Marquette is located on Marquette Bay, an inlet of Lake Superior midway between the St. Mary's and Montreal rivers, which form the eastern and western boundaries of the Upper Peninsula. The city nestles beneath highlands that rise first to a plateau, then to a chain of hills. Belts of geologic formations encircle the community and rocks crop out everywhere. The land around is covered with forests of pine and hardwood and broken by rivers and valleys.
In 1849 Amos Rogers Harlow, Waterman A. Fisher, and Edward Clark of Worcester, Massachusetts, together with Robert J. Graveraet of Mackinac Island, organized the region's second iron concern, a forge known as the Marquette Iron Company. On learning of the discovery of iron ore on Lake Superior, Harlow consulted with J. W. Whitney of Boston, who with J. D. Foster had conducted the geological survey of the Upper Peninsula. Encouraged by Whitney's report, Harlow and his party reached the present site of Marquette later in 1849. Attracted by the area's excellent harbor, they cleared ground, erected a few simple wooden buildings, and constructed a forge for the production of iron from ore that could be transported from nearby mines.
As the rail network expanded later in the century, Marquette became the Upper Peninsula's leading shipping center. Prior to the advent of rail transportation, Marquette bore little resemblance to the flourishing “Queen City of Lake Superior” characterized in Citizen's Association in Marquette (Lake Superior), Michigan: Illustrated (1891). By 1862, however, the community's population exceeded 1,600, and investment returns on mining and shipping interests sent the local economy soaring. Lumbering, the extraction of sandstone, and tourism followed. The city fast became a regional center of commerce, finance, government, and speculation in land, minerals, and timber.
Building activity created demands for materials and labor that Marquette could not meet. Aware of the shortages, architects, carpenters, builders, and suppliers in Detroit and Cleveland advertised their goods and services in the Marquette newspapers of the 1860s. In their quest for high-style results, Marquette clients in turn called on architects in Chicago, Cleveland, Milwaukee, and Detroit to design their increasingly complex buildings. By 1875, however, the city was able to claim its own building suppliers, sandstone quarries, as well as builders, carpenters, and masons; and for three years, there was even an architect in residence, Norwegian-born Gothic Revivalist Carl F. Struck. Yet, it was not until nearly 1890 that Demetrius Frederick Charlton opened a practice in Marquette.
From the time of settlement, stone was used for foundations, mines, and roads. As industry developed a need for substantial and utilitarian structures, however, mining, furnace, and railroad companies and government agencies found the locally quarried sandstone ideally suited for varied building needs. By the 1870s the need for substantial new buildings, some to replace primitive wooden ones, and others due to a disastrous fire of June 1868 that destroyed the business district and much of the residential section, also encouraged the use of stone. Between 1869 and 1900, more than a dozen companies intermittently extracted brown sandstone from quarries in Marquette County. At the same time, the rich timber resources of the area provided both the inspiration and the substance for a lively wooden architecture.
Marquette was incorporated as a city in 1871, and by 1890 the population reached 10,000. Despite the Panic of 1873, the community experienced one of its biggest building booms. Many fine residences and commercial buildings attest to the city's prosperity. By the turn of the twentieth century, the Marquette Citizen's Association regarded Marquette as the best-built, wealthiest, and most beautiful city on the south shore of Lake Superior; yet the dense wilderness was never far away. The association's handbook to the city claimed that Marquette seemed “a large city in miniature.” It combined the vigor and roughness of the West with the polish and sophistication of the East.
The city of Marquette remains the Upper Peninsula's largest. Its former working harbor—once the site of iron ore, lumber, and coal docks; commercial fishing shanties; an iron blast furnace; and a sawmill—and its downtown are under transformation into a vibrant walkable neighborhood and waterfront. Northern Michigan University, Marquette General Health System, and Cliffs Natural Resources are the county's largest employers. In 2010 The National Trust for Historic Preservation selected Marquette as one of the year's Dozen Distinctive Destinations. This is largely due to its red sandstone buildings, retail shops, galleries, and restaurants with stunning views of the waterfront.
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