Saturday, June 26, 2010

Archive: Menominee Postcards

Dear George,

This posting is a cumulative archive of “Menominee Postcards” that have previously appeared in the righthand column of this blog. These, of course, are vintage portraits of my home town, and they contain a lot of personal associations. I’ve changed Menominee postcard images on the blog every week since July 2009, and, because these rotating photos aren’t saved on the blog itself, I’ve decided to store old ones here for new viewers’ potential interest. A first installment is included here. Menominee is a town of about 9-10,000 located on the Michigan-Wisconsin border at the southern tip of the Upper Peninsula (and across the Menominee River from its twin city, Marinette, WI). I’ll do a similar archive for “Marinette Postcards” at a later date. Menominee is the county seat and the fourth largest town in the U.P. In its boomtown days Menominee produced more lumber than any other town or city in the U.S. It gets its name, which translates as “Wild Rice”, from the Menominee Indian tribe who once inhabited the area. As you’ll see, it’s a photogenic place.

Tourist Lodge

Menominee is located at the Michigan-Wisconsin border, and Highway 41 is the major thoroughfare for travelers heading north into the U.P. from Chicago, Milwaukee, and Green Bay. The tourist lodge is located on Ogden (now 10th) Avenue at the foot of Highway 41 as one crosses the Interstate Bridge from Marinette. It’s operated by the State of Michigan and offers brochures and maps for everything in the U.P. It’s made of white pine logs and was one of the first two tourist info centers built in the United States. It burned down in the 1960s, and the state rebuilt a new version identical to the original. Until 1946 our family lived on Ogden Ave., one block west of the tourist lodge. The steep hill there offered the best sledding in the Twin Cities, and our parents would bring Sally F. and myself there as little 4- and 5-year-olds.

Aerial View, Downtown Menominee

Sheridan Road is the main street which cuts through the center of the picture paralleling the bay. The importance of Green Bay to Menominee’s location is evident in the photo. The marina park at the center is the major swimming beach and teenage gathering place in the city. The breakwater provided a sheltered harbor for boats, and if taken today the photo would be completely filled with sailboats and power boats. The three-story white building at center-left is the Montgomery Ward Building and housed the town’s department store, the Lloyd Theater, and a knitting mill. My grandfather’s drugstore is a half-block to the north on Sheridan Road, facing the end of the breakwater, and my grade school was just behind the M. Ward Building to the left. The large building at the lower center-left is the former Menominee Opera House, which was converted to the Menominee Movie Theater in my childhood. We lived for a while during the war in an apartment one block north and one block east of this building. Our family also lived on Sheridan Road for several years, about seven blocks north of the Ward Building. This photo captures the major turf of my early childhood and the site of many memories, good, bad, and in between.

Green Bay Shore

Green Bay extends 118 miles northward from the city of Green Bay along the edge of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. In the seventeenth century, the French named it Baie des Puants (“Bay of the Stinkers”), apparently because of the smell of algae in the stagnant water. We never noticed this problem 200 years later and swam all summer long in multiple sites along the Menominee shore, including this one. Many of our friends had cottages or homes there: the O’Haras, Jacobsens, Caleys, Mars, Sargents, Sawyers and others. Green Bay was Menominee’s most important geographical feature, and much of local life, onshore and off, was influenced by the bay’s presence. This huge body of water off Lake Michigan was cool and fairly placid. The present photo is about as high as the waves got, and, as teens, we would quickly take the opportunity to brave the surf as a storm approached.

Electric Square (Ogden Ave. & Main St.)

