Another downtown Marquette fire?

A double-exposed image of The Mining Journal offices at located at 120-122 W. Main St., Marquette, in about 1890, is seen. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — Marquette’s business district was destroyed in the Great Fire of 1868. But on January 22, 1891 another fire threatened “half the Queen City’s Business Quarter with certain destruction.”

The fire began on Main Street midway between Third and Front streets at Hager and Johnason’s factory which manufactured interior and exterior wood work. With a westerly wind that gained strength as the fire raged, there were fears that the fire would spread.

Cinders flew through the air landing on the roofs of other buildings. The threatened area stretched between Washington and Main streets and from Hager and Johnason to the lake.

Work had already concluded for the day when a passer-by discovered the fire at Hager and Johnason at 5:40 p.m. The fire spread quickly, fueled by wood scraps and other materials on the floor. The fire department arrived swiftly and it was initially felt the fire could be contained.

However, a break in the water main near the pumping station allowed the fire to intensify. A call went out to Ishpeming to send its steamer by train, but that took time.

Soon, The Mining Journal building was on fire. The books, files, and some of the stock were rescued from the flames, including the pages for a new Ishpeming directory which had just come off the printing press that afternoon. But it was impossible to move the heavy presses themselves and at 7:20, they crashed through the floor with the walls tumbling in after them.

Observers began assisting businesses which were in the path of the fire with moving as much stock as possible to safety. Residents of the YMCA formed a bucket brigade and removed what they could from the structure.

Law offices worked to save books from their law libraries. The Marquette County Savings Bank moved its cash to a secure location.

In an effort to slow down the fire, volunteers aided greatly by tearing down old sheds and fences. Wet blankets were hung on the sides of buildings and men stationed themselves on the rooftops to extinguish flying cinders.

Just as it seemed hopeless to stop the fire, the situation began to turn around. Most importantly, at 8 workers repaired the break in the water main. Cheers from the firemen and bystanders could be heard as the hoses finally emptied water onto the burning buildings. At the same time the wind slowed and snow began to fall.

An alley between The Mining Journal and the YMCA provided a fire break where the firemen concentrated their efforts. The arrival of the steamer from Ishpeming at 8 provided the final boost and the fire was brought under control around 9:15 p.m.

The crowd began to disburse at 10. The overall devastation was not be as extensive as had been feared but the following day still revealed significant destruction.

Two business were a total loss: Hager and Johnason’s and the Mining Journal. Despite its loss, The Mining Journal did not allow the fire to keep them from putting out the next edition of the newspaper. As soon as they realized their building and contents were gone, the publishers of the Mining Journal met ‘in the middle of the street’ as the fire raged and decided to immediately find their staff and head to Ishpeming. As staff were located amongst the thousands of by-standers, transportation was arranged.

At 9:15 p.m., a special train with 17 Mining Journal staff, including the city editor, and all the paper that had been salvaged, headed to Ishpeming. This included the city editor’s book that contained all the ‘copy’ for the next edition. The train arrived in Ishpeming at 9:45 p.m. and the Mining Journal over took the facilities of the Lake Superior Democrat.

The next day’s edition was printed and distributed to the citizens of Marquette, informing them, in great detail, about the events of the night before.

In addition to the loss of Hager and Johnason’s and The Mining Journal, many other establishments saw damage. Interestingly, some damage came from efforts to save items. A group of volunteers worked to remove items form H.H. Stafford & Sons and F.H. Desjardins’ stores.

Unfortunately, much of the stock was broken and destroyed during the process. Hager & Johnason’s large stock of furniture was placed along four or five blocks of Front Street where it also sustained significant damage.

The fire’s cause was undetermined. Total losses from the fire, water and goods damaged during the evacuation totaled $75,000 but the city was lucky to avoid greater destruction and rebuilding began quickly.

Of particular note, the Nester Block just north of Hager and Johnason’s and the Mining Journal had $2,000-3,000 in damages but was saved after the water main was repaired.

The building’s reprieve was temporary, it would fall victim to yet another blaze just six months later on June 19, 1891.


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