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Signs of the times

Local street signs have stories to tell

The sign for Hewitt Avenue in Marquette is pictured. Hewitt Avenue is named after Morgan Hewitt, a local doctor and Peter White’s son-in-law who donated land to the city to build Marquette’s first high school. The street is slightly wider than most city streets and was originally called Mount Vernon Avenue. (Journal photo by Trinity Carey)

MARQUETTE — You may never have given the name of the street you’re driving or walking down a second thought. Historically, the naming of streets comes with the development of a city or town. Streets often hold the names of presidents, developers, influential families and of the landmarks or environments they are laid upon. This holds true for the city streets of Marquette.

In the mid-1800s as Marquette began to grow, so came the need for street signs, said local historian Jim Koski.

“The original core of downtown had the traditional names,” Koski said. “It had the Front, the Third, the Fourth. It had its streets named after presidents like Washington, and at one point the main street of Marquette was called Superior Street, which is actually now Baraga Avenue, so those were kind of the core parts of the city.”

Some of the early streets to be named were Rock and Spring streets. Rock was named due to its location on a rock cut and Spring because it was near a spring that fed into Amos Harlow’s property. Harlow, along with Peter White, founded the city in 1849. Marquette was first named Worcester after Harlow’s hometown in Massachusetts, but was renamed in 1850 after the French explorer Jacques Marquette, according to Michigan State University’s Michigan History website.

As the city continued to grow, different areas began to seemingly develop themes, Koski said.

“For instance, the east side of Marquette, once that was developed in the 1860s and the 1870s, started to get a lot of tree names because there were a lot of trees there,” Koski said. “That’s why you see Pine and Spruce and Oak, and there was even a Walnut Street there for a little while which eventually became a part of Lakeshore Boulevard.”

The west side of Marquette used to be referred to as the Piqua location because it was the site of the Piqua Wood Products Plant, which produced everything from wooden bowls and spoons to tent stakes during World War II, Koski said. The plant took up around six or seven square blocks and was located in the area roughly between McClellan and Lincoln and between Washington and Marquette Senior High School. The area was platted in the late 1800s and its streets, such as McClellan, Sheridan and Grant, were named after Civil War generals, he added.

“South Marquette has streets named Blemhuber and Craig and Adams and Hampton, who were all businesspeople who owned various things in south Marquette,” Koski said.

North Marquette neighborhoods were named after those who founded the city, giving the streets names such as Harlow Street after Amos Harlow, Longyear Avenue after John M. Longyear and White Street after Peter White.

“They also have the names of the two gentlemen who developed that property and that’s why we have Fitch street and a Van Evera street,” Koski said.

Park and Crescent streets were named by the developers of that area because of their terrain being “hilly and park like,” he added.

Wright Street was named after Ishpeming politician Benjamin Wright who served on the Marquette County Board of Commissioners.

Hewitt Avenue is another with an interesting history for the area, he said, because it has been renamed since its establishment.

“Hewitt was originally called Mount Vernon Avenue,” Koski said. “If you look at Hewitt, you’ll notice it’s slightly wider than most streets in Marquette. It has a bunch of stately homes and it was named Mount Vernon because whoever developed it apparently thought it approximated the land where George Washington’s home was. But that was changed in the late 1800s and it was renamed after Morgan Hewitt who was a local doctor who had donated land to the city to build the original high school on the corner of Pine and Ridge, and who also just happens to be Peter White’s son-in-law.”

Many other street names within the city have changed over the years. At one point in time there were three streets named after iron ore: Magnetic, Specular and Hematite streets. As the city grew and the university developed, two of the street names were changed.

“Magnetic is there, Specular changed to College Avenue because it bordered the college and then Hematite Avenue was changed to Kaye (Avenue), named after James Kaye who was the first president of what was then the Northern Michigan Normal School,” Koski said.

Old city sidewalks had street names stamped into them and it was just a few years ago that a Hematite Street stamp was removed from the current sidewalk of Kaye Avenue. While most of these stamps have since been removed, a few still remain.

Locals may have noticed other sidewalk stamps in the area reading “Do not spit on the sidewalk.” This was to help stop the spread of tuberculosis and to keep women’s long dresses clean from tobacco spit in the early 20th century when the sidewalks were put in. Some sidewalk squares, which no longer exist, even read “Spit on the side,” Koski said.

While the city of Marquette has the standard street names like Lake, Seventh and Main, its more unique streets tell the story of the city’s establishment.

Trinity Carey can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.