Remembering The Great Marquette Fire on its 150th anniversary

MARQUETTE — Monday, June 11th, 2018 is the 150th anniversary of The Great Marquette Fire. Historians consider this fire that changed Marquette forever.

Marquette was founded in 1849. All the buildings at this time were made of wood.

Thursday, June 11th, 1868 around 11:30 P.M. is when The Great Marquette Fire hit.

It burned down 16 city blocks downtown. That 4 hours changed the course of Marquette’s History.

“The city leaders realized they needed to change, they decreed that you can no longer build with wood. You can only build with brick or sandstone. This is why we have all those sandstone buildings still sitting in downtown Marquette,” said Jim Koski, a historical storyteller for the Marquette Regional History Center.

The fire started in the workshops of the Marquette and Ontonagon railroad right on Front and Main streets. To this day, they are still unsure of how it started.

At the time, the city did not have a fire department, or even a water system. Marquette only had one hand pump trunk at the time. They used Lake Superior to their full advantage with buckets and buckets of water.

“The night was so hot and windy, the fire immediately caught hold of the Marquette and Ontonagon buildings. All of a sudden it spread to wooden buildings across the street and there was nothing they could do to stop it,” said Koski.

An interesting fact about The Great Marquette Fire is there were no deaths and only a couple of injuries, but a body was still burned.

“There was a guy named Mr. McGilligan, who was a logger, who had died the day before. His body was actually in a coffin on one of the docks in the harbor of Marquette waiting to get shipped back to Canada. When the dock burned he had a pre–mature cremation,” said Koski.

After the fire, the city realized that they needed some type of water system and a fire fighting system.

“Peter White and several other founders raised to what now is the equivalent of 5 million dollars to buy horse drawn fire trucks, but also to lay water pipes and fire hydrants all throughout the city of Marquette. Some of those water pipes are still being used 150 years later,” said Koski.

It took the city 3–4 years to come back from The Great Marquette Fire.

This fire that happened 150 years ago, helped turn Marquette from the frontier town it once was to the beautiful city we have today.