New Morgan Heights Sanatorium Discovery

Archival work often results in new historical discoveries that create new paths of research and understanding. Such a discovery occurred earlier this week in the NMU Archives, when Jonathan Sullivan, Senior Student Assistant (a.k.a Number One), pulled out a box of unprocessed records from the Marquette County Clerk’s office. 

Located within the boxes were several volumes of Marquette County’s professional  medical history. The licenses and accreditations for nearly every type of medical practitioner located in Marquette county are included within the box, physicians, chiropractors, morticians, obstetricians, dentists, as well as a record of Marquette County births. The box also contained an entire chronicle dedicated to the Morgan Heights Sanatorium, Marquette’s local tuberculosis sanatorium, complete with a number of pictures.

The birth records, going as far back as the late nineteenth century, were written by obstetricians attending the births of the children born throughout Marquette Country. Most records contain basic birth information, such as the name and age of the mother, ethnicity of the mother and the sex of the child; some records, however, recorded abnormal occurrences that transpired throughout labor. One such entry describes a 17 year-old mother who suffered convulsions during labor, and was given both morphine and chloroform as a remedy. When the child was eventually delivered, it too suffered convulsions. 

The Morgan Heights records warrant a heightened interest. The Morgan Heights Sanatorium was built near Ishpeming in 1911 to house and treat patients suffering from tuberculosis. The sanatorium was a large project, housing several buildings, powerhouses, large fields for growing potatoes and other staple crops, and even had cows and chickens to provide milk and eggs, or to bring in extra profit by selling off the beef of butchered bull calves.  The volume contains the meeting minutes of the Committee on Tuberculosis Sanatorium from 1911-1936, listing their financial records, memorandums on the buildings and animals, the number of patients, various upkeep and grounds-related purchases, hiring and firing, and the wages of the employees. There are even motions to approve the acquisition of more cows:

They also include the official approval and building of the children’s ward, which opened to children under the age of fifteen in 1929. 

The collection  also contains a booklet of  architectural specifications needed to build the children’s unit. Masonry specifications, general appearance and upkeep of the ward provide valuable insights into the needs and purposes behind the care for children with Tuberculosis in the Upper Peninsula. 

We found these records forgotten within a box of files transferred to the Local Government Depository by  the Office of the Marquette County Clerk. Currently, Number One  is in the process of organizing and labeling the contents so that they can eventually be made available and easily accessible for researchers, genealogists, and individuals who are just curious to learn more about this particular side of Marquette’s  history. 

King of the ELF Collection: Part Two

To get caught up, visit the first installment of this review, which analyzes the SEAFARER (ELF) collection (MSS-249).

In December of 1977 the Department of the Navy Electronic Systems Command released the final environmental impact statement for site sections and test operations for the Upper Peninsula in addition to analysis of the potential environmental impacts of installing ELF (SEAFARER) in Nevada at Nellis Air Force base and White Sands missile range in New Mexico.

“Fig 1-2 Principal Areas of Interest for ELF communications system planning and design.”

A quick analysis of these documents presents a detailed picture of why the central Upper Peninsula was selected for the ELF test site. These reasons include the necessity of clearing UXO (Unexploded Ordinance) from both of the southern U.S. sites, Nevada only being able to reach 26% of the operation goal of the SEAFARER project while New Mexico only reaching 10% of the project’s communication testing goals. The close proximity to the Clam Lake ELF test site in Wisconsin, which could prove useful for synchronized tests, as well as the inherent geological and terrain advantages (Both southern locations would require significant blasting of mountain formations to embed antennas).

With these considerations in mind the timeline for construction of the ELF test site in the Upper Peninsula was drafted.

Several public hearings were held (In Michigan, Nevada, and New Mexico) to gauge public opinion on the construction of SEAFARER. Unsurprisingly, generally the public did not want the Navy building a device anywhere near them, with concerns ranging from environmental to legal and economical.

In Michigan the citizens environmental concerns mostly focused on the clearance of vegetation for installation of the antenna. In response the Navy stated that the majority of the antenna would be installed along existing right of ways and roads, and when lanes needed cleared for installation best management practices would be used to promote vegetation regrowth. This was not necessarily all that reassuring as this only compounded the legal concerns the citizens had.

The primary legal concern within Michigan was the land use after installation. Would individuals be able to use their land as they saw fit after the antenna’s installation? Would these new right of ways create more opportunities for individuals to trespass onto private property? In time of war would the government establish marshal law over the four thousand square miles that SEAFARER covers? How would the Navy go about settling the rights to maintain their antenna? Again, the Navy responded with a rather simple although concerning solution stating that each easement for use of private property would be negotiated separately.

Finally, economic concerns were brought up. Many citizens were concerned that the construction of the antenna would cause strain on the housing and public services of the area. This concern stemmed from the idea that non-local workers would be brought in to construct the antenna. Once again, the Navy responded with reassurances that local considerations had already been accounted for and that labor would be sourced from the local populace.

Interestingly within the Summary Statement and Distribution List (December 1977) the Navy included the public voter referenda on the building of SEAFARER which clearly shows the negative public opinion of the project (below)

No recorded population within the Upper Peninsula reported a higher favorability rate than rejections.

