By MATT FURST
Capital News Service
LANSING — The Michigan Iron Industry Museum in Negaunee has raised $735,000 in hopes of expanding the museum, but is still far from its goal of $1.8 million.
If the museum reaches its goal, it will be expanded by 40,000 square feet, said Tom Friggins, regional manager of the museums division for the Michigan Historical Center.
Friggins said the extra space would be used for new exhibits and many other improvements, including new classroom space, picnic tables and a bocce ball court.
“The iron industry has a rich cultural history that many people don’t know about,” Friggins said.
The museum overlooks the Carp River Forge, which was the birthplace of iron mining in Michigan, Friggins said. The forge was open only from the mid-1840s to the mid-1850s and was an economic failure, but it drew international attention to the Marquette iron range, he explained.
“After Marquette received a lot of attention for its iron, the industry began to flourish,” Friggins said.
While the industry thrived, many immigrants came to work in the mines. That led to a large cross-section of nationalities in a small area, which has created a colorful history full of interesting stories, he said.
“There are a lot of poignant stories involving stories involving immigrants coming to the mining range for the promise of a better life,” Friggins said. “There are also horrific stories like the cave-in of Barnes-Hecker mine, in which 51 people died.”
Phil Kwiatowski, director of museums for the Michigan Historical Center, said the museum expansion is a great project.
“It gives us the ability to explain our place in the world,” Kwiatowski said. “Michigan has contributed to iron ore mining with a lot of technological developments over the years and there’s many stories to be told.”
Friggins also said a goal behind the museum expansion is to help create a point of destination for tourists coming to the central Upper Peninsula. He said that would be accomplished with the new exhibits and by staying open-year round.
“We usually get about 12,000 visitors and after the expansion we are hoping to at least double that,” Friggins said.
The Marquette area usually receives only activity-based tourists such as mountain bikers and kayakers, said Mike Gokey, Marquette Chamber of Commerce economic development director. Gokey said a new cultural tourism aspect could add to the $85 million that the area already receives from tourism.
“There would definitely be dollars left behind from new tourists in the area,” Gokey said.
Friggins said the remainder of the needed money would come from grants and donations from the private sector. The renovations are targeted to begin in 2005.
© 2002, Capital News Service, Michigan State University School of Journalism
By MATT FURST