Presentation on Marlborough well attended
BALDWIN — The rise and fall of the historic boom town of Marlborough, which once claimed the world's largest cement factory, has intrigued locals for decades. About 75 people crowded into the Baldwin Business Center on Sept. 13, to attend a presentation about Marlborough given by Jill Engelman, curator for the Lake County Historical Society.
Highlights of the evening included a slide show with pictures and maps of the town. Historical information was presented, and during intervals of the program, volunteers role-played documented people of Marlborough. The volunteers read old letters out loud or introduced the characters based on what was known of their lives.
People enjoyed old fashioned treats, including Marlborough pies, made by Rosemary Dionne, which is an actual recipe originating from the kitchen of the Marlborough Inn. Adelaide Hoskins, the cook at the inn, was known for her lamb chops fried in drippings, garnished with lemon and crisp parsley. Her Marlborough pie (which was a type of apple pie made without a top crust), also was a favorite.
Engelman said the presentation on Marlborough was in conjunction with a new display of artifacts from the town at the Lake County Historical Museum.
"Marlborough has a fascinating history," she said. "The rise of the town was from the manufacturing of marl into cement. Marl is a type of mud, a byproduct of glaciers. An industrial survey said there were was an inexhaustible supply in the local lakes, and Frederick Farnsworth of the Great Northern Portland Cement Company began a cement plant and dug marl from North Lake. By 1902, the company began construction of the village of Marlborough near the production site, which was built large enough for 2,000 people. The town was called the greatest industrial metropolis of Northern Michigan."
Engelman passed around a sample of marl in a glass jar for people to look at.
"Marl looks like mud, and has to stay wet or it dries as hard as rock," she said.
Engelman said during operations, the marl was pumped from the lake and taken by a conveyor to a storage building and stored in tanks, where it was kept stirred. It was mixed with clay from local river and creek banks, then placed in a kiln to dry for hours. After being stored again, it was ground into powder and placed in 90-pound paper sacks, stored in the storage building until it was ready to ship by rail from the plant. Operations ran 24 hours a day.
"The demise of the plant was because marl deposits were thought to be inexhaustible, but this theory was wrong," Engelman said. "The wet process used a great quantity of fuel, and another company perfected a dry process to make cement using limestone. The Great Northern Portland Cement Company then shipped limestone from Petosky to mix with clay from Pere Marquette instead of marl. They were unsuccessful. In 1907, upwards of $1 million dollars went toward the reconstruction. The company came into debt and stockholders lost everything."
Susie Tripp, as the voice of Lillian Weeks, wife of Ralph Weeks, a carpenter at the plant, read a letter he sent his wife. He told about his time at Marlborough, including being chased by a swarm of yellow jackets while picking berries.
Engelman told about a telegram Lillians Weeks received from Marlborough in 1902.
"An official informed Lillian about Ralph's death from a typhoid fever epidemic and that his personal effects were burned. We have been unable to find where Ralph Weeks was buried, whether it was on the work site or in a local cemetery," Engelman said.
Another Marlborough historical figure was introduced, a teamster named George. He was found dead in the horse stable after a bad card game. The gash on his head was thought to be from a horse hoof, but when the stable was torn down, a monkey wrench with blood stains and human hair was found.
Some of the businesses in the town were discussed. The Marlborough Mercantile was said to be one of the finest stores in west Michigan, and the Marlborough Inn, an 88-room hotel, was advertised overlooking two beautiful lakes and having modern accommodations such as steam heat, lights, baths and a veranda where guests could catch the breeze.
In addition to homes, there was a one-room school, which operated until 1959, decades after the plant closed. A fire hall also was constructed.
"There was never a jail or saloon in town," Engelman said. "No liquor was allowed to be sold in the village."
The storage building was built in 1903 and completed in the fall of 1904. It still can be seen on James Road. The roof was blown off in a storm decades ago.
The cement plant officially closed in 1909. The buildings were destroyed by dynamite and the metal was scrapped for the World War I effort. By 1919, the Michigan legislature unincorporated Marlborough as a village.
Throughout the decades following the cement plant's demise, the remnants of the buildings has earned the site the name, "The Ruines of Rome." Today, only a small number of original houses remain in Marlborough and the school is now a residence. Old foundations of homes can be seen, Engelman said.
Engelman showed pictures of houses moved to Baldwin, including the old Duffing home on Norway and Seventh Streets. One garage in town had windows believed to be from the powerhouse, and a home on Cashion Lake was built from brick produced from the plant.
In 1971, Marlborough was designated a National Historic District.
Engelman closed the program by saying Marlborough still exists.
"Marlborough exists when we present its history and have exhibits on display," she said.