her conservationist spirit. She wrote about her observations of nature and all things natural in a series of conversations, “Nature Talks,” carried in a number of Michigan newspapers in the 1920s and 1930s. These included Harbor Springs’ own Emmet County Graphic, the Grand Rapids Press and the Detroit News. Through her writing, Alice became a recognized leaded in the conservation movement in Northern Michigan. Her editor said, “Alice Erwin loved and felt kinship with every living thing.” After her death, Alice's husband Fay published her writings in a book in 1939.

“Nature Talks” in book form is a collection of Alice Erwin's writings throughout the course of one year (see an excerpt at the end of this blog).  It covers topics from native berries and spruce trees to meteorites and porcupines. One memorable passage deals with the installation of nets over the fish-rearing ponds at the Oden State Fish Hatchery. Alice was a firm believer that "bird life need not be destroyed in order to have fish" and was saddened by the killing of egrets and herons at the hatchery to protect the young fish. She suggested a simple method for protecting the ponds stating that “clever uses of wires and poultry netting do the trick more efficiently and cheaply in the long run than patrolling with fire-arms.” 

In his acknowledgments at the beginning of “Nature Talks,” Fay Erwin notes with "greatest happiness" that the plan hatched by Alice to protect water birds was being enacted. The superintendent of the hatchery wrote to Fay that "five of our ponds are already covered with screens and a new project is underway to cover the remaining ponds with the aid of CCC labor." 

Alice encouraged curiosity with her friendly, commonplace writing style that appealed to all ages in her short, daily journals of the world around her. Harbor Springs' history and natural resources are immeasurably enriched by her life and work. 


Nature Talks excerpt

Above: An excerpt of Alice C. Erwin's writings, published by her husband in a book called "Nature Talks" shortly after her death. Click the image for an enlarged view. 

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“On the end of the Point stands the lighthouse with its red light flashing out at night over the waters, looking like a great red ruby set with diamonds as the electric lights are shining around the bay and harbor. What more is needed of nature’s beauty to make the picture complete?”EWWilliams

Elizabeth Whitney Williams (pictured at right) wrote these words in her autobiography, A Child of the Sea, and Life among the Mormons, about the Little Traverse Lighthouse on Harbor Point, Michigan where she was the keeper for 29 years. Her story, much like the Fresnel lens she describes in the above passage, helps to illuminate the trials of a female lighthouse keeper in an age when women rarely worked outside the home. 

Born on Mackinac Island around 1844, Elizabeth’s family had moved to Beaver Island by the time she was four years old. Her father, a ship’s carpenter, found work on the island from the notorious Mormon leader, “King” James Jesse Strang. William’s autobiography focuses mainly on this time in her life. Eventually the schisms between the Mormons and the other groups on the island caused the Whitney family to move to Charlevoix in 1852 and later to Traverse City. 

After the assassination of King Strang and the release of the island from Mormon control, the Whitney family returned. Shortly after their return, in 1860, Elizabeth met and married Clement Van Riper. Clement was a cooper who had come from Detroit to the island for his health. He was soon appointed a teacher at the local Native American school and Elizabeth passed a happy two years helping him by teaching European gardening methods. 


Elizabeth and her husband were neighbors to the McKinley family at this time, who tended the Beaver Island Harbor Lighthouse (pictured at left). This arrangement would prove crucial to Elizabeth’s close connection to lighthouses in the years to come. When the keeper of the light, Peter McKinley, resigned his post to due ill health Elizabeth’s husband was appointed to take his place. 

Clement, however, was also often in poor health himself and many of the keeper’s duties fell to his wife, specifically the cleaning and polishing of the Fresnel lens. Elizabeth thought of tending the light as both a duty and a pleasure writing, “My three brothers were then sailing, and how glad I felt that their eyes might catch the bright rays of our light shining out over the waste of waters on a dark stormy night.” 

Women taking on light-keeping duties unofficially for ill husbands or other family members was more common than the strict gender divides and roles of the day might have suggested. Light keeping was normally thought of as a man’s job, involving heavy physical labor and an enormous investment of time. However, many woman rose to these challenges and earned the respect of their communities through their actions. Only a small number of these women were ever officially appointed as light keepers. Elizabeth would become one of those few after a stormy night in 1872.

On that night Clement rowed out to help rescue the crew of a sinking ship during a storm and never returned. His body was never recovered and the sole duty of keeping the light burning in the tower during the three-day gale fell to Elizabeth. Clement’s death left Elizabeth “weak from sorrow” and other sorrows soon followed including the deaths of two of her brothers and three of her nephews to drowning. A few weeks after her husband’s death she was officially appointed the keeper of the Beaver Island lighthouse.


In 1875 Elizabeth remarried, this time to photographer Daniel Williams, and requested a transfer to a mainland station. Only the last few pages of her memoir reflect upon her time at the station to which she was transferred, the Little Traverse Lighthouse. The lighthouse had only just been finished when Elizabeth arrived there in 1884. Situated at the tip of Harbor Point, the lighthouse would be home to Elizabeth and husband for the next 29 years. (Pictured at right, the lighthouse and fog bell on Harbor Point, Michigan, taken by Elizabeth's husband, Daniel). 

Elizabeth retired from light keeping in 1913 and she and her husband moved to Charlevoix, Michigan. They spent another 25 years together in quiet retirement before they passed away, within 12 hours of each other, in 1938. 

Did you know: The Historical Society's archive houses some of Elizabeth Whitney Williams' personal items, including several aprons and a pair of gloves which can be viewed in our online collections database. 

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