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What’s in a (street) name?

MARQUETTE – Hewitt … White … Longyear.

If these names sound familiar, it’s probably because you’ve driven on them at some point. Well, maybe not the actual people, but the streets named after them.

Jim Koski is former president of the board of trustees of the Marquette Regional History Center who calls himself a local “history storyteller.” Koski is fascinated by the streets, avenues, boulevards and the like that bear the monikers of famous people of Marquette, so much so that he and Rosemary Michelin, research librarian at the center, gave a recent talk there about historic street names.

That’s not to say Marquette doesn’t have a bit of the ordinary in it.

“Just about every city in the United States has a Main Street,” Koski said. “We do.”

Marquette also has “numbered” streets, going from the main drag of Front Street to Eighth Street (with no First Street).

Then there’s the “arboreal contingent” of Elm Avenue, Spruce and Oak streets, for example.

“We have a plethora of trees in Marquette, so we have a plethora of streets named after trees,” Koski said.

Mention streets named after the “people who made Marquette Marquette,” though, and Koski might get a little more excited.

“Some people just assume the street names pop out of thin air, but they really don’t,” Koski said.

And Marquette provided a way for people to literally make names for themselves in its early days, what with ore docks, railroads, stores and houses.

“This area presented a lot of opportunity to people because a lot of infrastructure had to be built,” Koski said.

Street signs, as a result, make for a little history lesson that shows who was important in the city at the time, he said.

“People have a passing familiarity with the names,” Koski said. “Some of them, their curiosities get piqued.”

Michelin said looking at a street sign can bring up questions in a person’s mind.

“Was he a road commissioner?” she said. “Was he a mayor? Why was a street named after him?”

Tierney Street, for example, is named after John Tierney, a former mayor and a store owner in the late 1880s. He also was the first city commissioner elected from south of Whetstone Creek, which Koski said was then considered kind of a “dividing line” in the city.

Hewitt Avenue, according to Michelin, bears the name of Dr. Morgan Hewitt, who she called a “tall, thin, kind, caring” man who was born in New York but came to Marquette in 1855, becoming known for carrying a basket of fruits and vegetables for his friends.

“He was an avid gardener known for his roses and delicious asparagus,” Michelin said.

Blemhuber Avenue is named after Robert Blemhuber, who lived in the mid-19th century to the mid-20th century. A grower of fruits, corn and vegetables, Blemhuber owned Mud Lake, Koski said.

Russell Street carries the name of a former mayor, James Russell, who served as postmaster, Michelin said. Alger Street is named after another politician, in this case, Russell A. Alger, the 20th governor of Michigan.

Charles Schaffer, in the late 19th century, was president of Union National Bank, a post he held until 99 years old, Koski said. Schaffer also supplied charcoal to run mines across the Upper Peninsula.

The street named after Schaffer is on the north side, Koski said, as is Wright Street, named after Benjamin Wright, who in 1882 became county treasurer. The prolific Wright, a Mayflower descendent, also served as Ishpeming mayor as well as a school superintendent.

Samuel Wetton’s name is memorialized on another street on the city’s north side. Koski said that in 1910, Wetton helped rescue people from a capsized boat on Lake Superior, making two attempts in the effort. He received the U.S. Coast Guard’s Gold Lifesaving Medal and a silver Carnegie Medal for his heroic deed.

However, Wetton died from pneumonia not long afterward.

“Most people think it was hastened because of his exposure to Lake Superior,” Koski said.

William Fitch – the former superintendent of the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railway, is immortalized in the north-side street that bears his name, Michelin said.

Nearby Van Evera Street got its name from John Van Evera, who became warden of the Marquette Branch Prison in 1893, she said. Another street in that neighborhood, Longyear Avenue, was named after John M. Longyear, who bought land for its lumber and minerals and developed iron mines in Gogebic and Iron counties as well as Minnesota.

“Basically, he was a land baron and made his wealth in land,” Michelin said.

Peter White might have two streets named in his honor: Peter White Drive, which winds around Presque Isle, and White Street, likely named after him, Michelin said. White was one of Marquette’s pioneer residents, becoming a bank president and insurance agent, among other positions, plus he helped new community members in another way.

“He could read and write, and some of the people coming in didn’t have these skills,” Michelin said.

Shiras Hills has street names such as Allouez, LaSalle and Nicolet as well as others, typically named after priests and French explorers. Michelin attributes that to the fact Muriel Closser, the wife of land appraiser and realtor Earl Closser, liked history.

“There’s a theme to all these streets,” she said.

Some streets went by different names in the past, such as a few by Northern Michigan University. Specular Street was changed to College Avenue while Hematite Street became Kaye Avenue, named after James H.B. Kaye, second principal first president of Northern Normal, the predecessor to NMU, Michelin said. Normal’s first principal, Dwight Waldo, also has a street named after him, she noted.

However, one of the “iron streets,” Magnetic Street, kept its moniker.

Michelin said street names reflect the importance of historic events in a community or famous people – such as Washington Street and Lincoln Avenue – as well as honor prominent local people.

A street name also has a current relevance to everyday life.

“I think it gives you a connection with your community,” Michelin said.

Christie Bleck can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 250. Her email address is cbleck@miningjournal.net.