Portals to the Past: Menominee

Menominee. Nestled in a triangle form­­ed by 110-mile-long Green Bay and the Menominee River — the boundary line between Michigan and Wisconsin — Menominee served for a time during the 1870s as a great lumber port.
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Menominee Historical Postcards
Menominee Historical Postcard - Courtesy Vintage Views

Menominee. Nestled in a triangle form­­ed by 110-mile-long Green Bay and the Menominee River — the boundary line between Michigan and Wisconsin — Menominee served for a time during the 1870s as a great lumber port.

Today, in the heart of the Upper Peninsula’s southernmost, historic downtown waterfront, Great Lakes Memorial Marina Park is an inviting site for strolling, sailing, art shows, auto shows and other fun events including outdoor concerts at the Band Shell and the popular four-day Waterfront Festival, kicking off for the 33rd year the first Thursday in August.

A tribe of the Algonquin Indian Nation, the Native Americans who had lived at the mouth of the Menominee River for hundreds of years before the Europeans arrived in the mid-17th century derived their name from the cereal grass staple — manomin, or “wild rice” — that flourished along its shores. Bending stalks that sometimes grew seven feet tall over the sides of canoes poled by the men, the women would knock rice kernels off with sticks during late summer harvests.

“By the river’s bank he wandered/Through the Muskoday, the meadow/Saw the wild rice, Mahnomonee…” Henry Wadsworth Longfellow extols in his epic 1855 poem, “Song of Hiawatha.” 

Menominee Historical Postcard
Menominee Historical Postcard – Courtesy Vintage Views

Eventually, in 1854, the Menominee sold millions of acres of land to the United States and moved on to neighboring land in Wisconsin that later became the Menominee Indian Reservation. 

The 116-mile-long Menominee River once bisected a great expanse of pine forest as it formed the western boundary between Michigan and Wisconsin. Although Menominee’s first sawmill opened in 1832, most of the industry’s growth occurred after the Civil War. By 1890, 23 mills at the mouth of the river led the federal government to designate the area as the nation’s second principle lumbering-producing location. Elsewhere in the county, the Wisconsin Land and Lumber Company at Hermansville became the nation’s leading hardwood floor producer. 

During the early years, fires often raced through the cutover lands. Menominee’s worst fire occurred in early October of 1871 — at the same time deadly fires devastated Chicago — burning a 10-mile-wide path across the county, killing at least 28 residents. 

The inevitable decline in lumbering was partially replaced by the successful farming, evolving Menominee into the U.P.’s leading agricultural county.  

Menominee Historical Postcard Fishing
Menominee Historical Postcards – Courtesy Vintage Views
Menominee Historic Highlights

• Wish upon the Spirit Stone the Menominee Indians left behind. Find it at MDOT’s pine log Welcome Center on U.S. 41, where an intriguing array of things to do and see in the U.P. unfolds.

• Take a walking tour of Menominee’s First Street Historic District. From the Civil War-era Richards Hotel and red sandstone Fire Station No. 1 to the Beaux Arts-styled Spies Library and English Cottage-inspired 1920 Gas Station, 19th-century structures punctuate Fourth Avenue to Tenth (downtownmenominee.com).

• Catch a pail of perch at the Menominee Marina, stroll out to the North Pier Light and enjoy modern amenities at the Water Works Boaters’ Lounge. Built in 1884, this well-restored brick gathering spot was once the Menominee Municipal Water Plant (menomineemarina.com).

• Visit the Menominee County Historical Society’s Heritage Museum and the Michael J. Anuta Research Annex, which offers access to family histories, city directories,
photographs, bound newspapers and maps (menomineehistoricalsociety.org).

Learn more at menomineecounty.com/tourism and uptravel.com.

By Roger L. Rosentreter and Lisa M. Jensen, Michigan BLUE Magazine.

Photography courtesy Vintage Views

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