Marquette’s Post Office – Up for Sale?
On November 12th the Mining Journal reported that Marquette’s Post Office may be up for sale. You can read that story at Marquette Post Office for Sale.
Just a few days later, the story about My Marquette ran on the front page of the Mining Journal and mentioned that my grandfather had helped to build the Marquette Post Office. The story included a photo of the post office being built that I provided. Those of you who read the story online didn’t get to see the photo so I am attaching it here along with the section from My Marquette about the post office. More pictures, including one of the first Post Office, the federal building, are in the paper copy of the book.
While times are changing, I trust the Post Office building will remain used for many years to come, and I always consider it a treat to go in there and think about my grandpa.
From My Marquette:
He crossed Washington Street, gazing up at the tall Post Office and Federal Building. He remembered seeing a photograph of his grandfather peering out of one of those upper windows. John’s novel had started out from an idea based on his grandfather’s life; he missed his grandpa so much he had wanted to immortalize his memory, but the story had gotten away from him, creating a character only loosely based on Henry Whitman; nevertheless, John knew it was the best piece he had ever written. He thought it might bring luck that he was mailing his novel at the post office his grandfather had helped to build.
Inside, three people waited in line before him. John stared at the painting of Father Marquette standing up in a canoe while Indians paddled it; everyone in Upper Michigan knows you cannot stand in a canoe, and the Indians looked crabby, as if irritated that Father Marquette was not helping to paddle. But since John had set the novel in the city named for this Jesuit priest, he thought seeing the picture might bring him good luck. — Superior Heritage
Marquette has had a post office since its very founding. Initially, Amos Harlow ran a post office out of his own home, and there was also a Carp River post office. Since the bulk of the mail was addressed to the Carp River post office, it eventually became predominant.
Delivery of mail to Marquette was not easy in the first years, and especially once winter set in, residents could go for months without receiving letters. The mail route over land was from Green Bay, Wisconsin, about a 180-mile journey. In 1850, the city fathers decided something had to be done to get the mail delivered more regularly, so they sent Peter White to Green Bay to collect the mail, hauling it by sleigh back to Marquette.
The situation did not improve, however, until in 1854, Peter White took matters into his own hands, as related in Iron Pioneers:
In January 1854, Marquette had received no mail for three months, so Peter had been elected to go to Green Bay to fetch it. With Indian companions and dog sleds, he set out on the one hundred eighty mile journey. Halfway, he met sleighs coming north with the village’s mail. Eight tons of Marquette’s mail had accumulated in Green Bay, and it took three months for the postmaster to find someone willing to carry it north. Peter sent his companions and the mail back to Marquette, but intent to resolve the situation, he continued on to Green Bay.
Upon his arrival, he discovered Marquette’s mail was accumulating at the rate of six bushels a day. Frustrated, Peter traveled another fifty miles to Fond du Lac so he could telegraph Senator Cass about the situation. Determined to receive a response, he bombarded the senator with telegrams until a special agent came to Green Bay to investigate. The postmaster in Green Bay, as upset about the situation as Peter, agreed to act as accomplice. Together the two men filled all the post office’s empty sacks, claiming, when the agent arrived, that every bag contained mail for Marquette. Thirty bags of actual mail now appeared to be four times as much. The agent, overwhelmed by the sight, quickly authorized weekly mail delivery to Marquette from Green Bay. Marquette had not lacked for its mail since, and Peter had been hailed as a town hero.
As Marquette grew, the mail soon surpassed even the fake amount Peter White had created to remedy the delivery issues. The need for a larger post office resulted in the 1886 construction of the Federal Building on the corner of Washington and Third Street where today the current post office stands. Construction of the building cost $100,000 but was several times delayed, among other reasons, because a stonemason who was fired from his job for being drunk decided to shoot the general contractor and then commit suicide (perhaps the earliest example of someone going “postal”). Despite the setbacks, when the Federal Building, the first U.S. Government building in Upper Michigan, was completed it was highly impressive and worthy of the beautiful city hall soon to stand beside it. The Federal Building’s high tower and its arched doorways and windows make one regret it was ever replaced.
In the 1930s, the U.S. Government decided a new United States Post Office and Court House was needed, and the old Federal Building was soon no more. The new building would be built of Bedford limestone and completed in 1937. Its style is typical of 1930s Art Deco. My grandfather, Lester White, was among those employed in its construction, so I feel a fondness for it whenever I go inside. I have mailed many of my manuscripts to various publishers inside this building, hopeful, since my grandpa helped to construct it, that the post office would bring me some luck.
Inside the main lobby is a mural that was commissioned by the Works Progress Administration (WPA) soon after the building was opened. Artist Dewey Albinson depicted Father Marquette with two French voyageurs and two Indians in a canoe. Most likely to lend significance to the Jesuit priest, Albinson depicted Father Marquette as standing up. When I was a student at Northern Michigan University, my American literature professor, David Mitchell, told the students to go down to the post office and write a description of what they thought this painting represented about America. After reading the papers, Professor Mitchell remarked that he could tell he was in Upper Michigan because every student had commented on how Father Marquette would have known that to stand up in a canoe would tip it over.
Mail delivery in Marquette has vastly improved since Peter White’s days, but it remains difficult. The postal workers of Upper Michigan embody the saying “neither rain, nor sleet, nor snow” will stop the U.S. mail. In the worst of blizzards, I have come home to find my mailman has climbed over snowbanks to put my letters in my mailbox. The cost of stamps is small for such dedication.
Read more Marquette history at www.MarquetteFiction.com
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