June 25, 2015

Six Places to Visit Named After Missionary and Explorer Father Jacques Marquette

  • By: Katherine Flynn

Marquette University, a Jesuit college named for Father Marquette, was established in 1881.

In our summer 2015 issue of Preservation magazine, we highlight the historic charm of Marquette, Michigan, the biggest city in the state’s Upper Peninsula and one of the most architecturally significant. This place, however, isn’t the only one in the region to bear that moniker -- far from it.

In the Midwest, we love our folk heroes -- Paul Bunyan and Johnny Appleseed and the voyageurs, French Canadian fur traders who traversed bodies of water in the Great Lakes region by canoe. All of these figures loomed monumentally large in my young imagination, but one particular name seemed to follow me throughout my childhood and young adulthood in Michigan and Wisconsin.

As it turns out, there’s a reason why there are so many places in those two states (and beyond) that bear the name Marquette -- and that reason is one French Jesuit missionary who left an indelible mark on the region.

Father Jacques Marquette (or Pére Marquette) was born in Laon, France, on June 1, 1637. He joined the Society of Jesus at the age of 17, and in 1666 was assigned to be a missionary to the indigenous peoples of the Americas. He proved to have a remarkable natural gift for learning native languages, eventually becoming fluent in no fewer than six Native American dialects and an expert in the Huron/Wyandot language.

His travels took him all over present-day Michigan, Wisconsin, Illinois and beyond, and he founded missions that eventually grew into the cities of Sault Ste. Marie and St. Ignace, Michigan, as well as La Pointe, Wisconsin.

This statue at the Chicago Portage National Historic Site in Lyons, Illinois, features Father Jacques Marquette, Louis Joliet, and a Native American guide.

The Native American tribes that Marquette traveled among in the Great Lakes region told him of a great water trading route farther to the south, and in 1673, he joined an expedition led by French-Canadian explorer Louis Joliet to explore the Mississippi River.

Joliet and Marquette eventually made it within a few hundred miles of the Gulf of Mexico, but after learning from native tribes about the presence of potentially violent Spanish missionaries and explorers in the area, they turned around and made their way back up to the Illinois River, and from there, back to the Great Lakes.

After spending the winter of 1675 in an area that would eventually become part of the city of Chicago, Marquette began to make his way back in the direction of his mission at St. Ignace. Dysentery, which he contracted during his time on the Mississippi, had exhausted his strength, and he died along the shores of Lake Michigan, near present-day Ludington, at the age of 37. His remains were eventually moved to St. Ignace in 1678, where a monument to him stands today.

While there are dozens of cities, buildings and monuments named after and dedicated to Marquette (you can find a list here,) here are a few spots you should keep an eye out for if you ever find yourself in the area, trapping beaver or portaging one of the region’s many rivers.

This statue of Father Marquette stands in front of Fort Mackinac on Michigan’s Mackinac Island.

Marquette University, Milwaukee, Wisconsin

Established in 1881, Milwaukee’s Marquette University is one of the most prominent Jesuit colleges in the region. Its oldest building, the Gothic-ornamented, circa-1907 Johnston Hall, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1986, and now houses the university’s communications program.

Marquette Building, Chicago

The Marquette Building, a Dearborn Street landmark in the city’s downtown Loop, was built in 1895. The homage to Father Marquette doesn’t stop at the name -- mosaics, sculptures and bronze work in the building’s entryway and lobby honor his 1673-75 expedition with Louis Joliet. The intricate and colorful tile mosaics were rendered by famed artist and designer Louis Comfort Tiffany. In addition to being listed as a Chicago Landmark, a National Historic Landmark, and a National Register building, the Marquette Building was honored with a Chicago Landmark Award for Preservation Excellence in 2006 after a four-year restoration.

Additionally, a statue commemorating Father Marquette stands on the corner of S. Marshall Boulevard and 24th St. in Chicago.

Father Marquette National Memorial, St. Ignace, Michigan

This 52-acre memorial along I-75 near St. Ignace, Michigan, includes a 15-station interpretive trail and an open-air rest stop. His remains are still interred at the present-day intersection of State and Marquette streets in St. Ignace.

Pere Marquette Hotel, Peoria, Illinois

The 14-story Pere Marquette Hotel in Peoria, Illinois, now known as the Peoria Marriott Pere Marquette, was built in 1926 and has undergone a number of management changes over the years. Most recently, it was closed from December 2011 to June 2013 for expansion and renovation before becoming part of the Marriott chain. It is listed on the National Register.

Both the interior and exterior of Chicago’s Marquette building, built in 1895 and restored from 2002-’06, feature mosaics, sculptures and bronze work commemorating Father Marquette’s 1673-’75 mission.

Marquette Building, Detroit

The Marquette Building in Detroit’s financial district, constructed in 1899, was saved from demolition in 1979, with a preservation-minded redevelopment taking place in 1982. Similar to Chicago’s Marquette Building, it is an exemplar of the Chicago School architectural style, and was purchased for $5.7 million this past December.

Father Marquette Memorial, Mackinac Island

This memorial to Father Marquette stands proudly in front of historic Fort Mackinac on Michigan’s Mackinac Island. It was erected in 1895, on a plot of land originally used for growing vegetables for the fort.

Katherine Flynn is a former assistant editor at Preservation magazine. She enjoys coffee, record stores, and uncovering the stories behind historic places.


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