Menominee Range Memories — Rail depot was downtown IM fixture

William J. Cummings Postmarked Iron Mountain, Sept. 14, 1909, this real photo postcard view shows south and east sides of both the freight depot and the passenger depot of the Chicago & Northwestern Railway. Tommy Perkins pushed the two-wheeled cart used to dispose of horse manure. Note the older couple at the far left, the passenger train on the tracks in the background, several wagons parked near the depot and two dogs in the right foreground.

IRON MOUNTAIN — The 49th installment of Menominee Range Memories, a series of articles by William J. Cummings, Menominee Range Historical Foundation historian, now available on the Dickinson County Library’s website, is titled “Downtown Iron Mountain — 300-332 South Stephenson Avenue.”

There were no businesses noted on the west side of the 300 block of South Stephenson Avenue in the city directories for 1892-1894, 1902-1903, 1913, 1925, 1935, 1939 and 1941-1942, except for the Chicago & Northwestern Railway Passenger Depot at 332 S. Stephenson Ave. (1913 directory), and later 320 S. Stephenson Ave. (1939 and 1941-1942 directories).

An article appearing in The Florence Mining News in 1885 noted that the Chicago & Northwestern Depot in Iron Mountain was more like a pigpen than a depot in 1885.

The editor of an Iron Mountain newspaper stated that the analogy was literally true, as pigs were wallowing in the mud under the depot. The article stated:

“The stench that arises some days is enough to knock the baggage truck off the platform. The reason that no one falls off the platform in front of the in-coming train is because they become so paralyzed by the horrible smell that they stagger up on the side of the depot and the conductor and brakeman have to rush out and drag the passengers on board the train. Once in a while they get an invigorating whiff from a petroleum tank car standing on the side-track that braces them up wonderfully. No more frightful calamity could ever happen to a mortal than to be found dead around that depot!”

Menominee Range Historical Museum photo The Chicago & Northwestern Railway passenger depot, 310 S. Stephenson Ave., had a long, covered platform from which passengers boarded the train. The smaller building to the south of the new depot, opened Dec. 22, 1889, was the original depot which was remodeled to serve as a freight house Notice the Montgomery Block, built in 1887, across the street and the Nelson, Morris Company building, a wholesale meat warehouse, at the far right. This photograph probably dates between 1900 and 1910.

Another article, appearing in the April 25, 1889, issue of The Menominee Range read:

“THAT miserable little tinder box dignified with the title of the C. & N.W. depot must go. It is a wonder to us how it is that an enterprising concern like the company could think of maintaining such an unsightly, incommodious, and discreditable hovel as its depot in a city like Iron Mountain. Is there no positive danger of the people arguing, ‘as the depot, so the company’?”

On Sunday, Dec. 22, 1889, the new Chicago & Northwestern Railway passenger depot was opened in Iron Mountain. An article appearing in The Menominee Range stated:

“The new C. & N.W. depot was opened to the public last Sunday, and now that it is entirely complete, its beauty, neatness and convenience makes it all the more striking in comparison with the dingy old shanty that has served as a depot so long. The old depot is being remodeled and fitted up into a convenient and commodious freight house. The office will be in the south end of the building, where a hardwood floor is being laid, and where such counters, desk, etc. will be placed as may be required for the ready dispatch of business.”

On the Chicago & Northwestern Railway a passenger could reach Chicago from Iron Mountain in 12 hours. Six passenger trains arrived and departed daily in the early 1890s in Iron Mountain. In addition, three freight trains reached the city each day. Ore trains were not included in this schedule.

During the early post-World War II period the Chicago & Northwestern Railway was in the process of phasing out railroad passenger service to Iron Mountain. By 1949, the Chicago & Northwestern Railway’s Iron Mountain passenger service was reduced to a single daily round trip on a train known as “The Scooter” that ran from Iron River to Escanaba via Iron Mountain and Powers, providing a connection with the Company’s “Peninsula 400” on the Chicago to Ishpeming line.

The “400” series of trains on the various Chicago & Northwestern Railway lines were named for the line’s initial high-speed passenger service between Chicago and Minneapolis — 400 miles in 400 minutes.

The Chicago & Northwestern Railway sought approval from the Interstate Commerce Commission to drop “The Scooter” in August 1949. A hearing in Iron Mountain on Oct. 12 before John H. McCarthy, chairman of the Michigan Public Service Commission, discussed the Chicago & Northwestern Railway’s application to discontinue the feeder line. The move was vigorously opposed by the communities on the line and by railroad unions.

“The Scooter” connected with the “400” at Powers. The Railway claimed it was not extensively used and was not a “paying proposition.”