The intersection of Ogden Ave. and Main St. (subsequently Sheridan Rd.) is the heart of Menominee's downtown. It was named Electric Square when the first electric lights were installed. My grandfather's Menominee Drug, where I worked occasionally as a teenager, is to the left, and my father built an annex onto this building in the 1950's to house his and Dick Sawyer's law office. Harry Cooney's gas station was just to the left of the drugstore. The First National Bank, which my dad visited daily in his elderly years, is at the center of the picture, and the Carpenter Cook grocery company offices were in the red brick building at the right. Frankie St. Peter and I used to sneak in and ride the elevators up and down in this three-story building. The short road to the left of the bank led to the breakwater, and you can just barely see Green Bay in the background. The trolley cars circled the loop through Menominee and Marinette, though they had been replaced by buses well before my birth.

Interstate Bridge, Menominee & Marinette

Highway 41 travels across the Interstate Bridge which connects Marinette and Menominee, Wisconsin and Michigan, and, in the greater scheme of things, Florida and Canada. The perceived distinction between Menominee and Marinette was huge in our growing up, with Marinette and its citizenry generally being seen as superior but somewhat depraved. In our later childhood, the L** kids and the O’Hara kids would hike from Menominee to downtown Marinette to go to the Saturday afternoon matinee at the movie theater. As teenagers, the bridge was part of the Loop we drove around through Menominee and Marinette, and we were always mindful of the possibility of a police speed trap. In my adolescence I had regular nightmares about dying while crossing local bridges, linked no doubt to the anticipated dangers of life transitions.

Smelt Fishing on the Interstate Bridge

Every spring huge hordes of smelt, little tasty silver fish, made their run from Green Bay into the Menominee River and other rivers and streams in the U.P. and northeastern Wisconsin. Menominee folk would gather at the Interstate and Hattie Street bridges and lower nets or seines from hoisting booms into the water to scoop up the fish. The portion of the catch that was not eaten was recycled into gardens or sent to the Whitey Cat Food canning factory in Gladstone. My parents would bring us to the Hattie St. Bridge to take in the scene, though I don’t remember my mother cooking any smelt at home.

Menominee County Courthouse, Ogden Ave.

The county courthouse is Menominee’s most significant landmark. It’s located on 10th Ave. (formerly Ogden Ave.), roughly a quarter of a mile west of Electric Square and the marina on Green Bay. It’s a handsome building, constructed in 1875 at a cost of $29,680, a hefty sum which reflected the prosperity of the local lumber industry. The county jail is next door. The courthouse had special significance for our family because it was the site of much of our father’s work as a lawyer, judge, and prosecuting attorney. My dad’s personal rule was to never discuss work-related matters at home, so we had only the vaguest picture of what he did there. When I was in grad school I was registered for the draft during the Vietnam War, and I made regular trips to the Courthouse on visits home to check out my status at the Selective Service office on the second floor. They were always reassuring that my student deferment was still in effect, but the Courthouse provoked a lot of anxiety nonetheless.

Spies Public Library

The Spies Public Library was an important part of my childhood and adolescence in Menominee. It was a block away from Washington Grade School, so we students spent a lot of time there. The library ran a summer reading program for kids each year, and Marvin F. and I competed for first prize. Marvin lied to me about the number of books that he'd read, and I was bitter when he walked off with the prize. In junior high I'd hike over during lunch hour with a friend, Eugene B., from MHS and take books out. My dad was a member of the library board and a strong supporter for many years. One of his oil paintings hangs in the library's main circulation room. We still go there to check the basement sale on every visit to Menominee.

First Presbyterian Church

Our family nominally belonged to the Presbyterian Church, but it wasn’t much of a factor in our largely secular lives. We children speculated that we belonged because my dad was an elected public official, and it was politic to be a church member. My brother Peter was best friends with Reverend Buzza’s son, John, which proved to be our most consequential church-family link. Our family attended the Presbyterian Church once a year at Easter, and Steven and I had to be seated on opposite sides of our parents because we fooled around too much. My dad always gave what seemed to us to be an excessive amount, but he explained that he was giving his entire year’s donation in one shot.