At the time of the referenda Marquette county had a population of 73,200 of which 22,262 (~30%) turned out to vote on this issue. Dickson county with a population of 25,400 had a turnout of 6,132 (~24%) while Menominee county with a population of 25,900 had a turnout of 9,893 (~38%). Iron county with a population of 14,100 had 5,307 (~38%) voters’ turnout. These statistics are not entirely accurate as the voting percentage is calculated off of total county population not voting age/registered voter population. Although inaccurate we can extrapolate with some degree of certainty, that with the actual voting population being smaller than the total population, about one fourth of the citizens in each county cast a vote on their opinion on the construction of SEAFARER. Without doing any calculations we can observe that indeed the publics opinion is negative.

(continuation of above)

Nevertheless, undiscouraged the Navy forged on with their plans to construction of the SEAFARER project in the Upper Peninsula. Caught between Congressional pressure (funding was already used for land use surveys, more funding had been set aside for construction, and defense concerns necessitating the need of an encrypted ELF system to be constructed) and restrictions of the environment itself (no other suitable ground to construct an antenna array within) the opinion of the public was set aside and the construction was greenlit.

Be sure to keep an eye out for the third and final section of this blog, “ELF in Reality”.

This post was written by Jonathan Sullivan

The Godfather . . . Of UP Preservation

“The fact is, every creature should be considered a part of a whole functioning system. It takes a lot of proof that something is unnecessary. Just like a sophisticated aircraft. Lose enough rivets and the plane won’t fly. Lose enough creatures and the ecosystem becomes more difficult to hold together.” (Detroit News, 1987). 

A quote by wildlife researcher William “Bill” Robinson and a principle that he followed his entire life.

Born in Ironwood, Michigan, Robinson was best known as a professor of Biology at Northern Michigan University and for his wildlife and environmental conservationism in the Upper Peninsula; including his contributions to habitat management in relation to endangered/threatened species. And, while he was known for working with several species, some of his most distinguished research was done on the birds of the UP, specifically the loon, the woodcock, and the grouse.

When not giving a lecture on wildlife management at NMU, or making a speech at a wildlife conference, Robinson could be found in the woods with (as described on numerous occasions by students or reporters) an antenna, a radio, and a net contently waiting for his subjects of study to appear in their own time. (Detroit News, 1987). Whether it would be a ruffed or spruce grouse (determined mainly by the color of their feathers) to provide more information about their habitat choices (his book “Fool Hen- The Spruce Grouse on the Yellow Dog Plains” was the first book written on the species in 1980), or the woodcock, one of Robinson’s favorites, being banded mid-mating dance, after being caught in volleyball nets that Robinson had set up earlier, Robinson was happy to wait. It was a rare time for Robinson to leave with nothing, even if it was just to say that on that day and at that time there were no obvious signs of an active population. All of which went into his habitat hypotheses and his conclusions on wildlife interactions. 

One bird that was a tad bit more of a challenge for Robinson and his research was the common loon of Michigan, but it was a challenge that he relished. These birds are difficult to research in general because of their lone natures and calm profiles. But they became a key focus for Robinson. For the last half of the twentieth century and even today, the loon has been suffering substantially high dwindling numbers in Michigan and, up until Robinson’s research in the nineties, there were no answers as to why. Robinson stipulated factors that were causing the low populations were human disturbances of breeding grounds and overuse of lakes inhabited by loons. (Robinson, W.L., Undated). But he argued that the main proponent was commercial fishing, and, more specifically, the nets that were being used, which many loons would become entangled in ultimately causing them to drown. At the time, he estimated that around 86% of loon mortalities were caused in this way. (Christiansen & Robinson, 1996). In response, he and one of his graduate students designed and successfully advocated for the use of a new type of fishing net with a larger spaced mesh section across the top for fishermen to use (a design that is still used today). As chairman of the Loon Recovery Plan Committee, Robinson also played an instrumental role in creating the recovery plan that is still used today as a basis for the loon revival in Michigan. The loon revival still has a long way to go, but thanks to Robinson and his work the obscure loon entered common conversation among fisherman, naturalists, and researchers and has continued to be a subject of interest for continued management on level with the bald eagle in Michigan (Robinson, W.L., Undated).

With the epithet of the “Godfather for the UP conservationists” (Northwoods Call, 1982), Robinson spent his life understanding and fighting for the survival of wildlife in the Upper Peninsula and to maintain the natural beauty of the land. With a keen understanding that we are the stewards of this land and it is our duty to maintain the natural balance, Robinson nurtured this passion and understanding in his students, as well as other researchers who have picked up where he left off to fight the same battles.

Robinson’s collection (MSS-191) of wildlife manuscripts and field data, along with many other topics from his life, can be found at the NMU Archives in Harden Hall. The finding aid for this collection can be accessed here:

For more information on endangered/threatened species in Michigan and recovery plans please visit the U.S. Fish & Wildlife Service web page.

Works Cited:

  • Christiansen, J.L., Robinson, W.L., (1996). Modification of Trap Nets to Reduce Capture of Common Loons. Journal of Lake and Reservoir Management, 12(2), 78-90.
  • Robinson, W.L. (Undated). The Status and Management of the Common Loon (Gavia immer) in Michigan. Unpublished manuscript.
  • Bill Robinson-Environmental God Father. (1982, January). The Northwoods Call, 26.

This post was written by Samantha Pynnonen