City of Ishpeming Records: Citizen Petitions

Citizen petitions were a favorite tool of residents of the city of Ishpeming to bring the Common Council’s attention to issues and concerns. There are many such petitions within the City of Ishpeming records at the archives.

Most of the petitions started with “We, the undersigned citizens (or residents) and taxpayers of the city of Ishpeming.” Taxpayers was the key word as the petitioners sought to remind the Common Council just who paid the bills. Over 95% of the petitions were for improvements to the city’s infrastructure. New sidewalks, streetlights, paving streets, and, beginning in the late 1920s, plowing during the winter were all much requested items.

There are a few petitions that stand out. In November of 1941, about 250 high school students signed a petition asking for the opening of the Community building. The old YMCA had been purchased several years before by the Ishpeming Industrial Association but at that time was not in use. The common council studied the matter and in a report dated 4 March 1942 concluded that reopening the building wasn’t feasible at that time. A bond issue would have to be voted on to raise the funds necessary for repairing and maintaining the building and, due to wartime conditions, “this would be very difficult to do at this time.”

Another unusual petition is dated 15 December 1942. It asks for the reinstatement of John Ivey to his position on the city police force. The signatures include the Ishpeming Cooperative Society (a rubber stamp print with their name and then the signature of who was stamping it) as well as similar ‘signatures’ from the Finnish Mutual Fire Insurance Company, H. W. Elson’s Bottling Works and Ishpeming Feed and Fuel Company, and many actual signatures from individuals. The outcome of this petition is not known, at least in the committee reports, and what Mr. Ivey did to cause him to lose his position is also unknown.

In March of 1950, the residents of Barn Street wished to change their street name. Barn Street was named for a large barn built on the south end of the street. The barn was destroyed by fire many years prior to the petition and now the name of the street was “a matter of some dissatisfaction and possible embarrassment to the petitioners.”  Since this street was merely a continuation of Davis Street, the residents felt “should it not be a part of said street – namely N. Davis?” In this matter, the request was granted and Barn Street became N. Davis Street, although the request had to be routed through Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company, as the street was still, at that time, owned by the company.

In 1952, a proposed ban on parking on Bank Street resulted in TWO petitions. The first petition carried only a few signatures, those of businesses on Bank Street affected by such a ban. The second petition, signed by the general public, featured 22 pages of signatures protesting the ban and recommended a 1 hour limit on parking. Interestingly enough, this petition contains non-resident signatures, including some from the outlying townships and even one from Champion. The number of signatures was tallied on each page and most pages had at least 10-20 signatures.

Every request was routed to the proper committee and investigated, which is why the outcomes of many of the petitions are known, as the finished report would end up in the committee reports ledgers. Many of the reports had the phrase “We have had the same under consideration.” This phrase was especially common during the time from 1910 to 1915, when many citizens were looking for street lights.

A signed petition was no guarantee that the request would be granted. Sometimes the refusal was a matter of simple economics, especially in the early 1930s. During the Great Depression, the city had a limited budget and cautious aldermen. When the budgeted monies were gone, requests were often put on a waiting list or refused outright. In the early 1940s, the city often couldn’t grant citizen requests because the materials weren’t available due to wartime restrictions.

Another major reason why some citizen requests weren’t granted had to do with ownership of land. In Ishpeming, the mining companies, including Cleveland Cliffs Iron Company, Inland Steel and the Oliver Mining Company owned land on which houses were built. The houses themselves were owned by individuals, but the land was leased. Since the land was owned privately and presumably taxed differently, no city monies could be spent on infrastructure in those locations and any improvements had to come from the mining companies.

There are many citizen petitions on file. They offer a glimpse of the workings of Ishpeming and of the city government. Stop in and view them for yourself. Our open hours are now 10 AM-4 PM Monday though Friday!

Written by Karen Kasper

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