Building history: Bakery construction began 77 years ago

MARQUETTE – Seventy-seven years ago this week, construction of a bakery began along West Washington Street in the same area where the Veridea Group’s new Liberty Way development is beginning to take shape.

Veridea’s $30 million project – which will include mBank and a Staybridge Suites hotel – is being erected on property used for decades by various bakeries including Bunny Bread and later, Sara Lee.

In July 1936, the Merchants Wholesale Bakery Incorporated was building on that west end of the business district, in much smaller fashion. Construction began July 22, 1936.

“By Oct. 1, Marquette will have a new $60,000 bakery operating at full capacity – with most of the grocers in Marquette and Alger counties acting as distributors for its products,” The Mining Journal reported.

The day before construction began, the company completed arrangements under state law for building a 70-foot by 125-foot bakery and signed contracts for complete equipment necessary to put the structure in running order.

“F.E. Wester, of Marquette, has been awarded the contract for construction of the building, which will be of brick and concrete blocks,” the newspaper said. “Work will begin this morning and the contractor has promised to have his part of the job completed within 60 calendar days.”

S.M. Overholt, manager of the Retailers’ Wholesale Bakery of Sault Ste. Marie – the company the Marquette firm was to be affiliated with – said installation of equipment would also be completed by Oct. 1. Overholt was to be in charge of the new plant in Marquette for its first few months of operation.

“The property purchased by the new corporation here is 200 by 95 feet, located at the west end of the business district of Washington Street,” the newspaper said. “It is flanked at the rear by the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railroad in such a way that freight will be unloaded directly into the basement door.”

A full concrete basement was to be built under the structure.

“The Marquette bakery, which will be the most modern in the Upper Peninsula, will be affiliated with the Sault firm only in purchasing,” the newspaper reported. “Each plant will handle its own baking and distributing and each will be operated independently of the other.”

“About 30 persons will be employed in the plant, Mr. Overholt predicted, although more will be added to the staff ‘when business picks up,'” the newspaper stated. “Shower and locker rooms for employees will be a feature of the building’s layout.”

The bakery was to be outfitted with then modern equipment.

“Included in the new plant will be a high-speed mixer, water jacket cooled, built of stainless steel; an air-conditioned ‘proof’ box,’ where bread is placed to ‘rise,’ and stainless steel racks; the latest type of dividers, molders, rounders and other special equipment; an automatic wrapping and slicing machine capable of handling 24,000 loaves per hour; a reel-type ‘traveling’ oven with a capacity of 1,000 loaves per hours; and an automatic doughnut machine which will turn out famous ‘Mayflower’ delicacies,” the newspaper said.

The “traveling” oven eliminated old fashioned oven sticks used to place bread in position.

The elimination of the sticks also freed up 15 feet of excess space previously required to maneuver the long-handled “paddles.”

“In the new oven, bread dough is placed on a moving conveyor, which travels through the oven and emerges as a finished product,” the newspaper said.

The northwest corner of the building housed a three-car garage and loading platform. Trucks would load up baked items there for daily delivery in Alger and Marquette counties.

“The 20-foot plot between the building and the sidewalk will be landscaped and is expected to be an attractive spot on West Washington Street’s ‘face,'” the newspaper said.

Organization of the corporation had begun in December 1935 when Overholt and other officials from the Sault Retailers’ Wholesale Bakery came to Marquette and met initially with grocers and dealers at the Northland Hotel, now the Landmark Inn.

Additional gatherings were held in the months following.

Officers of the new bakery company were: D.K. Campbell, president; T.J. Nault, vice president; Frank LaBonte, treasurer; and Fritz Wilson, secretary. The officers, together with E.S. Walters of Munising and Vincent Pruden of Forest Lake, and a Sault man to be named, were to form the company’s board of directors.

In March, Veridea began demolishing the old bakery complex at 857 W. Washington St., the intersection of Washington and Lincoln Avenue. In its place, the company is building a 125,000 square-foot commercial, retail and residential space, which officials said will extend the city’s downtown west.

The bakery being built in 1936 was erected at what was 831 W. Washington St.

“Mr. Overholt yesterday expressed his enthusiasm for the project here and predicted ‘full operation’ of the plant ‘within 60 days,'” the newspaper said.

John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206.