City of Ishpeming Records: Local Ordinances

While the 1888 charter for the city of Ishpeming gave shape to the city government, the ordinances were the rules of everyday life in Ishpeming. Some of them were shaped by factors present in that time and place. For example: “No person or persons shall transport upon or within any vehicle, sleigh, sled or in any other manner whatsoever, any nitro-glycerine in any quantity whatsoever through those parts of the city of Ishpeming contained within the following described limits, to wit: The original plat of said city, the plat of Robert Nelson’s addition to said city, the plat of the excelsior Iron company’s addition to said city and the plat of the Cleveland Iron Mining company’s addition to said city at any time whatsoever either during the day or night.” For most cities of that time, nitro-glycerine wasn’t even an issue, but Ishpeming was a mining town and the mines used nitro-glycerine for blasting.

There were ordinances relating to behavior, particularly bad behavior. “Any person who shall be drunk or in a state of intoxication, in any street or public house within the city, or in any private house, to the annoyance of any person shall, upon conviction thereof, be fined in a sum not exceeding one hundred dollars.” This ordinance was well used throughout the years, as drunk & disorderly arrests were always the most numerous in the monthly police reports. Another ordinance on behavior stated “Any person who shall be guilty of racing with immoderately riding or driving any horse, mare, gelding or mule within the limits of the city of Ishpeming shall, on conviction thereof, pay a fine not to exceed one hundred dollars.” Even in 1888, there was reckless driving!

Fire was an ever present danger and there are plenty of ordinances related to it. Fire wardens were tasked with inspecting houses and other structures to look for fire hazards and to remediate the same. Chimneys had their own section and the fire warden had the power to cause them to have to be rebuilt, if they were deemed unsafe. Section 4 stated: “No person shall convey any fire in or through any street, alley, lane or lot, within ten feet of any combustible material, except in some secure pan or vessel, under a penalty of five dollars for each offense.” In addition: “No owner or occupant of any livery or other stable within the city of Ishpeming nor any person in the employment of such owner or occupant, shall use therein any lighted candle or lamp except the same be in some safe and secure lantern under a penalty of ten dollars for each offense.”

Another ordinance set ‘fire limits’ and then proceeded to regulate buildings within the fire limits.  “No person shall erect or place any building or part of any building, within said fire limits, except as hereinafter provided, unless the same be constructed in accordance with the following provisions; The outside and party walls of all buildings erected shall be either made of brick, stone or other fire-proof material, or if not made of such fire-proof material, they shall be protected by an outside wall or covering of fire-proof material.”  Another section stated: “No wooden building within said fire limits which may hereafter be partially destroyed by fire or otherwise, shall be repaired unless the damages thereto are less than fifty percent of its value, and if less than fifty percent, no such building shall be repaired in any manner so as to make it larger or to occupy more space than before the injury thereto.” It should be noted that this particular ordinance was adopted in 1877, a mere three years after a disastrous fire in the downtown area of Ishpeming destroyed two city blocks.

“No horses, asses, mules, cattle, sheep, goats, swine or geese, shall be permitted to lie, run or be at large in any of the streets of the city of Ishpeming under penalty of not less than fifty cents nor more than ten dollars for each and every offense, to be recovered of the owner or owners.” Milk cows were permitted to run at large in the unplatted part of the city, although monthly pound master reports show that cows were still the most frequently impounded animal. For cows, horses, and sheep, the fine was fifty cents per animal, but for swine it was two dollars and geese cost ten cents per animal. In all cases, the cost of feed was extra and if the animal was left in impoundment for six days, then it could be sold at auction. Modern shelter practices were non-existent and dogs only had five days to languish in impoundment before they were killed.

There was an ordinance pertaining to licenses, describing who needed them and how much they cost. One section stated, “For a license to sell goods or property at auction or public venue there shall be taxes and collected the sum of fifty dollars for one week.” In 2015, that sum would be $1,330.30. Another section; “For a license to carry on the business of crying down the price of goods or property in sale, there shall be taxed and collected the sum of fifty dollars for one week.” Crying down the price is generally considered to be depreciating or under-valuing the price of a good or service.

Many of the sections on licenses dealt with itinerants and were a means to protect the tax-paying businesses of the city from being undercut. One section set forth that if people came to Ishpeming “with the intention of becoming bona fide residents thereof, for the purpose of trading in or selling any goods, wares or merchandise, shall, before commencing the business of trading or selling aforesaid, pay into the city treasury the sum of one hundred dollars as a pledge of their intentions.”

One ordinance prohibited bathing or swimming in Lakes Angeline and Bancroft and a second one kept the purity of the waters of Lake Angeline, as that may have been the city water source at that time.

Railroads had their own ordinance: “Every railway company operating a railway through the city of Ishpeming shall keep one watchman at the crossing of its road over Main Street and one watchman at its crossing over First Street in said city, constantly from eight o’clock in the forenoon until 7 o’clock in the evening of each day in the year.” The Pine Street crossing however, only needed watchmen “from the first day of May to the 15th day of November, or from the opening to the close of navigation in each year.” Trains and rail cars could not exceed a speed of six miles an hour going over the First, Main, Pine, Lake or Third Street crossings and could not block traffic at those crossings for more than five minutes. It is interesting to note that the train depot was between First and Second Streets, and that while neither First nor Third Streets could be blocked, there was no such provision for Second Street.

Finally, “No person or persons shall drive any horse or other animal on any street in the city of Ishpeming attached to a sleigh or sled without have to the harness of such horse or other animal a string of at least three good sleigh bells.” There was no such ordinance for the summer time, as presumably wagons made enough noise to alert pedestrians to their presence while sleighs did not.

For a better look at the 1888 City Charter and Ordinances, come to the archives. We also have a small book with amendments to the city charter dated from 1897.


Written by Karen Kasper


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