City of Ishpeming Records: The City Charter

City charters can be a challenging read. The language is formal, full of legalese, and, in the case of the charter of 1888 for the City of Ishpeming, rather archaic. But, struggling through the documents is rewarding as it gives a window into the city at that time.

The charter defined the city government. In 1888, the city housed about 10,000 residents and had four wards. The government consisted of a Common Council with 2 aldermen for each ward (It would eventually swell to 10 wards and a total of 20 aldermen) plus a mayor and numerous clerks and assistants.

In comparison, the city of Ishpeming today has about 6,000 residents (at the last census) and lies sprawled over a much larger area. The wards are no longer in place and the city council has just five members, one of whom serves as the mayor.

Once the size and shape of the common council was set fourth, the charter then began enumerating the duties of the common council. One of them was “To prevent and punish violations of the Sabbath day and the disturbance of any religious meeting, congregation or society, or public meeting assembled for any lawful purpose, and to require all places of business to be closed on the Sabbath day.”

There were 41 duties specifically laid out by the charter including “To apprehend and punish vagrants, drunkards, disorderly persons and common prostitutes” and “ To regulate or prohibit or suppress billiard tables, nine or ten-pin alleys or tables and ball alleys and to punish the keepers thereof.” Gaming was prohibited as was “horse-racing, and immoderate riding or driving in any street.”  “Ale, beer and porter houses, and all places of resort for tippling and intemperance” were highly regulated as were auctioneers, “hawkers, peddlers and pawnbrokers.” Of course, the aldermen of the common council did not do everything by themselves, as they had the power “to appoint so many police constables, night watchmen, inspectors of fire wards, sealers of weights and measures and such other officers as may be necessary to carry into effect the powers herein granted.”

The Common Council licensed and regulated “taverns and houses of public entertainment; all saloons, restaurants and eating houses,” “all vehicles of every kind used for transportation of persons or property for hire in the city,” and “ toll bridges within the city and to prescribe the rates and charges for passage over the same.” They inspected “meats, poultry, fish, butter, cheese, lard, vegetables, flour and other provisions” and also “brick, lumber, firewood, coal, hay and any article of merchandise.” The latter items were also weighed and measured.

Chapter 11 of the city charter spelled out the size of the fire department as well as the duties of the fire department and how it was organized. The charter even stated “Upon the breaking out of any fire in said city, the marshal shall immediately repair to the place of such fire and aid and assist, as well in extinguishing the fire as in preventing any goods or property from being stolen or injured.” But “the marshal shall be in all respects obedient to the mayor, aldermen, fire wardens or either of them, or such of them as may be present at such fire.”

Bystanders at the fire risked being called upon to assist: “Whenever any person shall refuse to obey any lawful order from any engineer, fire warden, mayor or alderman at any fire, it shall be lawful for the officer giving such order to arrest or to direct orally, any constable, watchman or any citizen to arrest such person.” However, there were a few benefits to being part of the fire company as they were exempt from “serving on juries and paying a poll tax in said city.”

Another chapter dealt with public health and the appointment of a board of health. That board was tasked with “to take such measures as they shall deem effectual to prevent the entrance of any pestilential or infectious disease into the city;” “to establish, maintain and regulate any pest house or hospital at some place within the city;” and “to cause any resident of the city infected with any such disease to be removed to such pest house or hospital.”

The city started putting in water lines as early as 1882, so part of the city charter dealt with the appointment of “water commissioners,” with the “power to make and adopt all such by-laws, rules and regulations as may be necessary or expedient for the conduct of its business and that of the executive member of the board, not inconsistent with this act.” The board as a whole had the “power to construct, repair and maintain reservoirs, buildings, machinery, jets and fountains, at such locations in said city or without said city as the common council shall deem expedient and direct, and to lay and repair water mains and pipes in and through all the streets, alleys and public places in said city for the purpose of furnishing a full supply of water for public and private uses in said city.”

Other sections of the charter provided for public improvements and the whys and wherefores of paying for such improvements; taxation, taxes and the collection thereof; compensation of officers and cemeteries.

There is a copy of the 1888 Charter of the city of Ishpeming within the City of Ishpeming records collection. Stop in and read it for yourself!

Please note: our summer hours are now 10 AM-4 PM!

Written by Karen Kasper 



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