Tuesday, March 11, 2014

Menominee Michigan: Historical Tidbits (Part 1, 1869-1899)

In the Main Street Historic District

Dear George,
Our hometown of Menominee has such a rich history.  Menominee is located at the southernmost tip of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula.  It’s on the shore of Green Bay off Lake Michigan and along the mouth of the Menominee River.  Its twin city of Marinette, Wisc., is right across the Interstate Bridge; Green Bay, Wisc., is 55 miles to the south; and Milwaukee is 170 miles away.  Menominee’s first white settler was French-Canadian fur-trapper Louis Chappee who established a British-American Fur Company trading post on the Menominee River in 1796.  The first sawmill was built on the river by William Farnsworth and Charles Brush in 1832.  Between the early 1840s and 1910 Menominee was the biggest lumber-shipping center in the U.S.  In 1889, its busiest year, the Menominee River Boom Company processed 4,245,000 pine logs.  The city of Menominee was chartered in 1883.  By 1900 Menominee and Marinette had a combined population of nearly 30,000, about 50% larger than today.  The lumber boom peaked in 1895, and the last log drive on the Menominee River was held in 1917.  While there are still a couple of small lumber mills in the area, the twin cities’ industrial base today is much more diversified, including paper mills, a shipyard, a chemical plant, auto parts, furniture, and helicopter manufacturing.  Each time I visit Menominee I take some photos of places, usually those of significance to my siblings and myself.  Here are a few notable landmarks that date back to the late 1800’s, given in chronological order.

First Presbyterian Church
Though we were only occasional attenders, my father was a deacon in the Presbyterian Church, and I went to Sunday School for a while. When my mother died, the Presbyterian minister, Reverend Rank, came out to our Farm property for a private family service, and my dad’s memorial was held at the church.  The First Presbyterian is Menominee’s oldest existing church.  In 1868 the pastor of the Presbyterian church in Marinette, Rev. John Fairchild, organized the "First Presbyterian Church of Menominee."  A young seminary student named Henry Loomis from New York State had come to Menominee to regain his health, and he quickly led efforts to build a church.  The Kirby-Carpenter Company donated a lot, and Loomis and volunteer helpers cleared the land.  The Building Committee consisted of Samuel M. Stephenson, E. S. Ingalls, and William P. Newberry.  B. W. Porter of Waukegan, Ill., was in charge of the construction.  The new church was erected in 1968 and was dedicated on July 18, 1869.  The First Presbyterian initially had nine members, and Henry Loomis was its pastor for its first four months.  Rev. A. W. Bill succeeded him.  According to E. S. Ingall's history of Menominee County, 73 members were enrolled by 1876.  (2) [Note: numbers in parentheses refers to sources listed at the end] 

Menominee Fire Department
Probably once a year my dad would take us to visit the Menominee Fire Department, and we enjoyed climbing around on the fire engines and slide down the fireman’s pole from the second floor to the first.  The Department was formed in 1871, a dozen years before the city itself was formally chartered.  Its creation was a direct response to the great Peshtigo Fire of 1871 which devastated the region, destroying 1875 square miles of forest land and killing an estimated 1500-2500 people, the most fire deaths in American history.  A hand engine was bought in 1872, and the Kirby Carpenter lumber company bought another engine about the same time.  Because these were deemed insufficient, an Amoskeag (New Hampshire) steam engine was bought in 1874.  According to E.S. Ingalls’ history (1976), the Foreman of Engine No. 1 was George Harter, and the Captain of Engine No. 2 (the steamer) was Robert Stephenson.  The Fire Department today is staffed by three crews of four full-time firefighters each and responds to an average of 390 calls per year in Menominee and neighboring towns.  (2, 8) 

The Menominee County Courthouse
The courthouse has always been regarded as one of Menominee’s grandest structures.  My dad, Vic L., did an excellent oil painting of the building which hung in our living room throughout our youth.  Vic was a lawyer, and he spent many hours at the courthouse in his capacity as Municipal Judge and later as Prosecuting Attorney.  I never saw him in action there, though I regularly visited the courthouse in the late 1950’s because the Selective Service Office was located there and I was worried about being drafted for the Korean War.  After Menominee County was created in 1863, residents decided in 1874 to build a courthouse and bonds were issued for fund-raising.  A plot of land on Ogden Avenue was purchased, and a Chicago architect named G. P. Randall was hired.  The building, a three-story red brick Classical Revival structure, cost $29,680 and opened in 1875.  There was a jail on the first floor, county offices on the second floor, and the courtroom on the third floor.  Additions were completed in 1909 and 1938, and the original attached jail and sheriff's residence were demolished later.  The courthouse was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1975.  It was most recently renovated in the early 1980's.  (6, 7)

