Boomtown: Marquette experiences major growth in the 1880s

Above, looking east on Ridge Street, this photo shows the First Baptist Church on the corner of Ridge and Front streets circa late 1880s-1890s. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

“Few people who have not made it a matter of investigation are aware of the amount of building and other improvements now going on in the city … All this indicates healthy growth, and denotes that the depression in iron has not depressed Marquette people to any serious extent as yet.”

— The Mining Journal, May 26, 1883

A major economic depression in 1873 caused havoc to the United States economy until the end of the decade. Marquette appears to have come out of this economic downturn easily as the town’s population of 4,,690 in the 1880 U.S. Census grew to 9,098 a decade later, producing an increase of 94 percent. Marquette’s industries were growing and diversifying. Construction became one of the more prosperous fields with the need to accommodate the large influx of people. Marquette leaders and businessmen invested heavily in the area’s infrastructure, building homes, roads, public utilities, businesses and social institutions as documented by The Mining Journal.

Homes were built by the dozens throughout the city. For example, in 1887 in south Marquette, 20 homes were built on Rock and Superior streets to accommodate workers moving to Marquette. The construction of a neighborhood on the northeast side Marquette, bordered by East Arch and East Ohio and Front to Spruce streets, was reported in multiple articles between 1886 and 1888, likely because it was a more upscale area. Details were provided on the building of close to 24 homes, as well as streets, sewers and water systems.

Some homes were built for individuals moving within the city to a newer updated home, while others were built by developers. In 1886, one developer constructed five homes on East Arch between Pine and Spruce streets. He planned to lease them if he could not sell. The same developer also constructed homes in the area for individuals wanting up-to-date modern homes.

Homes built on East Michigan and East Ohio streets created the biggest challenge due to the need to blast and remove mounds of granite. Granite also proved to be a challenge for city workers laying water and sewer pipes, and building roads.

Sewer, water and road construction took place throughout town. Articles highlight specific work sites and some, including summaries of city commission minutes, outline a complex process to building public utilities and roads. Waterlines from the Waterworks by Lake Superior needed to be laid and connected to water mains in town. Streets needed to be graded and macadamized (a process of compacting crushed stone and applying a top sealing layer with a mixture of stone dust and water), and curbs and sidewalks put in place. One article mentioned “time lost” when pipe and road workers ended up in the same location. A reporter expressed the need for the city to pay closer attention to coordinating their work teams.

In addition to residential neighborhoods, construction of other structures occurred in the 1880s. New businesses were necessary to meet the needs of the citizens, from mill works to general merchandise and grocery stores to saloons. Jail expansion was suggested in anticipation of problems with rowdy new railroad workers. Even The Mining Journal reported the need to restructure to meet their increase in demand. The state of Michigan and the federal government also added to the building frenzy.

Some new businesses were the Vierling Saloon, the Marquette Steam Laundry, the Clifton Hotel, and a new mill in south Marquette, Bice, Powell, & Co., which specialized in sash doors and blinds and contributed greatly to the needs of contractors. Other businesses needed to enlarge. Reidinger’s Meat Market expanded on the corner of Front and Superior streets and L’Huillier & Proulx General Merchandise Store on West Washington Street needed to build a store house on property they owned on Michigan Street for their surplus.

Social institutions also expanded, with church construction and a new hospital. Dr. C. A. Pearson led the effort to construct the Northwest Hospital, located on the corner of Front and West Arch streets, to serve lumber and railroad men. The largest church project was the re-building of St. Peter’s Cathedral. Burned in 1879, many men were involved in rebuilding it throughout the 1880s. It cost $100,000 and was reported as one of the grandest cathedrals in the country. The Baptists chose a site on the southeast corner of Front and Ridge (now the Landmark parking lot) to build their new church, and the Swedish Lutheran Church was built west of there. Surprisingly only one new school, the Ely School, was planned in 1889 and built in the early 1890s.

Other construction in the 1880s was commissioned by the state and federal governments. The Marquette Prison was established by the Michigan Legislature in 1885 and completed by 1889. Many at the time felt it was too beautiful for a prison. The federal government sought bids to build a new government building to house the Federal Custom House, Post Office, and Federal Court and it was completed by the end of the decade. Both these projects were extensive and employed many local workers.

From 1890 forward, the population of Marquette would continue to grow into the late 20th century and construction would remain be a vital aspect of the growth. But the city has never again reached the levels of the 1880s.