Historically speaking

Negaunee in early years

The city of Negaunee’s downtown is seen in the 1800s. (Photo courtesy of the Negaunee Historical Society)

NEGAUNEE –The miner’s amusements were few as there was no time for such things. The closest would be his hunting and fishing in spare hours.

Teal Lake was abundant with fish, ducks and geese. Partridge Creek at that time was a good trout stream. Bears were shot and eaten and partridge was a delicacy.

To the miner, his snuff and tobacco mixed with honey or molasses was his biggest and most expensive luxury.

The surface miner made machinery , cleared land and set up tramways, and moved waste rock. And for that he earned $1 per day. The Indians were generally good neighbors, but occasionally they robbed a chicken coop and stole a pig or milked a cow.

They took clothes from the clothes lines at times but to the villagers the real worry was the wolves. Among these early settlers was John and Mary May.

They came directly from their home in Germany. According to records the Mays came to Negaunee in the 1840s. When they came Mrs. May said the portion of town that is now Iron Street was a settlement of log houses scattered here and there. By 1880 the miner’s life had greatly improved. He then earned from $2 to $2.25 for a ten hour day. Work was divided into day and night shifts. Contract miners could earn $3.50 daily.

They were paid per foot by what they dug, but had to supply their own tools. Single men could pay room and board for $18 a month. In the 1880s Negaunee domestic scene was improving rapidly.

Houses were being built all over the Pioneer plat, Pendill’s plat and in the west end of town. Streets were dirt and characteristically red from the ore. Wooden sidewalks were built on the principal streets. Property owners planted trees in their yards, Lombardy poplars were popular because they were fast growing. In the personal papers of Christian Jensen, written in his own hand in the year 1880 was this listing that was then published in the Iron Herald.

Negaunee has five churches, four hotels, two bakeries, one bank, three railroad connections, one jail, two lawyers, one dentist, one brass band, five physicians, one ice dealer, two restaurants, one variety store, six billiard halls, one printing shop, four barber shops, two livery stables, one repair shop, 12 grocery stores, one expres office, four meat markets, five blacksmith shops, eight clothing stores, two wagon shops, 15 delivery wagons, three tin shops, one Masonic lodge, four resident preachers, two millinery shops, two breweries, two iron furnaces, two machine shops, one pop shop, one bottling works, one lumber yard, a telephone system, one steam fire engine, one hand pump fire engine, two insurance offices, plenty of good citizens, several pretty girls, some nice young men, one dude, between 40 and 50 widows, some old men too, 1,500 bright eyed school children, 10 iron mines, two newsstands, four shoemakers, one carriage shop, two telegraph offices, three drug stores, 40 steam engines, one water works, one gas company, two skating rinks, five dressmakers, five school houses, one harness shop, two furniture stores, one photo gallery, three dry goods stores, six notary publics, five dray wagons, three hardware stores, one A.O.U.W. Lodge, four justices of the peace, several real estate dealers, two dealers in paints, uniform police, one large sawmill, 27 saloons, two wood yards, two merchant tailors, two candy kitchens, one merchandise broker, one hook and ladder company, two fancy stores, nitro-glycerine and powder factory, one temperance lodge, and a few dozen Democrats.

This listing shows what a thriving community this was and with the mining, why it was once considered the richest community per capita.


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