Wednesday, January 11, 2012

Archive: Menominee Postcards #4

Aerial View, Downtown Menominee

Dear George,

Every week I put a vintage postcard image of my home town, Menominee, Michigan, in the righthand column of this blog with a short commentary attached. Because these don’t get stored when I change them each week, I’m putting a batch of them here as an archive in a permanent file. One can access other previous Menominee Postcard “archives” by going to the blog’s righthand column, scrolling down to “Labels”, and clicking on “Archives”. In addition to earlier Menominee postcard archives, one will also find there an archive of “Marinette Postcards” (Menominee’s sister city across the river in Wisconsin) and archives of my father’s family photos taken in Menominee in the 1940’s and 1950’s (“Vic’s Photos”). I’ll add additional archives for these categories in coming months. Enjoy.




Henes Park is a community treasure and Menominee’s biggest tourist attraction. It’s named for John Henes, the grandfather of one of our parents’ friends, who donated the park to the city in 1907. I’ve spent many enjoyable times in Henes Park, as a little kid, a Boy Scout, a teenager picnicking with friends, a young adult visiting home with my wife Katja, and a husband and dad in my own family.


There are lots of places to swim on Green Bay, but Henes Park has the most complete public beach, offering a lifeguard, an old-time playground, and a refreshment stand. We didn’t swim there a lot as kids because good family friends had homes or cottages on the bay shore. However, in adulthood Katja, our son J, and I regularly spent time at the Henes Park beach when visiting Menominee.


Menominee and Marinette were the world’s biggest lumber center at the turn of the last century, providing much of the wood for constructing buildings in Chicago, Milwaukee, and the Great Lakes area. In my youth our family lived on the Menominee River where millions of logs had passed by decades before, and we kids would play at being at lumberjacks, trying to balance ourselves on rolling logs in the water. Ancient remnants of the logging industry still existed on the river near our house, and they were mysterious, ghostly places to visit.


Located on Green Bay, an offshoot of Lake Michigan, Menominee and Marinette are boating towns. Many of our family friends had power boats or sailboats which they anchored in the marina downtown, e.g., the O’Hara’s, Caley’s, Hood’s. The adults did recreational boating trips across the Bay to the Door Peninsula, a popular resort destination, and sometimes we kids would go along too.


Cedar River (pop. approx. 25) is located on M-35 along the Green Bay shore, about 25 miles north of Menominee. It was a frequent destination for our family because Jean Worth’s hunting camp was there, a site for many social gatherings throughout the years. In our adulthood my parents would take us up to Cedar River to enjoy delicious cheeseburgers at Paddy’s Bar.


Menominee’s always been a big football town. The Green Bay Packers are an hour’s drive away, and there’s a strong local following for the Menominee High Maroons who play at Walton Blesch Field. The huge local rivalry was between Menominee and the Marinette Marines across the river, and the M&M game would be the final and most important game of the season. I don’t think I missed a single Maroon home game from ninth through twelfth grades. Afterwards we’d go to the high school dance in the gym where my friend Bob G. would lead his band. We’d wind up the evening with hamburgers and fries at the Gateway CafĂ© on Ogden Ave.

M&M FANS (Life Magazine photo)

These are Menominee High girls responding to their school’s loss to Marinette in the annual M&M football game in the 1940’s. This was the longest running inter-state public high school game in the nation, and emotions ran high. As teens, we were advised not to cross the river to Marinette during the week preceding the game because of the possibility of harmful things being done to one’s car or person. The game was suspended some years back because of untoward behavior, and now it’s in jeopardy again because of Wisconsin state athletic association rules.


We spent a lot of time as children swimming in the river in front of our house. Early on my parents would join us, and my dad would do his bathing in the river. When we got older, we would swim off our raft, and my mom would sit in the lawn chair keeping a watchful eye on her prodigy. We’d swim across the river with my dad following behind in the rowboat, then graduated to swimming a half mile down the river to the old logging island near the dam. We all became pretty good swimmers.


Sheridan Road was Menominee’s main street (and still is, though it’s now become First St.). This photo is taken looking south from the intersection at Ogden Avenue (now Tenth Ave.). My dad and his law partner Dick Sawyer had an office on the second floor of the building at the left. The white building at the right, Menominee’s largest, was the Montgomery Ward building. It housed the department store and the Lloyd movie theater. Later the department store was replaced by a knitting mill; and still later the movie theater was replaced by an antique mall. The building at the front right is the Stephenson Building which housed the Carpenter Cook grocery wholesaler, where my friends Frank and Mary St. Peter’s dad was an executive. The Commercial Bank is the dark building between Montgomery Ward and the Stephenson Building. During the war I saved a nickel each week at Washington Grade School and opened my first savings account at the Commercial Bank.


