Today I had the privilege of being invited to talk to the residents at Brookridge Heights Assisted Living whose reading group has been reading My Marquette. I had a wonderful time getting to meet everyone and hearing many stories of Old Marquette. Many of them could have written their own books. In their honor, here is the section from My Marquette about Brookridge.
Because of my memory, I can always be back in the past again—like when I drive along County Road 553, and I come around the curve into Marquette, still expecting to see the old Brookridge Estate standing there, momentarily forgetting it’s been torn down. As long as I remember, the past is still part of the present for me, and I’ll always be able to live in Old Marquette. As I get older, I imagine I’ll live even more in the past, but maybe that’s what it means to get older.” — Superior Heritage
I grew up by the Crossroads south of town, so whenever I came into Marquette with my parents on County Road 553, I would pass by the old Brookridge estate. I was always a bookworm, always reading in the backseat of the car, but when we approached the curve where the road came into Marquette, I would reverently look up from my book and turn my head to the right where the Brookridge estate stood proudly like some old English estate, the home of a country squire, a carriage house in the back, an apple orchard to the side, and with a lane lined with Lombardy Poplars that led up to the front door. In those days, I felt if I could have lived in any house in Marquette, the Brookridge estate would have been the one. The entire property spoke of a time past, a simpler time that created within me a sort of “Good Old Days” nostalgia. Although it was by then abandoned and a couple of its windows broken, the house’s stately presence could still be felt. I dreamed of the day when I would purchase it and rename it Plumfield after the boys’ school in Louisa May Alcott’s Little Men, one of my favorite books at the time—the ideal place for a boy to grow up.
Even when I found out that the Brookridge Estate had originally been the Marquette County Poor Farm, I thought no less of it. If anything, I probably thought that made it all the better—it had been a charitable place, and a farm, and so had Plumfield been as the Bhaers took in boys to their school and turned their lives around.
The first poor farm in Marquette began on this site in 1873. In 1900, Marquette residents decided an improved structure was necessary and the new facility, the one I would so grow to love, was built at a cost of $15,000 in 1901. The staunch new building of red brick, sandstone, and yellow trim looked like a giant, solid home, a safe haven. Twenty-seven rooms sat on forty-seven acres of pastures, orchards, and woods surrounded by a brook. The farm produced vegetables and potatoes and even had some cows to produce dairy products.
While officially named the Marquette County Citizens’ Home, everyone in Marquette commonly knew it as “the Poor Farm.” Its residents were self-sustaining, taking care of the house and property. Fred Rydholm, local Marquette historian, noted in a 1986 Mining Journal article that his mother worked there as a nurse about 1912 at which time it also served as Marquette’s earliest nursing home, primarily for older people including lumberjacks in their sunset years. At its peak, as many as thirty-five people lived in the house, but by the mid-twentieth century, the population declined. When the building finally closed its doors in 1965, it had only a dozen residents remaining.
After a vacancy of four years, the house became a teaching facility, operated by the Marquette Alger Intermediate School District, for emotionally impaired children, at which time it was renamed Brookridge. Funds to sustain the property were so scarce that after a dozen years, the house was closed up. It was during the years it was closed that I remember it.
Various attempts were made to save the property as a historical landmark and it was even listed on the National and State Registers of Historic Places for its distinctive early twentieth century architecture. Talk of turning the property into a country inn or a holistic healthcare center fell through in the 1980s. Then in 1994, the property was sold to Marquette General Hospital and the grand old house razed.
I was devastated by the tearing down of my dream home. I still have all the articles from The Mining Journal about the debate over what to do with the property and its eventual demolition. I am no poet, but I was moved enough at the time to write a mournful poem over the loss of my imaginary home, which I’ll spare the reader from perusing.
Like John Vandelaare in the quotation above, every once in a while I still catch myself in a time warp, turning my head as I drive by to look at the old Brookridge Estate. Since 1998, the modern Brookridge Heights assisted living facility has stood in its place, but in my mind’s eye, the grand old house is still there, waiting for me to ride up to it on my horse and announce I am home like any good English country squire would do.
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