Marina Park and Breakwater

Menominee's most important defining feature is its location on the shores of Green Bay, and a series of parks and swimming beaches offer gathering places for the community. The most significant spot is Marina Park in the downtown business district. We lived right across the street from the marina around the end of World War II, and my mom took us to its beach to swim as children. It was even more important in our teenage years when it became one of our primary boy-girl hangouts. The outer section of the breakwater was the main swimming spot.

Lloyd Theater Building

In my childhood the Lloyd building housed the Montgomery Ward department store on the left side, a knitting mill on the right side, and the Lloyd movie theater at the left rear. You could watch the knitting machines through the front window. The Lloyd was one of two movie theaters in Menominee and the showplace for major new pictures. I was scared out of my wits here by The Picture of Dorian Gray (1945), shocked and distressed by Jeanne Crain in Leave Her to Heaven (1946), and saw my first movie at night, Meet Me in St. Louis (1944). My mother took me to buy clothes at the Montgomery Ward store, though we went to Lauerman’s in Marinette for more serious shopping. This image is from the 1980’s, by which time the cinema had been converted into an antique mall of sorts.

Hattie Street Bridge and M & M Paper Mills

Three bridges across the Menominee River connect Menominee with its sister city, Marinette, WI. The Menekaunee Bridge is on the east side of the towns, bordering Green Bay. Highway 41 crosses over the Interstate Bridge in the middle. The Hattie St. Bridge is in the West End. I would drive daily across the Hattie St. Bridge to my job at the Marinette Drug Store. In my teens and for years afterward my recurrent nightmare involved driving across the Hattie St. bridge, which had collapsed in the middle, and plunging to my death into the racing waters below. Could this have anything to do with fear about life transitions?

M & M Game, Walton Blesch Field

The Menominee and Marinette football game was the oldest interstate public high school football rivalry in the U.S., and, in these small towns where football was king, it was the local equivalent of the Super Bowl. On the preceding Friday all the grade schools in Menominee would take the morning off, and the children would march to the high school for a pep rally. As teenagers, we would be at a fever pitch for weeks on advance, and we were cautioned not to cross the river to the rival community for fear of getting assaulted or getting our tires slashed. Some years back the M&M game was cancelled because the intensity of competition got out of hand, but it’s been recently resumed. Marinette won the game in my senior year of high school, and they lead the series overall, 49-44-7.

That's it for now. I will add some more previous Menominee postcard images to this archive in a month or two.



G-Mail Comments

-Linda C (6-28): this is great, l love the pictures, this is a real treasure

-Donna D. (6-27): David this is incredible! I can't Imagine knowing that much about a place... You are writing your memoirs aren't you?

-Dave from Menominee (12-31): Hi, I enjoy looking at your postcards of my city, especially the smelting postcard, what memories. I live right down by the Lloyd Theater, your old stomping ground. Just thought I’d write and say thank you for taking the time, Dave, Menominee Michigan


  1. I lived in Peshtigo for a couple of years in the late 70's. I remember going to a movie at the Lloyd. I also remember some kind of manufacturing going on next door possibly in the same building. It looked like some kind of knitting or weaving going on. I don't think it was wicker but not sure what was going on there. Any ideas.

  2. Thanks for your interest. I don't have a lot of info, but I agree that there was a knitting mill there, with the operations visible through the front windows on First Street. There's an excellent historical writeup of the "Montgomery Ward Building" which appeared on recently and is retrievable there through a search, but it doesn't address the knitting mill.

  3. I believe I have picture negatives of the interstate bridge during part of the original construction. I also have picture negatives of men fishing with nets and a large crane. I have been trying to figure out what exactly the pictures were of? Now with the help of your blog I have figured it out. Next I want to see if I can find out who the men in the pictures are? I purchased the picture negatives at a safety deposite box auction earlier this year. Thanks for your help!!

  4. It wasn't a knitting mill, it was FNT or Fish Net and Twine. They had machines that automatically made the twine and then into fish nets. They also branched off into making basketball nets for the hoops, volleyball, tennis and other sporting nets.