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Before the dandelions

Author’s story entwined with her native city’s

June 10, 2012
By Rosemary Michelin - Special to the Journal , The Mining Journal

MARQUETTE?- Marquette was just a small harbor village when Jonas Watson first saw it. He recalled,

"We were engaged by Mr. James Pendill, a Soo merchant to take a stock of dry goods to Marquette and open up a branch store. We embarked on the steamer 'Manhattan' and after 5 days of pushing through ice fields we reached Marquette."

In 1855 there were only about 1,000 inhabitants here and supplies were in scarce demand. Jonas Watson was an Irish immigrant who became one of Marquette's first prominent merchants. His first store Watson and Son was located on Superior Street (now Baraga Avenue) and sold everything from groceries and hardware to clothing and toys.

Article Photos

Jonas Watson and his daughter Caroline around 1870. (Marquette Regional History Center photo)

The Watson family prospered in business and family life. Jonas and Emily had 10 children, the youngest of whom was Caroline also known as Carrie. The mortality rate was high and only 5 of their children lived to adulthood. The family lived on Lake Street below the ridge and close to the harbor. Carrie was only 4 when a devastating fire consumed the entire downtown area in June 1868. She later recalled the event in a speech,

"I woke one morning to find that I had slept on a mattress on our parlor floor and those strangers, the Everetts and others were occupying my bed. The kitchen was filled with showcases from my father's store. My father standing in our front doorway lifted me to his shoulder and pointed toward charred buildings that were still smoking. 'Everything's gone," he said. But the town recovered from this smashing blow.

Jonas Watson traveled back to Ireland several times to visit his family who had depended on him to supply them with wheat and corn during the Potato Famine. He became ill on one trip and never fully recovered. He passed way in Marquette in 1875 at the age of 60.

Tragically, the family home burned down the next year, so Jonas' widow Emily decided to build on property that they owned up on Ridge Street. Architect Hampson Gregory designed and built the gothic style home at 219 E. Ridge which still stands today.

Next door, St. Paul's Episcopal Church was being constructed of local brownstone in a gothic style, complete with ornate stained glass windows. A small wooden one-story home was built just north of the church as a residence for the church sexton. In 1887 after the death of his oldest son Morgan, community leader Peter White built the Morgan Chapel on High Street. He wrote to the church vestry requesting that the small home be moved to a lot that he owned on Arch Street just around the corner. This was the first relocation of the cottage. In the early 1900s the Bishop of the Episcopal Church, G. Mott Williams made available to his daughter Rhoda and her friends, the cottage to play in. It had been vacant for many years and needed some upkeep including the removal of dandelions from the front lawn. Later, this true story of the girls and the cottage became the inspiration for Caroline Watson Rankin's book, "Dandelion Cottage."

Ernest Rankin of Detroit came to Marquette as an employee of the passenger department of the Detroit, Mackinaw and Marquette Railway. He was introduced to Carrie Watson and after a short courtship they married in 1886. The Rankins had four children, Florence, Ernest, Eleanor, and Phyllis. Caroline continued to write children's articles based on humorous family events.

Ernest accepted a job with the New York Central Railway and was traveling away from Marquette for several decades. Carrie supported the family by selling her stories. In 1904, Henry Holt and Company published "Dandelion Cottage." In her career Carroll Watson Rankin wrote 10 children's novels and hundreds of articles. She became Marquette's most famous 20th Century author. "Dandelion Cottage" is still published today by the Marquette Regional History Center.

The History Center will be hosting two Dandelion Cottage Walking Tours on Wednesday at 2 p.m. and Thursday at 7 p.m. beginning at the parking lot of St. Paul's Episcopal Church, corner of Ridge and High Street. Museum guides will tell the stories of the Watson and Rankin families, the novel, the Dandelion Cottage, other homes in the historic district and will conclude with a special appearance of the novel's "Mr. Black" (Peter White). The tour will end at the carriage house of Peter White on Ridge Street with lemonade being served by his descendents. A $5 donation is suggested for programming costs.

For a listing of other special Dandelion Cottage Month events in June contact Peter White Library or the Marquette Regional History Center at 226-3571

EDITOR'S?NOTE:?Rosemary Michelin is the librarian at the John M. Longyear Research Library in the Marquette Regional History Center.



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