Webster Marble Museum on its way home

ESCANABA — For more than a decade, the organizations of the Commerce Center have worked hard planning our vision for a collaborative facility located on the busiest thoroughfare in the Upper Peninsula. With the recent incredible show of financial support by the John and Melissa Besse Foundation and a grant from the Michigan Economic Development corporation, construction has started on the multi-use building on the fairgrounds and our vision will soon be reality.

When we say collaborative, we mean it! This new facility will be home to the Delta County Chamber of Commerce, Upper Peninsula State Fair, Visit Escanaba, Delta County Builders Exchange, Delta County Economic Development Alliance, Upper Peninsula Veterans Museum and the Webster Marble Inventing the Outdoors Museum.

Earlier this week, Dennis Pace was in town to discuss final details of the Webster Marble Museum. Most of the artifacts that will be displayed in the 4,000 square foot exhibit come from his collection of Marble’s products and materials that he collected for nearly 40 years and donated to the Michigan History Center. Dennis and Sandra Clark, director of the Michigan History Center, give the following insight into what guests can expect when they visit the museum that looks at the origins of our love for outdoor recreation through the life and times of one of the U.P.’s greatest inventors — Webster Marble.

The exhibit will take visitors on a journey beginning in the late 19th century, when a rapidly urbanizing America began to seek wild and beautiful places for recreation and rejuvenation. At the same time, Webster Marble — a timber cruiser who had spent 20 years working in Michigan forests — started a company in Gladstone, Mich., that would become an outdoor powerhouse, outfitting legions of hunters, anglers, campers and hikers.

The exhibit explores Marble’s genius for innovation, experimenting and improving upon tools that didn’t meet his needs as an outdoorsman, and for marketing his creations across the globe. Marble would eventually own more than 60 patents for outdoor products. Explorers from Robert Perry and Teddy Roosevelt to Charles Lindbergh depended on the absolute reliability of Marble’s products. By the time Henry Ford rolled his first Model T off the assembly line, Marble was a household name and his company was outfitting millions of outdoor enthusiasts with Michigan-made products. His designs for products including knives, compasses, match boxes, axes and gun sights set the standard for the 20th century in the outdoor goods market and are still influential today. By the way, a Model T touring vehicle will be part of the exhibit.

Some of the other special artifacts that will be included are Marble’s safety folding axes, many models of unique hunting knives, automatic fish gaffs, and the famous Game Getter gun.

After traveling from the History Museum in Lansing to the Negaunee Iron Museum, we’re excited that Webster Marble’s Inventing the Outdoors will live where it belongs, back home in Delta County.

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Vickie Micheau is executive director of the Delta County Chamber of Commerce