Marquette Regional History Center a community gem

The Marquette County Historical Society -now called the Marquette Regional History Center- celebrated its 95th birthday this week, during an annual meeting in Marquette.

The genesis of the group occurred in 1917 when a petition signed by a handful of Marquette, Ishpeming and Negaunee residents circulated the notion of organizing an effort to preserve Marquette County history.

An organizational meeting drew 40 people and by the next year almost 100 people had signed on to the cause. The group’s first regular meeting was held on June 10, 1918.

From there, the first gathering of books, photographs, artifacts and manuscripts commenced. The new historical society was the only one in the Upper Peninsula at the time.

In 1937, the society’s first building was purchased through a bequest from the estate of Mary B. Longyear. John M. Longyear had been the society’s first president. The Fraternity Building -built in 1891, formerly a site for lodge meetings and formal balls and located along Front Street in Marquette- was completely remodeled and fireproofed.

The museum room first opened to the public for the Marquette City Centennial in 1949. At that time, the J.M. Longyear Research Library was still being organized.

By 1954, the library had more than 6,000 volumes containing material detailing the days of early Indians, explorers and missionaries, as well as regional, state and county histories.

Rosemary Michelin, head librarian at the J.M. Longyear Research Library, said the facility today has at least 16,000 volumes of books, more than 900 maps and more than 10,000 photographs, in addition to postcards and photo albums and an expanse of archival documents including journals, business ledgers, letters and other primary source materials.

On Oct. 19, 2009, groundbreaking took place at the former Marq-Tran building in downtown Marquette for the society’s new $3.8 million museum complex construction project.

The name of the group was changed to acknowledge the society’s collections and focus had extended beyond Marquette County to the region; and that the organization and facility was a comprehensive center “to archive, preserve, interpret and explore the unique history of the Upper Peninsula.”

In spring 2011, the Marquette Regional History Center moved to its new location.

Looking to the future, an eventual expansion is expected as the center’s collections continue to grow.

We want to congratulate the center on its birthday and its efforts over the decades to continue the original mission of saving area history for all of us.

Here’s hoping the center’s slogan “Where the past is present” will always remain a reality for Marquette County and the Upper Peninsula.