Historically speaking

Marquette’s Wright Street named after businessman

ISHPEMING — Who was the Ishpeming resident who had a street in Marquette named after him? The answer is Benjamin Wright, and the street is Wright Street.

Plympton, Massachusetts on July 14, 1838. His family could trace its lineage back to the Mayflower, his mother a descendant of John Alden, and his father a descendant of Miles Standish. His father was a wealthy merchant, so Wright was given a solid education, which he used to his advantage in later years.

When Wright was just 17 years old, he came to the Upper Peninsula, passing through the Soo Locks in 1855, the very first year the locks were open. He spent a year in Ontonagon and then came to Marquette. He was employed by the Sault Ste. Marie Canal and Land Company and then by the Northern Iron Company.

In 1867, he moved to Ishpeming and opened a mercantile business with John Outhwaite. This was early in the history of Ishpeming before there was much of a downtown. In 1878 that partnership was dissolved, and he became a partner in the firm of Myers, Wright and Company, also a mercantile.

As well as being one of the leading merchants in Ishpeming, Wright was one of the founding members of the Presbyterian church in 1874. A stained-glass window in the present day sanctuary bears his name. His first wife, Lillian, was active in the Sunday School of that church. In 1876, Wright and H.O. Young established Ishpeming’s first library and Wright was elected mayor, serving for one year. The comment was made in the Mining Journal that ‘Ishpeming has elected the (W)right man.’

He also served as Ishpeming township supervisor, was the public-school director and served on the board of the Marquette Street Railway.

In 1882 Wright was appointed county treasurer after the incumbent embezzled $18,000. Wright thought the assignment was temporary, lasting only until the books could be straightened up but that ‘temporary’ assignment turned in to 41 years of public service as both the county treasurer and deputy county treasurer.

Wright served six terms as county treasurer. He won his last election in 1896 and then chose not to seek re-election but continued as deputy treasurer, finally retiring in early 1923 at 85. He was regarded as an expert in tax matters and knowledgeable in the duties of the treasurer’s office.

In 1906 Wright moved to Marquette where he lived for the rest of his life. On March 23, 1923 Benjamin Wright passed away at St. Lukes’s Hospital, less than a month after his retirement.

“There probably was no man in Marquette county better informed on the early history and development of this district than B.W. Wright. He was intimately acquainted with business, industrial and political developments in the county as well as in the upper peninsula, and he possessed a remarkable memory concerning happenings during his sixty years of residence here.” (Mining Journal, March 24, 1923)

“It is doubtful whether any man had a larger acquaintance than B.W. Wright, and every person who knew him held him in high esteem. He was a man of sterling character and admirable personality and his passing marks the close of a remarkable business career and spotless record of valuable public service.” (Mining Journal, March 24, 1923)

There were two funerals for Wright, a short service in Marquette at the Wright’s home on Prospect street and an afternoon service from the Presbyterian church in Ishpeming. Wright was buried in the Ishpeming cemetery beside his first wife, Lillian.


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