New commercial development

Downtown Iron Mountain has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. To recognize this honor, The Daily News is publishing a series on the history of downtown Iron Mountain. These accounts were researched and written by Robert O. Christensen, National Register Coordinator from the State Historic Preservation Office in Lansing, and edited by Dickinson County Historian William Cummings.

The District Post-1966

The years since the mid-1960s have offered a fair share of challenges to the vitality of Iron Mountain’s central core as the commercial, social, and cultural center of the city.

These challenges have included new commercial development outside of the downtown area, fires that have destroyed buildings along Stephenson itself, piecemeal demolition of historic commercial buildings, and removal of parking along Stephenson.

The 1958-59 development of property east of the VA Hospital out to Stephenson for a new Joseph Selin & Sons Co. furniture store seems to mark the beginning of commercial development along Stephenson south and southeast of the business district that has now made this the true commercial heart of the Iron Mountain-Kingsford area.

The proposal to rezone the 13 acres for an 80 by 200-foot structure brought forth a (well-founded) concern expressed by one council member about expanding the commercial area in that direction: that an expansion there would “depreciate the present business section.”

Until the 1960s the city’s primary concern in relation to the downtown seems to have been providing adequate parking (by 1963 the city had acquired the east part of the block bounded by Hughitt, A, Stephenson, and Iron Mountain and also property north across A Street from the Champion Building west of Stephenson and created public parking lots there).

Major commercial developments south of the business district followed the initial Selin store.

The Shopko department store on South Carpenter in Kingsford opened about 1970, the first K-Mart store near Shopko about 1975, the Midtown Mall on Stephenson’s west side just north of H Street about 1977, and Birchwood Mall in Kingsford just south of Shopko about 1978.

A bigger K-Mart opened on Stephenson at the city’s southeast edge about 1991, and a Wal-Mart store well beyond K-Mart a few years later.

In the wake of the first of these new developments during the 1970s two downtown chain stores, Montgomery Ward and J. C. Penney, closed, and S.S. Kresge followed during the 1980s.

Some of the leading locally owned stores also closed their doors: Colenso’s, the large men’s and women’s clothing store in the Dworsky Building, 410-26 Stephenson, closed in the early 1980s, Fugere’s men’s clothing and shoes, another local fixture, at 323 Stephenson, in the late 1980s, and Koffman’s clothing store, 701 Stephenson, around 1990.

The 1980s also saw the destruction of several of the downtown’s historic commercial buildings that added much character to the district.

Two major fires in the 1980s destroyed five of the seven buildings in the 400 block on Stephenson’s east side.

Other buildings disappeared one by one through demolition, including three key landmark buildings. The Commercial Hotel/Dickinson Inn on East B was the city’s primary downtown hotel from the construction of the original part in 1887 until its demolition in 1987.

The 1888 Wood Block, 231 Stephenson, was demolished about 1989 for construction of the present First National Bank.

The three-story 1891 Fisher Block, 108-110 E. Ludington, a prime example of the work of early Iron Mountain architect James E. Clancy, was demolished in 1990 after some structural issues surfaced.