Riverside Cemetery
Our family moved to Riverside Boulevard shortly after my dad returned from the Navy at the end of World War II.  Ours was the first home on Riverside, and the only other destination of note on the road was the cemetery, located about halfway between our house and the city limits.  As a teenager on my way home from school I’d sometimes ride my bike through the cemetery to enjoy the scenery and the eery feelings of being among the dead.  At nighttime it was scary to ride past the cemetery because of the potential for ghosts and ghouls, and I’d pedal at my fastest pace.   I haven’t been able to find the date of the cemetery’s founding, though I’ve run across listings of burial locations going back to the mid-1880’s.  The Menominee City Council established the cemetery at the foot of Stephenson Avenue on the banks of the Menominee River. A. L. Sawyer (1911) describes the cemetery as located "on a nicely elevated portion of ground where the rippling sounds of the shimmering river may forever soothe the endless sleep of its inhabitants."  William E. Kuhule was the cemetery's sexton in the early 1900’s.  There are currently about 20,000 people buried there.  (5)

The First National Bank
My father did his banking at the First National Bank.  He also created a trust for his adult children, and we’d meet with one of the bank vice-presidents each time we visited home to review our family account.  The First National was Menominee’s oldest bank, organized in 1884.  In 1910 the bank moved into its permanent home at Main St. and Ogden Avenue (now First St. and Tenth Ave.). It’s a Beaux Arts design in the style of a Roman temple.  The architect was Albert E. Calcorn of Chicago.  As of 1911 its officers were: Augustus Spies, president; John Henes, vice president; Gustavus A. Blesch, cashier; and Clinton W. Gram, assistant cashier.  According to A. L. Sawyer's history, the bank's "history is one of continued success with never a taint of suspicion from any quarter, even in the most trying of panics.”  Alas, Wells Fargo closed its downtown office and vacated the building a decade or so ago, and, when I last saw it a year ago, it still stood empty on Electric Square.  (5, 9)

The Menominee Water Plant
Located on Green Bay at the northeast corner of Electric Square, just across the street from the First National Bank, the Water Plant is a splendid historical landmark.  It was right across the street from my grandfather’s Menominee drugstore, so we’d pass by it multiple times a day.  The water plant was built in 1884 and was originally owned by a private company in Boston.  It was constructed because of the presence and effects of typhoid fever in the community.  Menominee was the first city in Michigan to use chlorination in its water system.  (9)

St. Joseph's Hospital
I was born at St. Joseph’s Hospital in 1937, followed by my brother Steven in 1941, Peter in 1945, and Vicki in 1947.  The hospital had been around a long time before those family events.  It was built in 1891 on Ogden Ave., next to the Epiphany Church (now the Holy Spirit Church).  Nuns from the Sisters of the Third Order of St. Francis operated it, providing medical and hospital care and traveling by foot to area lumber camps to solicit money.  Expansions between 1900 and 1911 added a surgical suite, 16 additional beds, a three-story structure with 16 private rooms, a lab and x-ray department, a maternity department, a chapel, and quarters for the Sisters.   According to A. L. Sawyer in his history of Menominee County (1911), "The Sisters are ever on the alert.  Day and night they are at the service of the patients, silent, serene, and cheerful, leaving no want unattended and no wish ungratified."  When Menominee industrialist Marshall Lloyd died in 1927, he left his fortune to the people of Menominee to be used for health care, and a new hospital, next door to St. Joseph’s and also operated by the Sisters, was dedicated in 1950.  The new hospital was renamed St. Joseph’s–Lloyd Hospital.  (1, 5)

Carpenter, Cook Company
When I was a kid the Carpenter Cook grocery warehouses were located on the river near the Menekaunee Bridge, and the administrative offices were downtown in the Stephenson Building on Electric Square, just across the street from my grandfather’s drugstore.  My friend Frank St. Peter’s dad was an executive at Carpenter Cook.  We liked to go to his office because we got to ride up and down on the elevator, a rarity in the twin cities.  The company had its beginnings in 1891 with the formation of the Somerville, Pemberthy & Cook grocery firm on south Main St.  The grocery business was connected with the Kirby, Carpenter lumber company piers on Green Bay, and the company bought a subsequent site at the foot of Main St. in 1896.  The mammoth grocery building had four floors, a basement, and two large warehouses, and it had both railroad and steamboat connections.  Following Somerville's retirement in 1892, Pemberthy's death in 1901, and William O. Carpenter's involvement as a silent partner, the firm’s name became Carpenter, Cook Company.  C. I. Cook became the sole proprietor after Carpenter's death in 1905.  The business was divided into several branches, including a branch store at Ishpeming.  The refining, canning, and pickle factory was in the old brick mill of the Kirby Company.  Great quantities of fruit and vegetables from local sources were preserved and canned there.  Another branch, the Michigan Candy Co., occupied the entire three stories and basement of the old Kirby Carpenter Co. building.  In 1891 the company's aggregate sales were $150,000; by 1910, they had reached $2,000,000.  (5)

