MARQUETTE - Although fires that totally consume buildings are rare these days, one such fire 48 years ago this month - a blaze that required firefighters from several different area departments - destroyed a Marquette landmark.
That landmark, the original First Baptist Church, will be discussed during "Gone But Not Forgotten: The Lost Buildings of Marquette," a Capital Campaign fundraiser for the Marquette Regional History Center at 7 p.m. Jan. 31 in Kaufman Auditorium.
The program, presented by local historical storyteller Jim Koski and local historical photographic expert Jack Deo, will touch on over 50 different buildings that once sat throughout the city of Marquette but have now been torn down, paved over, or, as in the case of many of the buildings, burned down.
Marquette’s original First Baptist Church, right after its construction in the late 1880s. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)
The First Baptist Church, which sat on the corner of Front and Ridge streets, was built out of locally quarried sandstone in 1886 at a cost of $30,000. $3,000 of that went to the church's water-powered pipe organ, the first of its kind in the state of Michigan.
The church served its congregation for almost 80 years, until the afternoon of Jan. 5, 1965. Around 2:30 that day, employees in the Northland Hotel, which sat next door, noticed smoke coming from the structure. They notified authorities, who arrived to discover the structure covered in flames. 24 firefighters from Marquette-the city's entire firefighting contingent-along with over 30 firefighters from K.I. Sawyer Air force Base battled until the next morning to keep the blaze under control. Thirty members of NMU's Alpha Phi Omega fraternity were also pressed into service to help maintain control over the large crowd that had gathered to watch the fire.
By the next morning, the church was in ruins, with only its sandstone walls still standing. Authorities determined the fire started in the church's boiler room and had quickly spread through the structure. Leaders of the church decided to tear the remaining sandstone walls down and rebuild the facility at its current location, on Fair Avenue near NMU. The land where the church originally stood is now a parking lot for the Landmark Inn.
This story, and the stories of many other historical buildings in Marquette's past, along with hundreds of photographs, many never before seen, will make up the Jan. 31 program at Kaufman Auditorium. Tickets, which aid the History Center's Capital Campaign, are $12 a piece, and can be purchased at the Marquette Regional History Center, at Superior View Studios, at the door, or online at www.marquettehistory.org
For more information on the program or the History Center's Capital Campaign, call 226-3571.