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William Gwinn Mather, president of the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron (CCI) Mining Company from 1890 to 1909, chose Boston landscape architect Warren H. Manning to design this model town in the Swanzy Iron District. Its purpose, Manning stated on January 20, 1908, was to create a “pleasant, wholesome and high environment for future inhabitants” to support mining operations. Mather's interest in a planned town was influenced by projects elsewhere—the National Cash Register Company's planned suburb for Dayton, Ohio; Lord Lever's suburb Port Sunlight outside Liverpool, England; and mining towns in Westphalia, Germany. To ensure that the community would never be relocated if the company were to open up new deposits beneath it, Mather and Manning selected “a verdant isle among the pines” on the Middle Branch of the Escanaba River and removed from the iron ore deposits. Gwinn was laid out in an asymmetrical grid pattern. Streets named for minerals and trees were graded, and water and sewer systems were installed. The business and commercial area was planned around a commons, and the residential area radiated out from this hub and the river. Some trees were planted, some indigenous trees were saved. Provision was made for churches, schools, a clubhouse, hospital, and railroad depot; there were fourteen house types and twenty-four double houses.

The commercial and public fireproof buildings were built of red brick as specified by Mather and Manning. Manning engaged Upper Peninsula architect Demetrius Frederick Charlton, then working in a Classical Revival style, to design Forsyth Township Hall (1914, now Forsyth Fire Department) at 99 N. Pine Street; the Quayle Mercantile Building (1907) at 111 N. Pine Street; and the Gwinn Hotel (1909; now Pizza Machine) at 170 W. Flint Street. The firm of Charlton and Kuenzli planned the Gwinn State Savings Bank (1908; now Forsyth Township Offices) at 186 W. Flint Street; and the second superintendent's wooden house (1915) at 196 Southgate Street. Manning's assistants and CCI company architect J. S. Mennie created plans for many houses, including the physician's house (1909) at 170 Maple Street. Mennie also did the hospital (1908) at 258 W. Jasper Street. Mather gave the red brick Gwinn Club House (1910; now Community House Center) by Abram Garfield of Cleveland at 165 Maple Street to the community in memory of his mother. Mather resigned from CCI in 1933. Following the Great Depression, in the 1930s and 1940s CCI began to sell some of its properties. In 1946 CCI shut down its entire Gwinn operation.

Gwinn demonstrates three important concepts that influenced town planning throughout the United States in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries: the corporate welfare movement, the City Beautiful movement, and the Garden City idea. Though much smaller than the U.S. Steel Corporation's town of Morgan Park near Duluth (the most important example of corporate town planning in the Lake Superior area), Gwinn, nevertheless, attracts attention for its freshness in the context of northern Michigan and its iron ore industry.

Writing Credits

Kathryn Bishop Eckert

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