The Signal Electric Company
Every now and then my dad would bring me along to the Signal Electric plant on Broadway where he would touch base with his friend and the company’s president, Bill Caley.  The firm’s history dates back to the city’s lumbering boom era.  It was founded as the Menominee Electric and Mechanical Company in 1892.  Its early products included telephones, crank telephone generators, and switchboards.  The original plant burned down in 1904.  Later that year, however, a new plant was opened at the current site, and products were expanded to include telegraph instruments and wireless radio devices.  In 1919 Charles E. Hammond took out an option on the Menominee plant, and the company was reorganized and renamed Signal Electric Manufacturing Company.  In addition to radio and telegraph instruments, products included small motors, batteries, fans, bells, and electric hand tools.  As of 1922, Signal employed 200 workers, operated 20 hours a day, and maintained offices in China, Hong Kong, Japan, London, Canada, and throughout the U.S.  North and South wings were built in 1937-38.  In 1952 the company was purchased by King-Seeley Thermos Co, and in 1964 Vernco Corporation of Tennessee became the new owner. (4)

Menominee High School
I began 7th grade at Menominee High School in 1949 and spent the next six years of my life there -- a potpourri of excitement, silly jokes, boredom, learning math and English, self-conscious anxiety, lunchtime basketball, Friday night football games, high school dances, new friends.  Some of my favorite teachers were Mr. Robare, Mr. Sieman, Mr. Eidt, Mr. Johnson, Mr. Taylor, Mr. Miller, Miss McNeil, Mr. Biller, and Mr. Davis.  The original Menominee High School building was completed in 1894 with a total cost of $53,987,34, including grounds and furniture. The first M&M football game between the Menominee and Marinette high schools was held that year, making it the oldest interstate rivalry between two public high schools in the U.S.  Mr. Jesse Hubbard was the first superintendent. By 1923, according to a report by Mrs. Harriet Woodford Bill, the junior and senior high schools had one of the finest athletic facilities in the country, an excellent library, and well-equipped machine shops and wood shops. (3)

(1) “Bay Area Medical Center: History”, www.bamc.org;   
(2) “Centennial History of Menominee County (1876),” E. S. Ingalls, www.books.google.com;
(3) "Early Schools and Churches," Mrs. Harriet Woodford Bill, 1923, in "Menominee Remembered," www.uproc.lib.mi.us);
(4) “History of Signal Electric Co.,” from the Menominee County Historical Society Archives, www.k8ir.com;
(5)  “History of the Upper Peninsula", Alvah L. Sawyer, 1911, p. 592-3, www.usgwarchives.net;
(6) “Menominee County Courthouse,” www.wikipedia.org;
(7) “Menominee County: Courthouse History,” www.menomineecounty.com;
(8) “Menominee: Fire Department,” www.cityofmenominee.org;
(9) “Menominee Historic District Walking Tour,” www.downtownmenominee.com

"Deep Woods Frontier: A History of Logging in Northern Michigan, T. J. Karamanski, 1989, www.books.google.com
"Early Days in the Lumber Business," www.rootsweb.ancestry.com
"Heritage of the Route," www.cuppad.org
"History of the Lumber and Forest Industry of the Northwest," G. W. Hotchkiss, 1898, www.books.google.com
"History of Michigan, Vol. IV," Charles Moore, 1915
A History of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan," G. N. Fuller, www.quod.lib.umich.edu
"History of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan: Menominee County, Michigan," Western Historical Co., 1883, www.files.usgwarchives.net
"Memorial Record of the Northern Peninsula of Michigan," Lewis Publ. Co., 1895
"Menominee, Michigan," www.wikipedia.org
"Menominee County," www.kenanderson.net
"Menominee County," family history & genealogy site, www.mygenshare.com
“Menominee County, Michigan: Family History & Genealogy…,” www.linkpendiunm.com
"Menominee County, Michigan: Surnames" (biographies), www.linkpendium.com
"Menominee County History," www.menominee.genwebsite.net
"Menominee County: Trails to the Past," www.hometownchronicles.com
"Menominee Remembered," E. C. Somerville et al., 1982, made available by the Menominee County Historical Society, www.uproc.lib.mi.us
"Recollections of a Long Life 1829-1915," by Isaac Stephenson, www.electricscotland.com
"Spies Public Library Genealogy," www.uproc.lib.mi.us
"Welcome to Menominee County Michigan," genealogy site, www.genealogytrails.com

1 comment:

  1. Great historical perspective. My Dad, Ottar M. Olson served on the Menominee County Historical Commission for many years and I wish he were still around to comment on this.