The Black Shore Part 2

Max Reynolds’ yacht, Yankee Girl, is pictured. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — Last week we discussed the “Black Shore” the north side of Marquette’s harbor including the Jackson Iron Dock and the Waterworks building. Around the time the Waterworks project was conceived, The Mining Journal was grousing, “The old Jackson cut is, at present, neither useful nor ornamental, the old rickety bridge which spans it is an eyesore to everybody. It is a nuisance which ought to be abated.”

It soon became apparent, however, that some of the remaining infrastructure might still serve a useful purpose. A rolling mill, a blast furnace used to make pig iron, was to be constructed utilizing some of the old dock and its railroad approaches.

Five acres of land off Lakeshore Boulevard were filled in, and a large, encircled pond, in which to dump the furnace’s cinders, was also included in the site. A long dock, to unload coal and load product, was constructed also.

Built of Marquette Brownstone, with an iron roof, and a 100-foot tall chimney, the new plant was named after the daughter of the treasurer of the Lake Superior Iron Co. In December 1872, the fires of the Grace Furnace were lit, and the stockholders gave it a rousing christening. And there was even some talk about Marquette becoming the Pittsburgh of the Midwest.

Pretensions of commercial glory soon faded however, as the furnace went out three months later. The cause was catastrophic structural failure. At the time there was much public acrimony. The foundry foreman blamed the structural engineer, who fired back, accusation for accusation.

Consequently, the site lay abandoned for several decades; but in 1903 all the sandstone was purchased to construct the Bishop Baraga High School. This building harmonized nicely with St. Peter’s Cathedral, just across the street. When Bishop Baraga was razed in 1974, some of the sandstone was used on the outside walls of the new building which arose in its place: the new Marquette City Hall.

The eastern perimeter of the Grace Furnace property survives to this day, as the arm of land enclosing the Cinder Pond Marina. Just to the east of the Spear Coal Dock (now Mattson Park), a small private marina had evolved in the Burtis Mill’s old cinder pond. While somewhat ramshackle in nature, still, it definitely had character.

The boating boom of the 1970s insured that the new Presque Isle Marina’s 95 slips were quickly filled — with a waiting list. So the City searched for additional dockage downtown. One plan called for a 125 slip facility to be cut out of what is now Mattson Park. However, by the mid-1980s, the Cinder Pond, now owned by the City, was settled upon. Developed as a three-phase project, work began in the early ’90s.

The first phase saw the removal of the stranded barges, dredging, shoreline stabilization, and construction of the new launch ramp. Phase Two included the construction of the office and parking lot, and the installation of the utilities, fuel, and pump out systems. The final phase was the laying out of the floating piers.

At the time there was some debate over what to call the spanking new facility: to some, “Cinder Pond” lacked glamour; but tradition won out in the end. Although some large visiting transient craft seem to have difficulty digesting the plebian name, and calls over the radio requesting dockage at the “Marquette Marina” or the “Cider Pond Marina” are sometimes heard.

The Marina, opened in 1994, is beginning to show signs of age. Its floating piers have yearly been subjected to the unpredictable movements of the ice, and wear and tear has become noticeable.

The Marina building was condemned in March 2014 after the winter’s extreme frost levels damaged the building’s foundation, its replacement was completed in early 2016.

Next to the Marina is the Lake Superior Yacht Yard.

In 1928, Yankee Girl, a 52-foot-long wooden auxiliary schooner, was brought from the east coast to Marquette by Max Reynolds Sr. However the craft was so large and so maintenance intensive, that it required both a marine railway for launching and sheltered storage for the year round attention it required. At the time, no such local facilities were available; and it was to provide a home for Yankee Girl that the Lake Superior Yacht Yard was built.

Construction began in the late 1920s when sand was dredged from the Bay and used for the foundation of a large boathouse. A marine railway was run out from the boathouse into the Lake. Over the next couple of decades the Yard expanded erratically. The boathouse was enlarged. Another, smaller, boathouse for small craft was built. And a wood and metal working shop was constructed for the unending job of supporting Yankee Girl.

In 1940, when the polio epidemic swept across the Upper Peninsula, Mr. Reynolds responded to the emergency, and the Yard was where the lifesaving “iron lungs” were constructed for distribution to local hospitals.

The original Yankee Girl graced the lower harbor until 1965. The City’s unofficial flagship, everyone in the area knew who she was. Widely traveled, she cruised the Great Lakes.

For most of the year the Yard is a quiet place, where over a dozen medium and large sized boats lie sheltered during the cold months. During the short summer it vibrates with activity. The boathouse serves as the Lake Superior Theater’s playhouse; and it is the site of weddings, parties, and conferences.

Today the black shore is green. Could such industry really have existed there? It is also clean, but not quiet; as the sounds of humanity at play have replaced the sounds of industry, and recreation supersedes business.