The characteristics of Manistee in 1928

One of the inquiries that the museum often receives from researchers is that they would like to know (or have an idea of) what life was like for their ancestors in Manistee during a particular era.

A view of River Street, near the corner of Maple Street, circa late 1920s.

A view of River Street, near the corner of Maple Street, circa late 1920s.

Several weeks ago, Deb Fortier, one of the museum’s dutiful volunteers, was in the process of organizing the museum’s records and discovered a survey book compiled by a marketing agency, Greenebaum & Blanchard, of Michigan City, Ind..

The book, dated May, 1928, is a 150+ page survey detailing all of the different aspects of Manistee during late 1927/early 1928. The survey’s table of contents shows that the book, titled “The Fact Book of Manistee, Michigan” is divided into nine chapters with sections on: History, Civics, Characteristics, Public Utilities, Transportation, Manufacturers and Banks, Natural Resources, Activities and Manistee & Its Resorts.

As one opens the pages of the nearly century old book, the introduction reads:

“MANISTEE: destined to be the metropolis of Northern Michigan

“‘Where everything combines to make life worthwhile

“Climate, Location, Friendly people, Natural Resources, Business Opportunities

“You’ll like Manistee”

While the survey as a whole provides readers with a comprehensive portrait, albeit a somewhat “rosy” portrait, of how the people of Manistee lived 90 years ago, the chapter on the “characteristics” of living delves into the types of everyday things (i.e. Population, Labor, Wages, Cost of Living, Trading Areas, Housing, and Insurance) that are interesting to compare to how we live life in the current day and age.

With that said, the following is a portion from the chapter the book regarding the characteristics of living in Manistee in the late 1920s:

“Manistee County with an area of 562 square miles had a population of 20,899 in 1920. No census has been taken since then, but it is estimated that while there has been some decrease in city population, there has been a corresponding increase in rural population.

“Manistee County has the largest population of many of the counties in Northern Michigan. The population is all white, 27.2 percent being of native parentage, and 25.2 percent of foreign birth. Of the foreign people, the Polish race predominates, followed by Scandinavians and Germans. Few other nationalities are represented.

“Labor conditions in Manistee are of the best in the state. Wages are good, employment has been regular, working conditions are excellent, and conditions for family life are very good. Open shop practice is prevalent.

“Manufacturing industries account for 1,247 male workers and 863 female workers. Wholesale and retail establishments, offices, transportation lines, service and supply routes, professional workers business men and women, and other gainful occupations, account for about 1,179 workers. Altogether upwards of 3,289 men and women are employed in remunerative work and the weekly payroll is estimated to be from $53,000 to $55,000.

“Ample labor for additional plants may be obtained quickly. Wages paid in certain lines are:

Men: Common labor (30 cents to 40 cents per hour); Machinists (55 cents to 65 cents per hour); Tool Makers (65 cents to 85 cents per hour); Painters (65 cents to 80 cents per hour); Plasterers ($1.25 per hour); Plumbers (65 cents to 75 cents per hour); Carpenters (65 cents to 75 cents per hour); Masons ($1.25 per hour)

“Women: Common labor $7 to $9 per week to start, on going to piece work when they are able to earn from $15 per week upwards.

“Organized labor is represented by Painters Union, Plasterers, Plumbers, Carpenters and Masons.

“The cost of living is reasonable, as may be seen by reference to the prices prevailing in the retail markets: Flour, 49 lb. sack $2.35; Butter, per lb. 47 cents; Milk, quart 12 cents; Eggs, dozen 27 cents; Bacon, pound 35 cents; Ham, pound 25 cents; Pork Loin, pound 22 cents; Leg of Lamb, pound 35 cents; Sugar, pound 7 cents; Lard, pound 12 cents; Potatoes, bushel $1.30; Domestic coal – ton, delivered $8 to $8.50; Steam coal – ton, mine run $5.00

“The people of this community are home builders. There are 2,457 dwellings in Manistee, over 80 percent of which are occupied by the owners.

“Housing conditions are excellent. With the exception of a few apartments on River Street above stores, there are no apartment buildings of the type usually found in the larger cities. Building lots are wide enough to allow plenty of space between the houses. Streets are wide and in the residential districts, are lined with well-kept trees.

“There are over four hundred renting houses, most of which are occupied. There are always a number available for incoming families. Modern houses of five to eight rooms with bath, gas and electricity, and furnace, rent from $25 to $50 per month. Semi-modern from $10 to $18 for the same period.

“There are at the present time approximately 35 houses for rent. New homes will be speedily built as demand arises.

Throughout the rest of the survey book, the authors continue to detail a variety of descriptions on topics such as water supplies, gas, electricity, banks, businesses, sand, beaches, clubs, recreational activities, etc…pretty much all the things that “combined together made life worthwhile” in Manistee, 1928.


Posted by Mark Fedder

Mark Fedder is the executive director of the Manistee County Historical Musuem. He can be reached at (231) 723-5531

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