An imposing battery of attorneys — representing the communities served by “The Scooter” — countered that the lack of use was “because of the antiquated equipment used.”

Public testimony at an Interstate Commerce Commission hearing during October included the observation that the train was “antiquated, obsolete, rough-riding and extremely dirty,” but strong opposition to discontinuing service was expressed, according to an article in the Oct. 13, 1949, edition of The Iron Mountain News.

In late October the Interstate Commerce Commission ordered “The Scooter” service curtailed because of a coal strike. Restoration of service was authorized one month later, but it would appear that the railway never placed “The Scooter” back in service.

An article in the April 10, 1951, edition of The Iron Mountain News reported a hearing on the “application of the Iron Mountain-Kingsford Transit Lines for a permit to operate a bus between Iron River and Escanaba, meeting the North Western’s ‘400’ streamliner at Powers” that was to be April 18 in Escanaba’s City Hall.

A week before the article appeared the Greyhound Lines abandoned the route after operating a bus between Iron River and Escanaba for 60 days at a reported loss.

On Monday, July 9, 1951, the “daily bus service between Iron River, Iron Mountain and Powers, to make connections with the Chicago and North Western trains to Chicago, Ishpeming and other points” was to begin, according to Frank Butts, proprietor of the Iron Mountain-Kingsford Transit Lines.

“The new schedule and service provided residents of Dickinson and Iron counties an excellent opportunity to visit Chicago, Milwaukee and other points out of Chicago,” according to Butts.

On the run to Powers, the bus stopped at Iron River’s Northwestern depot, Crystal Falls’ Northwestern Depot, the Sagola store, Harvath’s store in Randville, Iron Mountain’s Northwestern Depot, Pancheri’s store in Quinnesec, Yorke Cafe in Norway, Tomasoski’s service station in Vulcan, Loretto, Waucedah, the Hermansville depots and finally the Powers depot.

The Chicago & Northwestern Railway dropped its last service on the Michigan part of the Chicago-Ishpeming line in 1969, marking the end of railroad passenger service in the Upper Peninsula.

The Chicago & Northwestern Railway sold its Iron Mountain passenger depot to Bert Harvey in July 1953. Beginning in August, Harvey remodeled and renovated the building, adding display windows fronting South Stephenson Avenue. The interior, measuring 72 feet by 22 feet, was much larger than Harvey’s previous store, located at 100 E. Hughitt St., allowing “ample space for display of all types of sporting goods, including several boats and other heavy equipment.”

Four salesmen were employed at the new Bert Harvey Sporting Goods store. In addition to Harvey, clerks were Mrs. Loretta McNamee, Mrs. Vera Borner, Harvey Johnson and Domenic Giansanti, who also traveled over the district on behalf of the company.

Using the “Polk’s Iron Mountain and Kingsford City Directory” collection at the Dickinson County Library, by 1959, when the collection begins, Bert Harvey Sporting Goods, operated by Tom Mitchell, was located in the former depot at 306 S. Stephenson Ave.

By 1966 the business had changed to Smitty’s Sporting Goods, Harold J. Smith, proprietor, and the address was given as 310 S. Stephenson Ave.

By 1978 the business had again changed to The Athlete’s Choice, Thomas J. LaGassa, owner, at the same address. By 1981, Scott’s Sporting Goods, Scott Dahlgren and Mel Hedberg, owners, was listed here. By 1984 the building was vacant.

By 1988 Burke’s Sports Depot, Tom and Dianna Burke, owners, occupied 310 South Stephenson Ave. However, by 1990 the space was utilized for storage by Mister Bike whose principal business site was 330 S. Stephenson Ave. in the Ochietti Building at the south end of the block.

By 1992 Nerat Merchandising, owned by Ron and Scott Nerat, did business in the old depot.

By 1996 Stevens Decorating Company, Joseph A. Stevens, owner, occupied this site and was there until 2016. Bijou Lovely is here in 2020.

Only two other buildings have occupied this block.

By 1961 Walter J. Rice sold ice milk products at the Dairy Dip at 302 S. Stephenson Ave., on the southwest corner of South Stephenson Avenue and East Ludington Street, and was still in business at this site in 1972.

By 1973 the Bon Voyage Travel Agency, Inc., owned by Don M. Pearce, did business at 302 S. Stephenson Ave. In 1981, Irene Antttila was listed as owner of the business.

In 1987, Shear Perfection, a beauty salon operated by Rhonda Watt and Julie Panis, was at this address, but by 1988 Subway Sandwiches & Salads, managed by Wendy Wickingson, was doing business here and was listed until 1995.

End Part I


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