The Cliff-Dow company houses
MARQUETTE — There are some things about the old Cliff-Dow plant in north Marquette that people still remember decades after it closed — the smell, the tar ditch, the toxic chemicals oozing from the ground, and, not to put too fine of a point on it, the smell. But one thing that people may have forgotten about the area around the plant were — the company houses.
Officially called “The Furnace Location” by the city of Marquette, the company houses were a series of duplexes located on a dirt road just to the south of the Cliff-Dow facilities between Norwood & Wright Streets. Workers at the plant could rent one of the homes from the company for $10 a month, a price that was raised to $11 a month when wooden sidewalks were installed throughout the neighborhood during the 1930s.
People who remember growing up in the company houses in the 30s and 40s say that the neighborhood was a melting pot of many different nationalities. Going down the street, you could run into English, Finnish, French Canadian, Native American, and even a Yugoslav family or two. The kids from the families all played together, and since their fathers worked at one of the many buildings in the Cliff-Dow complex just a couple of hundred feet away, their family lives were centered around the location.
Much like all families who lived anywhere in North Marquette, those living in the Furnace Location had problems doing fairly mundane tasks, such as putting freshly washed laundry out on the line. Before the laundry could dry, whatever was hung outdoors would turn dirty again because of soot floating through the air from the plant. In fact, it’s been said that some of the kids who grew up in the Furnace Location didn’t even know snow was naturally white until they moved away from the Cliff-Dow plant.
That’s how much pollution was released into the air by the complex.
And you recall how rents in the Furnace Location went up when the wooden sidewalks were installed? Well, the sidewalks had an added benefit of providing a major source of amusement for people who lived in the company houses. Rats burrowed in underneath the newly constructed sidewalks, and each and every evening residents would entertain themselves by listening for the “pop” of guns as their neighbors tried to take the rats out.
The houses were torn down in the 1960s, just a few years before the plant itself closed, and after sitting empty for several decades, the land itself was put to a new use by Northern Michigan University. So the next time you’re at the Superior Dome, either parking in one of the north lots for an event, enjoying an outdoor concert, or making use of one of their practice fields, be aware that you’re actually using a space that once housed a long-forgotten Marquette neighborhood.
The Furnace Location. Or, as the people who lived in North Marquette referred to it, the Cliff-Dow company houses.
Stories of life in North Marquette, and the businesses and industries that called the area home, will be told during the North Marquette walking tour put on by the Marquette Regional History Center. It takes place at 6:30 p.m. Wednesday, Sept. 14, beginning at the PEIF parking lot. There’s a suggested $5 donation for the walk, and those attending can bring a phone or other mobile internet-capable device to look at pictures while on the walk. For more information, call the History Center at 906-226-3571 or visit wwww.marquettehistory.org.