Posted tagged ‘Washington Street’

Marquette’s Castle Brewery

May 3, 2011

 The Castle Brewery, built by George Rublein, one of the first residents of Marquette, does not feature in any of my novels. I had initially planned to set a scene in Iron Pioneersthere but later cut it out. Nevertheless, the building has struck a chord with me from early childhood because of my love for castles.

The Castle Brewery, circa 1998

Today I find the brewery’s history interesting because Rublein, like Fritz Bergmann in Iron Pioneers, was one of the German immigrants who came to Marquette in 1849 from Milwaukee. He and his wife Catherine were probably among those who suffered from the initial typhoid outbreak that summer and later in December started walking back to Milwaukee so villagers in Worcester (later Marquette) would not starve to death without their winter supplies. Fortunately, the supply ship arrived on Christmas Day and the Germans were called back to the village.

Rublein bought 160 acres of land for $1.00 on what became County Road 492. There he built his home, farm, and his beer brewery. He later would expand his business to the west end of Washington Street, building the Castle Brewery, of which a small sandstone portion remains today. Quite far from town at that time, the brewery’s beer gardens would have been a fun excursion out of town for residents.

In Iron Pioneers, the scene I did not include in the novel was to center around Karl Bergmann visiting the Castle Brewery as a young man. The visit would make him feel sentimental over his deceased father and inspire him to make his trip to Germany. Although I left out the Castle Brewery, in The Queen City, Karl did go to Germany, and when he returns, he brings home the German pickle Christmas ornament he gives to his sister Kathy. Decades later, John Vandelaare sees the ornament on his grandmother’s Christmas tree and wonders how such a strange ornament came into the family’s possession. Although no one in the family remembers how the pickle was acquired, it serves as a symbol that the past is always with us.

My grandmother never really had a pickle ornament—I just thought it an interesting German tradition, and I do have my own Christmas pickle ornament today. But Grandma always had pickles on the table at parties—bread and butter pickles. I buy them all the time—they remind me of her; we all have our comfort foods.

(The above article is from My Marquette. For more information about the book, visit www.MarquetteFiction.com)

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Marquette Hotels: The Clifton House and the Hotel Marquette

January 26, 2011

Last week when I had the pleasure of visiting the residents of Brookridge Heights to talk about My Marquette, we spent a lot of time reminscing about old Marquette hotels, some I knew very little about. Marquette has had numerous old hotels from the Brunswick to the European and the Janzen. Two well-known hotels that I featured in my novels were the Clifton and the Hotel Marquette. Here is the section from My Marquette about them. Photos of the hotels, including the fire one experienced, can be found in My Marquette.

            Unlike most of Upper Michigan’s clannish Finnish immigrants, Aino realized that to get ahead in this foreign land, she must assimilate into American culture. She thought working in one of Marquette’s finest hotels was a fine start compared to the jobs in the mining towns of Ishpeming and Negaunee; Marquette seemed practically a cosmopolitan city compared to the nearby little mining towns, and the Clifton Hotel was frequently visited by shipping and railroad magnates. — The Queen City

            In The Queen City, Aino Nordmaki’s employment at the Clifton Hotel results in her meeting her future husband, Karl Bergmann. Aino enters his room to clean it, not realizing he is still in it—they are immediately smitten with each other, and although she knows she should not court one of the hotel’s guests, she gives in when he asks her to supper:

Finally, he found Aino Nordmaki in a stairwell and asked her to have supper with him. She tried to explain she could not be involved with the hotel’s male clients. He persisted when her eyes betrayed her pleasure at being asked. He took her to the Hotel Marquette—known for its splendid cuisine—where no one from the Clifton would see them. Aino had never eaten in a restaurant before—she had certainly never dined alone with a man. That he was a giant of a man made her feel both nervous and safe, as if even losing her position at the hotel could not happen if he were with her. They did not talk much; neither knew what to say, but in the end, she thanked him for the meal.

            The Mesnard House was built in 1883 and renamed the Hotel Marquette in 1891. It had one hundred rooms and was renowned for its fine dining. But like so many other downtown buildings, it would be destroyed by fire in 1930.

            The Clifton Hotel would be even more ill-fated. The original hotel was first named the Clifton Hostelry, then Cole’s Lake View Hotel, then Cozzen’s Hotel, and finally the Clifton House. It stood four stories high on the corner of Washington and Front Streets, and its top floor and an observation tower provided an excellent view of Lake Superior. A barbershop, billiard parlor, and parlors for entertainment were among its many amenities. A Christmas Day fire in 1886 would destroy it.

            The Volks, owners of the Clifton, decided to rebuild a block farther up the hill on the corners of Front and Bluff Streets. This second Clifton Hotel would be where Karl and Aino met; they would walk from there down a block to the corner of Washington and Front Streets to the Hotel Marquette for dinner. Meanwhile, Amos Harlow purchased the property where the old Clifton Hotel had stood and built the Harlow Block building in 1887, constructed by Marquette architect Hampson Gregory. It remains home to numerous downtown businesses and offices today.

