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The Coles Family: Part one

Jeffrey and Susannah Coles' tombstone at Park Cemetery is shown. (Photo courtesy of the Marquette Regional History Center)

MARQUETTE — What do the abolitionist movement, the Bleeding Kansas War, the Harlow Block, and Marquette’s earliest library all have in common? The Coles Family.

Ever heard of Coles Drive in Marquette? That’s the little street that connects with McClellan near Washington Street, between Range Bank and Family Video. Never thought much about it? Neither did I.

Then one day in Park Cemetery, while I was helping with a Marquette Regional History Center tour, I noticed a magnificent monument to Jeffrey Coles. Other Cole’s monuments were there too. He was born in 1813 in England. Who were these people and why do they have a street named after them? Why was this monument so ornamental? The Coles Family got my attention.

Jeffrey Coles grew up in England and learned his trade as a butcher. He traveled to the United States at the age of 33 with his wife Susannah. They settled in Detroit where he was a butcher and later moved to Kansas. He was there for the Bleeding Kansas War. At that time there was such a division in Kansas that they fought amongst themselves to determine their future statehood with the Union or the Confederacy. Even the federal government wouldn’t decide it for them. So they let them fight it out amongst themselves. They eventually sided with the Union.

Out of that turmoil John Brown became the leader of the abolitionist movement. There were battles to be fought and armies needed food, so Jeffrey went to work, supplying beef to the abolitionists. It was dangerous work as he drove cattle throughout the southwestern territories. John Brown went west to Harper’s Ferry and met his fate there. His named is forever memorialized in the abolitionist movement and the beginning of the Civil War. Jeffrey stayed awhile in Kansas, but eventually decided to move his family to Marquette.

Moving from Kansas to Marquette in 1864 and starting a butcher shop was certainly a challenge. The family stopped at the Chicago stock yards and purchased cattle which they put on a train to Green Bay. From there, somehow (maybe by foot), the family brought the first head of commercial cattle to Marquette. By this time, their six children were grown, helped with the cattle drive and family business.

The family settled on top of the hill by Coles Drive, began raising cattle and established a butcher shop downtown. Imagine standing on Coles Drive and looking down at grazing cattle. I should note that the exact location of their shop hasn’t been determined, but it was near the southwest corner of Front Street and Washington Street

Not long after they settled in Marquette, the railroad came to town. Shipping cattle became more convenient over rail. Jeffrey and his family kept up with the times and set about helping shape the City of Marquette’s business climate. They were local entrepreneurs and began to branch out into construction and local politics.

So what about the Harlow Block and our first library? What’s the Coles Family connection? You’ll just have to read the next article.

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