History

Escanaba is a city in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The city’s population is 13,140 which makes it the second largest city in the U.P. Escanaba is also one of the top tourist destinations in the U.P. due to the popularity of the U.P State Fair in August, the great boating in the summer and snowmobiling and ice fishing in the winter.

The word “Escanaba” roughly translates from various regional native languages to “land of the red buck” while others maintain that it refers to “flat rock”. Escanaba was an Ojibwa village in the early 19th century. As an American settlement, Escanaba began as a port town in the mid 1800s, gaining importance to the Union as a shipping point for iron ore, lumber and copper during the Civil War.

In his poem “The Song of Hiawatha”, Henry Wadsworth Longfellow described how Hiawatha “crossed the rushing Esconaba” referring to the river. Located on Little Bay de Noc at the northern edge of Lake Michigan, Escanaba continues to serve as an important shipping point for iron ore to other Great Lakes ports, especially south to Chicago and northern Indiana. The local paper mill, for many years Mead Corporation’s Publishing Paper Division, is currently operated by NewPage Corporation; located on the outskirts of the city alongside the Escanaba River, it is now the areas largest employer.

As shipping increased, a lighthouse was needed to warn of a sand shoals that reached out into Little Bay de Noc from Sand Point, a sandspit located just south of and adjacent to the harbor area. The United States Lighthouse Service approved construction of the Sand Point Lighthouse at a cost of $11,000. Construction began in the fall of 1867 and was completed in early spring 1868. It was deactivated in 1939, and was used by the United States Coast Guard to house seaman assigned to Escanaba. The building was completely restored to its original design in the late 1980s, and placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The historic House of Ludington, downtown Escanaba.

The House of Ludington is a landmark historic hotel in downtown Escanaba. Originally built in 1865 as the Gaynor House Hotel, it was renamed after lumberman Nelson Ludington 1871. It was rebuilt as a brick structure in the Queen Anne Style in 1883, becoming the New Ludington Hotel. Bay de Noc Community College, a public 2-year college, was founded in the city in 1962.
Although politically a part of the state of Michigan, Escanaba and the western Upper Peninsula of Michigan have closer cultural ties to the state of Wisconsin. Tourism has become significant for the local economy. Tourist draws include Lake Michigan beaches and local fishing and hunting opportunities. Most visitors come from Wisconsin and Illinois.

In January 1968, Green Bay Packers coach Vince Lombardi’s daughter was married in Escanaba at St. Anne’s Church. Upon finding out his then-unwed daughter was pregnant, Lombardi, who was vacationing in Florida at the time, insisted she drive to Michigan to get married rather than doing it Green Bay, in order to keep the news out of the papers Escanaba is the home to the William Bonifas Fine Arts Center, The Waterfront Art Festival, The Escanaba City Band, The Players de Noc, The Bay de Noc Choral Society and many smaller arts organizations, art galleries and musical performing groups.

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