The Story of the City of Ishpeming Fire Hall

Sometimes the materials in the archives tell a story. Such is the case with the building of the fire hall in the city of Ishpeming in 1911-1912.

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An image of the Ishpeming Fire Hall. Source: Hathitrust

While the reason for a new fire hall is not given, a letter from 1905 written by a special committee shows the Common Council was thinking of building a new fire hall well before the actual construction in 1912.  A number of sites were under consideration in 1905, including the present fire hall on the corner of First and Bank Streets – with the addition of another lot. A second site, the lot owned by the Swedish Baptist Church at the corner of First and Division Streets (now occupied by the Mining Journal office) also looked good and an option to purchase the property was secured.

In the summer of 1911, the Common Council began searching in earnest for a new site for the fire hall. Again, numerous sites were under consideration including the fire hall site on First Street, the old City Jail site on Bank and Second Streets, a vacant lot on Pine and Front streets, the Swedish Baptist Church lot and the office and yard of Superior Lumber Company on Lake Street.

On July 3rd,a special election to decide whether or not the city would issue $40,000 in bonds was held. There was also an advisory election to see which site the taxpayers found the most desirable. The four sites were:

  1. Office and yard of the Superior Lumber Company on Lake Street
  2. Karger property on Pine and Front Streets (although the ballot put the property on Pine and First Streets)
  3. Present fire hall site with adjoining sites
  4. Old City jail site with adjoining lots on Second and Bank Streets.

The bond issue passed and the majority of votes in the advisory election went to the Old City jail site with the addition of the Nelson lot.

After the bond issue passed, several architects also sent letters to the mayor and common council, hoping for the job of designing the new fire hall. One of them was John D. Chubb out of Chicago. He was quite persistent–there are several letters from him in the files.

There was also a letter from Murray Duncan, Superintendent of Mines, introducing Mr. Charlton of the firm Charlton and Kuenzli, Marquette. Charlton had already designed the Negaunee Fire Hall, plus numerous other buildings in the Upper Peninsula, including the Marquette County Courthouse.

There are a number of letters between the city of Ishpeming and Pickands Mather & Company, who owned the Superior Lumber Company on Lake Street. One letter, dated July 5th,shows that while they were willing to sell some of their property, they still wanted to keep their office building and some of the property. In that letter they set the price at $10,000.

On the 4th of August, the “Committee on Fire Hall site” met and voted on several issues. The first one was to eliminate the site of the current fire hall from consideration. The reason for the elimination was money. It would cost at least $15,000 to buy the necessary additional lots, demolish the fire hall, and rent temporary quarters for the fire department while the new fire hall was being constructed.

The site on Second and Bank Streets was thought to be too shallow, even with the addition of a piece of land owned by Edward Nelson and a piece of land owned by Frederick Braastad, an alleyway would have to be closed.

The reason for the final choice of the lot on Lake Street is not known, but probably came down to the price and size of the lot.

In the spring of 1912 bids were submitted from at least five construction firms, including J. S. Wahlman of Ishpeming, a firm out of Antigo, Lipsett & Sinclair of Marquette, L. E. Chausse of Negaunee and Herman Gundlach of Houghton. There was a separate, single bid for the installation of the steam heating plant which came from Lake Superior Steam Heating Company of Ishpeming. Herman Gundlach was the lowest bidder, beating out Lipsett & Sinclair by only $274.

On May 15th, 1912, the contract between Herman Gundlach and the city of Ishpeming was signed, as well as a surety bond issued by the American Surety Company of New York. Charlton and Kuenzli had designed the fire hall, which was to be completed before the 30th of November, 1912. The contract specified periodic payments to Gundlach with the final payment issued on the 19th of December, 1912. With payment for unspecified extra work, construction of the fire hall cost $25, 971.86. The heating plant cost $1,565.

Incidentally, Gundlach Construction is still in existence, although now known as Gundlach Champion. They recently did some construction work on the Ishpeming Fire Hall, which also still stands at the site on Lake Street.

A final set of documents are related to the issuing and repayment of the bonds. 20 bonds of $250 each were issued. From 1912 to 1915, only interest was paid on the bonds and the taxes per $1000 valuation were .293. In 1916, the city started to pay off the bonds and paid off $5,000 per year. Taxes for payment of the bonds added .733 per $1,000 valuation, which meant that in 1916 the taxes per $1,000 valuation were 1.026, but then decreased every year until the bonds were paid off in 1923. There is a list of bond holders plus the schedule of when the bonds were paid off.

Pictures of the Ishpeming fire hall, as well as some of Charlton and Kuenzli’s other work, is on Hathitrust.

The archives are open during the summer from 8-5, Monday through Friday. Come and uncover other stories!

Written by Karen Kasper



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