Now I learn some 56 years after leaving my home town that Menominee’s official flower is the Zinnia. I couldn’t believe that I’d forgotten this, so I googled “Menominee zinnia,” and, sure enough, there was the local Zinnia Festival and the Blessing of the Fleet. I probably ignored it in my youth because I wasn’t sufficiently attuned to flowers or community events. My mother, however, was a dedicated gardener, and, for all I know, we probably had zinnias all over the place.


Menominee and the U.P. have very distinct seasons of the year. Each has its own pleasures, but summer is best. It’s because the town has so much water and shoreline available, offering endless recreation for swimmers, boaters, water skiers, fishermen, etc. Before we moved out of town to the river in 1946, one of our favorite swimming places was at the Yacht Basin in Marina Park in the center of downtown. The littler kids waded along the sandy beach, and the older kids swam off the breakwater, diving into the eight-foot deep water or doing cannonballs.


Green Bay would freeze over in the winter, and ice boating was one of the popular winter sports in Menominee. The nation’s first ice boating championships were held here. The Northwood Cove group (Caleys, Mars, Sargents) had ice boats, as did a couple of our generation’s peers (Ken D., Pat D., Jim N.). The ice boats were a colorful sight on the frozen bay.


As teenagers we used to frequent Schloegel’s Restaurant on Hall Ave. in Marinette, and the Menominee restaurant (pictured here) opened years later. Located on Highway 41 on the route to Farm, it’s long been Katja’s favorite in the twin cities, and one of mine too. Great for breakfasts and whitefish dinners, it has lots of window space, a picturesque view of Green Bay, delicious homemade pies, pasties, and a well-stocked gift shop. Anyone who visits Menominee should be sure to have a meal at Schloegel’s.


Having grown up on its shoreline, I had endless experiences with the Menominee River. One memory that comes to mind is when my friends Grant B and Earl M and I, as high school juniors, set off in our motor-powered rowboat to go up the river on a multi-day camping trip and travel as far as we could go, ideally to Iron Mountain. We only had a 1.5 horsepower motor, and, after a couple of miles, the propeller hit a rock in the river and broke the cotter pin. We rowed for a while, then got out and pushed the boat in the shallow water. Finally we gave up and pitched our tent in the forest along the shore. As fate would have it, we picked a poison ivy patch to camp in. Grant came down with a serious infection that got into his lungs, and he spent a week in St. Joseph-Lloyd Hospital. We never made it anywhere near Iron Mountain.


Henes Park’s deer pen has deer and buffalo co-existing, and we were always amazed that buffalo, which we associated with the Wild West, actually lived in Menominee. Later they added a little zoo with creatures like porcupines, raccoons, and a small black bear. It was cramped and not very sanitary. Last time we were there the zoo had been dismantled. Now there’s community discussion about turning the deer yard into a dog park.


The Waterfront (above right) was Menominee’s finest restaurant throughout the decades that our family gathered for annual reunions, and my parents would host a family dinner there each time we came to visit. We’d start off with a Manhattan on the rocks. Then most of us would have broiled whitefish, seasoned with almonds, the specialty of the house. Our father would entertain with stories and revelry, my siblings and I would crack jokes, the grandchildren would be delighted to be out with the grown-ups, and we’d all have a fine time.


Menominee County was and is prime deer hunting country. It has a larger deer herd than any other county in the U.P. Fathers and adolescent sons from our social circle would gather at Jean Worth’s camp each November for the hunt. We’d get up before daybreak and be stationed along various deer trails in the forest. I never did see a deer on these outings, and that was o.k. since I had doubts about actually shooting at one.


While most of the lumber yards had disappeared from the local scene by my childhood, Menominee’s history as a lumber mecca remained part of community lore and pride. We children learned all about Paul Bunyon in school and imagined ourselves to the descendants of lumberjacks. Actually my paternal grandfather, V.A. Sr., worked in the U.P. lumber camps after emigrating from Sweden and before going to pharmacy school.


By the time we’d reached tenth grade we’d formed a friendship group of dozen or more boys and girls, and we’d spend a lot of time outdoors in the summer. The downtown marina park was one of our favorite gathering places. We’d lie on blankets, get a suntan, listen to Bing Crosby and Doris Day on a battery-powered radio, and rate the pop hits of the day. It was a close, cohesive group, and we had a lot of fun.


  1. My name is Lida Leisen Parrish. My father was Jacob Louis Leisen. I was told that Henes Park was Leisen and Henes Park when first given to the city. DO you know why my great grandfathers name was removed after his death? Thanks

    1. Hi Lida,
      I'm sorry that I don't know the answer. When my brother has had questions about Menominee history, he's had very good luck contacting the reference librarians at the Spies Public Library in Menominee (who are delighted to investigate). Also there's the Michael Anuta Research Center and the Menominee County Historical Society (see online websites) who might be able to help out.
      Dave L.