History in the making with first Negaunee Old Towne festival, by Kristy Basolo

For the people of Negaunee, there is no time for post-holiday let-down in July—Pioneer Days are right around the corner.
Scheduled for July 8 through 14 this year, the festival celebrates the community’s history in a variety of ways, including historic home tours, the traditional Pioneer Princess Pageant, a parade and fireworks, with dozens of events in between.
The Negaunee Irontown Association works all year to plan Pioneer Days and Heikki Lunta WinterFest. Irontown also awards scholarships each year to Negaunee High School seniors.
This year the festivities will focus on Old Towne, the area west of Downtown Negaunee. Even the parade theme, “Welcome Back to Old Towne,” is in celebration of the history of the area.
Old Towne, formerly known as the “caving grounds,” was purchased by the City of Negaunee in 2003. The neighborhoods in this area were home to many, but only structural foundations remain to suggest it was ever anything but wilderness.
In addition, the area formerly was a hotbed of mining activity, including open mining pits and underground tunnels—some that caused cave-ins—posing safety concerns. These issues were addressed mainly with fencing and warning signs to keep out unknowing exploreres.
“The west fenced area closed off almost a quarter of the town of Negaunee,” Negaunee city councilman Jim Thomas said. “Houses were either moved or torn down if they couldn’t be moved.”
The Old Towne Festival will debut this year from 3:00 to 8:00 p.m. on July 8 in the new Old Towne Festival Park at the end of Iron and Jackson streets in Downtown Negaunee. The event will feature live music—including a performance the Flat Broke Blues Band—as well as food vendors, kids games, historic merchandise booths, a beer garden and narrated historic trolley tours. A pig roast fundraiser also will be held during this time.
The trolley tours will be offered at this event only, and will be on the Marq-Tran trolley. They will leave every half hour from the Negaunee Senior Center. Tickets are $10 for adults, and $5 for students and seniors. Children younger than five who can sit on a lap and do not take up a seat are free.
In addition to the festival, trail signage has been put up to highlight the Miners Trail System, which winds through Old Towne for walkers, bikers and hikers.
The Negaunee Irontown Association, started in 1979 with the mission to preserve the heritage of Negaunee and to encourage former residents to return to the area, has embraced the new area, and continues to incorporate it into the festivities.
Last year, golf cart rentals were available to tour the area, which offers historic sites, views of mining pits and a trip down memory lane. The carts will be available again this year from 10:00 a.m. to 8:00 p.m., July 9 through 13, and after the parade through 4:00 p.m. on July 14.
The parade begins at 11:00 a.m. on that Saturday, and is followed by the annual community picnic on the shores of Teal Lake. The picnic features the Battle of the Bands, fireman competition, kids games, pony rides, vendors and more, and is followed by fireworks at dusk.
The Pioneer Princess Pageant, also saluting history with its “Hats Off to Our Heritage” theme this year, will take place at 7:00 p.m. on July 12 at the Negaunee High School auditorium.
In addition, the association has paired with the Negaunee Historical Society to offer two historic books and a mining map and booklet as a fundraiser during Pioneer Days. The Historical Society has created Jackson Mine pins, which are for sale for $3 a piece. They hope to offer a pin depicting a different mine each year.
In order to ensure the future of Pioneer Days events, the Negaunee Irontown Association is working hard to increase its membership. Over the years, membership has gradually declined. Entering 2006, the membership was half of what it was previously.
“The Pioneer Days and Heikki Lunta celebrations are popular events, celebrations that Negaunee residents and alumni look forward to each year,” Irontown president Don Gladwell said. “Yet, as we look at our membership and budget, it is obvious to our board members that in order to help fund these types of events annually and pay for rising insurance costs, we need to increase our membership.”
According to Gladwell, 244 people are members of the association, including twenty-six lifetime members. Unfortunately, however, new membership has failed to keep pace with the demands and expenses of sponsoring the Heikki Lunta Winterfest and the Negaunee Pioneer Days celebrations.
Irontown, a nonprofit group consisting of twenty active board members, needs public support in order to be a major player in sponsoring the events.
Membership requires just a $20 annual fee. All members receive a membership card, entitling them to discounts at Negaunee businesses and a biannual newsletter.
Members do not need to live, work or have graduated from Negaunee to become members. Most importantly, membership does not require any meeting commitments.
“For the size of Negaunee, we need an increased membership base to meet the rising costs associated with these events, particularly the fireworks displays over Teal Lake,” Gladwell said. “We have an aggressive board that will continue to seek new members, but we encourage residents of Negaunee and Marquette County to get behind the association and support our endeavors through a simple $20 membership fee.”
Those interested in becoming a member can send a check or money order to Negaunee Irontown Association, P.O. Box 128, Negaunee, MI 49866.
For a complete listing of Pioneer Days events, visit www.negauneeirontown.com or call 486-8084 for a brochure.
—Kristy Basolo

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