March 29 marks Marquette's 100th anniversary

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This postcard image, courtesy of the Marquette Depot Museum and Information Center, shows the Milwaukee Railroad Pontoon bridge allowing a barge to go through heading south. North McGregor was incorporated in May 1874, just a month after the pontoon bridge opened. Nearly 50 years later, the town changed its name to Marquette.

By Audrey Posten, North Iowa Times

The city of Marquette will celebrate its 100th anniversary on Sunday, March 29. The date marks an historic 1920 vote when residents cast ballots on the question of changing the name of the town from North McGregor to Marquette, in honor of the priest/explorer Father Jacques Marquette who discovered the confluence of the Mississippi and Wisconsin rivers with Louis Joliet in 1693.

Of roughly 850 residents at the time, 98 voted “yes” and 34 opposed it.

According to North Iowa Times archives, the need for a name change had been growing for many years, as the community sought to distinguish itself from nearby McGregor. North McGregor was incorporated in May 1874, just a month after the first train crossed the newly-constructed pontoon bridge that connected the community to Prairie du Chien.

Railroad officials also desired a change, particularly to something shorter, and invited members of the Economy and Efficiency Club to make suggestions. “Why not Byram or Thurber,” the NIT mentioned on Nov. 13, 1919.

The city council adopted the name Marquette, though. And after the measure’s passage, Marquette resolved that “If you please, we are not, and never have been, a suburb of any town.”

Growing up, Deidre Vick-Froehlich said there wasn’t much discussion about why the name changed in 1920. Many assumed people just didn’t get along.

“But there’s two sides to every story,” she remarked. “It makes it interesting.”

Vick-Froehlich has spent most of her life in Marquette. But it wasn’t until she started working at the Marquette Depot Museum and Information Center eight years ago that she started to appreciate the city’s history.

“I would see the roundhouse and the passenger depot,” she said. “I thought they were beautiful, but I never knew the history behind it.”

Back then, she quipped, she was more concerned with making it to the Marquette Sundries to buy penny candy.

“I remember walking down every day and spending 10 cents,” Vick-Froehlich recalled. “You thought you were the richest kid.”

There was also a gas station, bar, cafe and lumber yard downtown then, along with more homes, and some of the roads were still dirt. 

The bench was where many kids congregated, playing softball until dark, as well as hide and seek. Other popular games were “Captain May I?”,  “Red Light, Green Light,” “Seven Up” and “Statue.”

“We made our own fun,” Vick-Froehlich shared. “It’s amazing what kids can come up with.”

The railroad was the center of the community—just as it was in 1874 and how it largely is today.

“Whole families worked on the railroad. It was generational,” Vick-Froehlich said. “Some of those families, like the Masons and Matthews, are still here.”

The railroad is also what draws many people to the Depot Museum. 

“People will come in and talk about their uncle or their father,” she remarked. “Many people have donated family histories to us.”

Vick-Froehlich said the Depot has 36 different photo albums that bring to life railroad history, former businesses, families and more. They were an important resource as she learned about Marquette’s past. She also relied on writings, newspaper, magazine and book entries and oral history from long-time residents like Terry Sharp, a fixture at the Depot and president of the Marquette Historical Society.

“Marquette really is a place of history,” she said. “It’s phenomenal.”

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