Italian North Side
|This remarkable Catholic church was built by Iron Mountain's Italian community in 1902. Although it looks almost contemporary, the design is based on Renaissance parish churches in Italy.|
It's not like it used to be in this tidy, tight-knit neighborhood that grew up just after the turn of the century north of the Chapin Mine and downtown. Today descendants of Italian miners have lost their language and intermarried. There are lots of non-Italian names among the parishioners of Immaculate Conception Church, built by Italian immigrant volunteers in 1902.
|The wine press on the roof is the symbol Bimbo Constantini gave his neighborhood gathering place. The outline of the pig on the front is a clue to the porketta sandwiches made here.|
But this trim working-class neighborhood has the feel of a cherished way of life where camaraderie and shared meals still mean a lot. New aluminum siding on these modest, well-kept homes is a point of neighborhood pride. There are still a few inspiringly serious vegetable gardens maintained by the older generation, with plum tomatoes staked and cut back for maximum growth in the precious summer warmth. Some small grocery stores remain, underscoring Iron Mountain's reputation for its ethnic food.
In March of 2000 the North Side of Iron Mountain basked in the national spotlight as its own Tom Izzo coached the Spartans of Michigan State to the national collegiate basketball championship. Izzo's Awnings and Izzo's Shoe Hospital, owned by relatives, appeared in Detroit papers. Newspaper stories professed amazement at how well the little guy from the U.P. meshed with the big black players from Flint.
The press, in its common way of not looking beyond the superficial stereotype, failed to see the similarities. Like Izzo, the "Flintstones" came from strong families with working-class backgrounds that emphasized team playing. True, the U.P. is entirely white except for Native Americans and a few college students and Asian and African-American professors and other professionals. But middle-aged people who grew up in the U.P. learned to deal with schoolmates from widely varying backgrounds. Maybe that has something to do with the coincidence that Detroit Lions coach Steve Mariucci was a high school, and Northern Michigan University classmate of his friend Tom Izzo. A number of restaurants have little shrines to these famous native sons. A more lasting legacy is the state-of-the-art Izzo-Mariucci Fitness Center and meeting space on Carpenter and West, near Iron Mountain High School, built with money the coaches raised.
To explore the Italian North Side, drive along Vulcan, the north side's main street. It parallels U.S. 2. Get there by turning east onto Third at Hardee's, or onto Margaret across from the A&W.
Highlights of the neighborhood include:
• BIMBO'S WINE PRESS (L'Torchio di Vino), once a typical corner bar, became a center of local Italian-American culture and sports when the late Bimbo Constantini, a neighbor and retired teacher, purchased it. (See Restaurants.)
• CRISPIGNA'S ITALIAN MARKET is a small grocery/liquor store that uses old family recipes to make its own ravioli (sold frozen), Italian sausage, and red sauce. It carries imported Italian food, candy, and wines. It's also a Western Union office and Greyhound depot. After the Crispignas' daughter lived in Italy, she came back deciding to join the family business and help remodel it with a stylish continental rusticity. On Margaret at U.S. 2, kitty-korner from the A&W. 774-0266. Open 10-5:30 Central Time. Handicap accessible.
• The IMMACULATE CONCEPTION CHURCH is not to be missed on any north side tour. It's an authentic bit of vernacular Italian architecture, complete with big scrolled volutes on the front façade and an attached campanile (bell tower). The stuccoed interior is peaceful and rather spare, not the heavily ornamented neo-Baroque style often seen in Catholic churches of that era.
This homemade elegance is the result of the church's unusual history. Father Giovanni Sinopoli, part of a Catholic order founded to minister to Italian immigrants, came to Iron Mountain from Italy in April, 1902. Immediately he set about organizing volunteers to construct a new church. Sandstone was quarried on nearby Millie Hill, just east of the Chapin Pit. A mere nine months later the church was dedicated.
The parochial school next door, now used mainly for parish religious classes, is where Tom Izzo and Steve Mariucchi were first-graders together. 500 Blaine at Vulcan. (906) 774-0511. Front and side entrances both open 8 a.m.-4 p.m. or so, Central Time. Parking in rear off Stanton. Mass at 5:15 Tues, 12:10 Wed, 8 a.m. Thurs & Fri, 4 p.m. Sat, and 9 and 11 a.m. Sun, all Central Time. Wheelchair access: front and side entrances.
Return to Iron Mountain
POINTS OF INTEREST
Menominee Range Historical Museum. In a handsome 1901 Carnegie Library, museum focused on Dickinson County's history, based on local individuals' collections, from tin soldiers to Indian curios ... more
Cornish Pump Engine & Mining Museum. A huge 1893 steam-operated pump with 40-foot flywheel used to dewater the Chapin iron mine and displays on mining techniques and geology---mining equipment, historical photos, and geological specimens, plus displays about the WWII wooden gliders made nearby ... more
Pine Mountain Resort. Developed by Milwaukee brewer Fred Pabst, this 1938 ski resort has developed into a beautiful, year-round facility with pleasant indoor pool and 18-hole championship golf course ... more
Lake Antoine Park. Popular large spring-fed Lake Antoine lies just beyond Iron Mountain's north side. On its northern shore lies this pleasant county park with its large oaks, campsites, swimming beach, nature trail, and fishing pier ... more
Northwoods Wilderness Outfitters & Adventure Store. There are lots of outdoor expeditions in this region, so the well-stocked store here is a welcome destination. Kayak, canoe, and fishing outings are also offered ... more