Courtesy of Anuta Research Center
The two-story Union School was constructed on the present site of the Marinette Middle School on Main Street. The school accommodated two different segments of students — one for elementary students and the other for upper grades. The original eight-room school, erected in 1863, was enlarged in 1871. Attorney J.B. Fairchild taught the upper grade students, and Miss Sarah Fairchild was the teacher for the elementary grades.
Courtesy of Anuta Research Center

The two-story Union School was constructed on the present site of the Marinette Middle School on Main Street. The school accommodated two different segments of students — one for elementary students and the other for upper grades. The original eight-room school, erected in 1863, was enlarged in 1871. Attorney J.B. Fairchild taught the upper grade students, and Miss Sarah Fairchild was the teacher for the elementary grades.

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John Fitzgerald Kennedy, 35th president of the United States (1961-63), was our nation’s leader well after the blooming towns of Marinette and Menominee became chartered cities and when education was as raw and fundamental as the land early settlers made their footprints.

But the charismatic Kennedy likely spoke for the thousands of immigrants who swarmed here from Canada and points along the Eastern seaboard when he said, “Our progress as a nation can be no swifter than our progress in education.”

Although advancements in education seemed slow and stressful when the towns of Marinette and Menominee were in their tender years, it didn’t mean that the trailblazers completely ignored education. History tells us the gains were timid and unhurried after the initial breakthrough, but picked up steam as the local populations swelled and workers demanded their children be educated.

Marinette County was chartered in 1879. Menominee County government was created in 1863. But long before the two counties were shaped into governing units, education was making its way in the Menominee River Basin.

Dr. Jonathan Cory Hall, first physician to set foot in the two communities, retained the services of a husband-wife team from Chicago to launch his private school in the 1850-51 school year. He established the school for his own children, but opened it up for other families to enroll. The school was located at the southeast corner of Riverside Avenue and Hattie Street.

Although Dr. Hall is credited with bringing education to the banks of the Menominee River, it’s fair to speculate that early fur trader John Kittson offered basic instruction to Indians that lived near his trading post in the 1830s.

Oscar Bartholomew, who came here from Elmira, N.Y. and was stranded here during a harsh winter, organized a subscription school in a time-worn building near the Hattie Street dam. Space in the building was shared with a blacksmith and a general repair shop. Students paid $3 for 12 weeks of instruction. The school was located on the Michigan side of the river.

The first building erected, strictly for education purposes, was erected on a high bank just below the Hattie Street bridge. It was a subscription school under the direction of Sue Lyon, a member of a well-known Menominee family, which arrived here in 1853.

Miss Lyon taught at the school for four months. A few students from Marinette were enrolled. They crossed the river by boat to attend classes. There was no bridge in the vicinity at the time.

Dr. John Jetho Sherman came to Marinette in 1853 to practice medicine with Dr. Hall. The two partnered until 1888 when Sherman opened up his own office. He also established one of Marinette’s first hospitals. Known as Marinette Hospital, the facility was located at the southeast corner of Main and Oddfellow streets.

The town of Marinette didn’t get its first public school until 1857. Dr. Sherman, acting on the pleas of parents, set up a school on the upper floor of a building that formerly housed the O.A. Haase shoe store and in more recent years a book store.

Classes started in October 1857. A per capita tax was imposed at the rate of $1 per month per student. The money helped pay Sherman for his services.

About the same time the Rev. J.W. Donaldson was appointed town superintendent of public instruction.

Henry Bentley was hired to teach for the 1858-59 year. His classroom was located in a building at the corner of Houston Street and Riverside Avenue, a location that formerly was a boarding house for the Farnsworth-Brush Sawmill.

Menekaunee opened its first school in 1858 when the New York Lumber Co. constructed a small square building about two blocks east of the original Menekaunee School on Ogden Street. Dr. Sherman was in charge of the first public school to be supported by tax revenue.

The following year a second school was erected on Ella Court Street in the vicinity of the present-day movie theater. The Ella Court School and the Menekaunee School consolidated in 1863. The Union School was built on Main Street where the district now has its middle school.

Marinette established a high school in 1876 with 25 students. J.C. Crawford served as the first superintendent and held the position until 1880. Marinette became a chartered city in 1887 and F. R. Utley was appointed the city’s first superintendent of schools.

The Union School was phased out in 1882 and a new high school erected at the site.

There’s much more to the history of the Marinette school system, but a summary form details much of its growth and development since the startup of a community. Fires destroyed some school buildings, but the strong faith of community leaders for education never wavered. New structures replaced those reduced to ashes. As the population swelled, so did the number of schools. Mergers with rural districts also added to the growth spurt.

Today the Marinette School District offers a well-rounded educational format. The pioneers who started it all more than 160 years ago would be proud.