            The second Clifton Hotel would ultimately meet the fate of its predecessor. In October 1965, fire again broke out as the result of an electric problem. Despite efforts to put it out, the fire quickly spread through the building. The hotel was never rebuilt. By that time, the US 41 bypass had been built to detour traffic from passing through downtown Marquette. Hotels were being replaced by motels springing up along US 41 as the city grew westward. Today, only the Landmark Inn survives of Marquette’s downtown hotels.

Marquette’s Post Office – Up for Sale?

November 23, 2010

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.

Marquette's Post Office

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.

Building the Post Office - my grandpa is in an upstairs window on the far right

           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.

Post Office Mural

            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

My Marquette

Marquette’s Opera House & the 1938 Fire and Blizzard

October 19, 2010

This post is a continuation of my previous post about the Marquette Opera House, taken from My Marquette.

Like many an opera heroine, the Marquette Opera House would meet a tragic ending. In the early morning hours of January 24, 1938, and during perhaps the worst blizzard in Upper Michigan’s history, the employees at The Mining Journal, working desperately to finish the newspaper, had the electricity go out. In the blackness, they looked down the street and saw fire aglow in the Masonic Building. Here are some passages from the retelling of the story in The Queen City:

Residents near downtown Marquette were rudely woken by the fire brigade’s sirens. People peered out their windows to see an eerie conglomeration of smoke, bright red flames, and hurling white snow. The fire had begun in the Masonic Building. How it began or how long it had already raged would not be determined until much later. For now, the fire must be stopped before the entire downtown crumbled to cinders, before history repeated itself—several residents recalled their grandparents’ stories of another great downtown fire seventy years earlier. By the time the firetrucks arrived, the Masonic Building was counted as lost, including inside it, the Peter White Insurance Agency and the much-loved Opera House. Already the fire had spread along the street, engulfing Jean’s Jewelry, the Nightingale Cafe, the Scott and Woolworth stores, De Hass Builder’s Supply, and the Marquette County law library.

            Had electricity been required to pump water, the fire’s destruction would have been inestimable. Fortunately, the waterworks was powered by gas engines run on batteries. Hoses were quickly unrolled along Washington Street to fight the formidable fire. The bravest men struggled with feelings of panic and loss to see buildings that had stood since before their childhood, where they had spent countless joyful hours—the Opera House, the theatres, the stores—all at the mercy of the raging flames. No one had ever seen such a firestorm, much less been asked to fight it. Firemen dug their footholds into snowbanks and aimed their hoses at the flames, only to have the wind whip the waterstreams straight back into their faces, where ice formed on their noses while smoke choked their lungs. Yet they dared not back down.

….

            Bill, although large and strong for his seventeen years, had to use all his might to brace against the frigid winds and direct the hoses so the water struck the flames. Much of the water froze on powerlines and building fronts just seconds after it spurted from hoses. Heroic efforts appeared ineffective against the blazing furnace that had once been Washington Street. At times, the slush in the street was up to Bill’s hips, making him feel more like he was fishing in the Dead River than fighting a blazing fire. A firetruck froze in the slush and could not be moved. Henry waded through the watery mess to help dig out the truck so it could hose down the bank buildings on the corner of Washington and Front before the fire spread downhill toward the lake.

            As morning broke, Mr. Donckers opened his cafe to provide hot coffee for the firemen and volunteers. Bill and Henry took a quick, welcomed breakfast break after learning the Kresge store was no longer in danger. They emerged from breakfast, refreshed and ready to fight again, just as the west wall of the Masonic building tumbled down. Even though the wall fell inward, glass shot out from its windows, injuring a traffic officer and three firemen, while bricks struck two other men. None were seriously injured, but even the witnesses felt shaken. The accident made everyone fight with greater determination to prevent worse accidents. Curses and prayers were muttered in hopes the blizzard would end so only the fire had to be fought. There would be many more hours of frustrating toil.

Marquette Opera House after the fire and blizzard - from my grandparents' photograph albums

            My only family member that I know actually witnessed the fire that day was my grandpa’s cousin, Myles McCombie. In 1999, The Mining Journal featured a story about the fire and interviewed residents who recalled it. Myles McCombie was just a teenager at the time; upon hearing about the fire, he and a friend walked downtown to see it. When they reached Washington Street, a fireman asked Myles to help for twenty-five cents an hour, so Myles picked up a hose. He told The Mining Journal, “We stood in slush up to our hips and we were pouring water on that side [of Washington] street.” Myles was also one of the volunteers who was served a quick breakfast at Donckers store when it was opened to serve the firemen.

            To lose a major section of downtown Marquette had to be devastating to the residents, and I can only imagine how my grandparents felt to know a place so important to them was gone forever.

What caused the downtown fire that destroyed the Opera House? Stay tuned to my next blog post that will finish the story of the Marquette Opera House and the church scandal that resulted in such tragic consequences.