Middle Island Point – One of Marquette’s Best Kept Secrets
I recently had the good fortune and privilege of getting to visit Middle Island Point, a visit arranged by a friend and with one of the Point’s longtime residents as our tour guide. Because Middle Island Point is private property, you can only access it by invitation and so I will respect the privacy of the residents and not display pictures of their cottages and homes, but the scenery at Middle Island Point is breathtaking enough in itself.
I had long heard of Middle Island Point but never visited it, and when I mentioned it to others, I was surprised that many people didn’t even know where it is. It is actually only a couple of miles from Marquette with access along the Big Bay Road. We have all seen it. When you are at Presque Isle Park and look across the bay from Sunset Point, you are looking straight at it. It is called Middle Island Point because a point of the mainland juts out right across from Middle Island (the Middle Island between Presque Isle and Partridge Island).
Several books have been written about Middle Island Point, including A History of Middle Island Point(1963) by Robert J. Pearce. The book has an odd cover without any words on it and only an aerial view of the point. Inside it is the history of much of Middle Island Point, including lists of every cottage there.
The point itself is quite a rocky precipice jutting into the lake with fairly high cliffs in various places while other parts of the shore are close to the lake. The winter storms can be quite fierce as the waves dash against the rocks, but the geological beauty of the landscape is rivaled by few other parts of the Marquette area’s Lake Superior shoreline.
As for its history, Middle Island Point began as a sort of camping getaway for Marquette residents, and its former inhabitants read like a “Who’s Who” of Marquette history. The first cabin was built about 1890 by Mrs. Alice Adams, a milliner in the Harlow Block of Marquette. By the early 1900s, the Point would be filled with cottages on its rocky hill and on the beachside property as well.
Among the locally famous residents who had cottages on Middle Island Point are:
The Harlow Clark family. They are descendants of Amos and Olive Harlow, Marquette’s founding family. Mr. Harlow Clark, their grandson, reputedly would walk from the streetcar at Presque Isle to Middle Island Point.
Forest and Esther Roberts – The Forest Roberts theater was named for Forest, head of NMU’s theatre department, and they were long time owners of a cottage at the point which remains in the family today.
Dorothy Bird – Dorothy Maywood Bird, local author of Granite Harbor and a couple of other books had a cottage along the beach at Middle Island Point.
James Cloyd Bowman – the winner of the Newberry Medal for his book Pecos Bill, Bowman was head of NMU’s English Department and had a cottage called Skytop at Middle Island Point. In Ruth Alden Clark Lill’s book Twenties That Didn’t Roar, she recalls being at the cabin when a fire broke out on Middle Island Point. Fortunately, none of the cottages burnt.
John Lautner Jr. – the famous architect was a boy who helped to build his family cottage Midgaard here. Lautner would go on to study under Frank Lloyd Wright and build homes for such notables as Bob Hope (watch for the special exhibit on Lautner coming soon to NMU and the Marquette Regional History Center).
Famous visitors to the Point include Cole Porter who reputedly had help from a party of guests at the Point in writing the lyrics for one of his songs.
The rugged landscape is quite a challenge for the residents, who often have to climb up one or two hills on winding paths from one cabin to another in roundabout ways to get to their own cabins. Cars cannot access the steep hills so groceries, furniture, and anything else needed must be carried up by hand, and often through steps that have been carved by hand into the rocks as well as over wooden bridges.
I could go on and on about the history of Middle Island Point, but I hope I’ve whetted your interest enough to explore it further. Pearce’s book is out of print but copies are available at Peter White Public Library.
This entry was posted on June 15, 2011 at 4:39 pm and is filed under Marquette History, Marquette's Historical Homes, Upper Michigan Books and Authors, Upper Michigan History, Upper Michigan Sites to Visit. You can subscribe via RSS 2.0 feed to this post's comments.
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