History of Marquette harbors discussion held

This Lower Harbor photograph, shot by famous Marquette photograher B.L. Childs in the 1870s, clearly shows the Civil War cannon that local history buffs believe is now on the harbor bottom. They plan to scuba dive at the site to search for it. (Photo courtesy of Jack Deo, Superior View Studio of Marquette)

MARQUETTE — We pass by the ore dock in Marquette’s lower harbor all the time, but have we ever stopped to think about its history?

On Tuesday, the Marquette Maritime Museum hosted “What’s Up Dock? A History of Marquette Harbors” at the Ore Dock Brewing Company. Presenters Jack Deo and Jim Koski had the crowd intrigued throughout.

There were several docks built in the lower harbor over the years, and you can still see remnants of most of them.

“If you look out into the harbor now at the docks that are there, they all sit upon pilings that were sunk, in some cases 150 years ago, from old docks,” Koski said.

He went on to explain that when you look out into the lower harbor, there appears to be little islands in a couple spots. These are not actually islands, but instead the end of a dock that was left there.

Fishing houses and boats are shown in the 1890s at what is now Mattson Lower Harbor Park in Marquette. The area pictured was filled in throughout the last century for coal and iron ore shipping. (Courtesy of the Marquette County History Museum)

“Up until 1931, all of the docks in the lower harbor were built on wood, on wood pilings, and they built wood docks above them,” Koski said. “The wood pilings in the water are still good after 150 years, but the docks themselves succumbed to the elements after only 20 or 25 years, so they constantly had to build new docks on top of the pilings they sunk.”

The first dock built in Marquette was constructed in 1849 near Ripley’s Rock. It was built with no pilings, so it completely washed away in a storm right after it was built. This brought awareness to the importance of using pilings when building a dock.

“Sometimes we’re walking on history and we don’t even know it,” Koski said. “When you walk on the outside of the bike path at Lower Harbor park, the path that goes right along the water, you’re actually walking upon the pilings of an old dock.

“Up until 1857, instead of the pocket docks that we’re used to now, it took a crew of 20 men five to six days to unload train cars into a ship by hand. Pocket docks now make it so ships can be loaded within a couple of hours.”

Construction began on dock number four, near Thill’s Fish House, in March 1890. The first boat was loaded off the dock on June 3, and the dock was completed on June 28. It was the fastest dock construction ever done on Lake Superior at the time and the largest ore dock on the Great Lakes.

Have you ever been curious as to why there is an empty space between the Savings Bank Building and the building next to it? That’s where the train line that fed dock number four went through.

“Can you imagine having an office in the Savings Bank Building and eight times a day, a train goes by?” Koski asked with a grin. “Or you’re at the dentist?” Deo exclaimed as the audience burst into laughter.

Around 1900, the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic number one dock was built. It was the longest dock constructed in the lower harbor, coming in at 2,250 feet, and could have a total of 16 ships loading ore off of it at one time.

The Jackson Dock was one of the original docks in Marquette. The Jackson Railroad, which was one of the first steam railroads that brought iron ore from the western part of Marquette County to ship out, would pull up to the dock and unload its ore there. The Jackson Cut Alley and Jackson Street in downtown Marquette are both named after the railway because Jackson Street was the path where the first big plank railroad came down from the mines in Negaunee.

On June 11, 1868, Marquette experienced a terrible fire. It started in what is now the parking lot next to the old train station by the Ore Dock Brewing Company. That night, sparks started to fly out of what was the Marquette and Ontonagon Railroad depot. At the time, the entire downtown was made of wood, thus catching fire quite easily. For the next four hours, most of what was Marquette burned to the ground. The fire burned up to what is now Baraga Avenue, but the street is so wide that the fire couldn’t jump it, so that part of town was saved past that point. Miraculously, there was only one death during this fire.

Two docks, the Ely and the Jackson docks, were destroyed in the fire. The one dock that remained was the Cleveland Spear Dock. For the next year and a half, the Cleveland Spear Dock operated 24/7. The Cleveland Mining Company used it to ship out iron ore eight hours a day, while the rest of the day building supplies were brought into Marquette to rebuild the city.

In 1929, DSS&A Dock number five was the last big wooden dock sitting in the lower harbor, and it was nearing the end of its 25-year life. LS&I Railroad had to build a new dock, so it spent over a million dollars to build dock number six. This dock was 900 feet long, was made of cement and steel, and used 10,000 pilings that were driven into the water. By 1932, it was complete. This is the ore dock we see at the lower harbor today.

The upper harbor also had a few docks. In 1912, a dock was built there out of steel and concrete. This dock still operates to this day, showing its true craftsmanship.

Over the years, the ore docks have been an inspiration for many artists in different forms of art.

“With Facebook, how many times have you seen this beautiful ore dock on (there)? Every conceivable way with every conceivable cloud pattern,” Deo said. “There’s beauty in them.”

The Marquette Maritime Museum will open for the 2022 season on May 17. Its next presentation at the Ore Dock Brewing Company will be “Ghosts of the Marquette Lighthouse” with Yooper Paranormal at 7 p.m. on April 5.

These presentations are sponsored in part by grants from WE Energies Foundation and the Michigan Council for Arts and Cultural Affairs.


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