Marquette’s Frink Family and Fairlawn Mansion

To end my posts in celebration of August as maritime month, here is one last bit of maritime trivia from my upcoming book, My Marquette, including a connection to a Superior, Wisconsin family that I think is little known in Marquette:

Fairlawn Mansion - Superior, Wisconsin

Marquette would also have a life-saving crew, but it was separate from the lighthouse and its keeper’s duties. Before Marquette’s life-saving crew was established in 1891, Marquette had to send distress signals by telegraph to Portage Lake over a hundred miles away. This delay could easily result in lost vessels. At one point, tugboat skipper, Captain John Frink, rather than wait for the life-saving crew, decided to take matters into his own hands. On November 17, 1886, a fierce storm washed away the Marquette breakwater light, which later was washed up on shore. That afternoon, a schooner, the Eliza Gerlach, was seen about to smash into the breakwater. Captain John Frink risked the waves with the tug Gillett and managed to tow the schooner clear of the breakwater. As soon as the rescue was complete, Captain Frink’s crew went back out to rescue the schooner Florida which had managed to find Iron Bay solely by listening to fog signals, but was now too close to the beach. Eight of the Gillett’s crew jumped aboard the Florida to attach a tow rope to it, but a ninth crew member miscalculated the jump and fell between the vessels, being crushed to death. Despite the casualty, the Florida was towed to safety. The Mining Journal commemorated Captain Frink by saying he deserved the government’s life-saving medal.

Captain Frink came from a family not of sailors but lighthouse keepers. His father Reuben Frink was the keeper of the Grand Island North light from 1865-69 and later the Granite Island light from 1884-85. His son William was the assistant keeper at Grand Island North from 1865-70 and another son Richard was acting assistant at Granite Island under his father in 1884-85. But perhaps the most successful and fascinating member of the Frink family was Captain Frink’s sister, Grace, who would end up marrying quite well—or perhaps not so well.

In 1879, Grace Frink married Michigan lumberman, Martin Pattison, who would make his fortune in mining veins of iron ore he discovered in the Vermillion Range near Ely, Minnesota. The couple met and married in Marquette and then moved to Superior, Wisconsin where they built the magnificent forty-two room Fairlawn Mansion.

The house was lavished with $150,000 worth of Guatemalan mahogany, English glazed tile, Mexican onyx fireplaces, and white-birch woodwork covered with 22-karat gold. An elegant entry hall, a fine staircase, a ball room on the third floor, and a swimming pool in the basement completed the mansion’s impressive accessories. Today, the home has been beautifully restored and is open for tours.

Unfortunately, Grace would eventually learn that everything that glitters is not gold. While he was serving as mayor of Superior, Martin Pattison’s former wife came calling. In fact, he had abandoned a wife and children in Lower Michigan before marrying Grace, who had no idea about her husband’s other family or that by marrying her, her husband had become a bigamist. Things were apparently smoothed over with the first wife, and Pattison stayed with Grace, but rumor has it that after that, they slept in separate bedrooms.

My Marquette has gone to the printers and is expected to be available for sale after November 1st. For more information, visit

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4 Comments on “Marquette’s Frink Family and Fairlawn Mansion”

  1. In truth, Grace was not wholly unaware of Martin’s past. A reporter for the Superior news paper in 1890 – when Martin was running for Mayor of the city, came across documents filed in Duluth, MN pertaining to a divorce on behalf of Isabella Murdock Thayer – first wife of Simeon Martin Thayer – aks Martin Pattison. The determined reporter traveled to Michigan to get the whole story. It seems, in fact, that Grace Frink worked as Martin and Martha Pattison’s housekeeper before Martha’s death in 1977. Martha was Isabella Murdock’s younger sister. She and Simeon aka Martin, ran away together in 1872, leaving Isabella with her daughter Zelia, age two and son Joseph Thayer (born six days after Simeon/Martin’s departure).
    It was reported in 1890, that at the time of Martha’s death, her brother Murdock found Pattison and demanded some recompense for Isabella and her two children in return for keeping quiet. It is possible that all of this escaped Grace’s attention, but the custom of separate bedrooms had very little to do with the revelation of any scandal. It was a custom of the times, to demonstrate the wealth and standing. The separate bedrooms were part of a three room suite and Grace gave birth to two sets of twins after moving into the mansion.

    • Wow, Judith. That’s quite a story. Thanks for all the extra information!

      • I worked as communications and PR coordinator at Fairlawn for five years. Still do special projects for them. Right now I am working on a timeline of Martin Pattison’s career for the Travel Channel. That’s how I came across this. Do you have any information on Martin and Williams lumber holdings in Marquette a name, or exact location- we have nothing of that period.

      • Hi Judith,
        I’m not surprised that you worked there given all the information you have. No, I don’t have any info on the lumber holdings. I don’t think Martin was in Marquette very long honestly, but your best bet would be to check with the Marquette Regional History Center:

        Good luck with your projects!

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