About The Peter White Public Library

Our mission is to enrich the community through access to library services and cultural opportunities.

Library History

The Peter White Public Library has been serving residents of Marquette, Michigan for over a century. On March 27, 1891, Peter White’s private Library and the school district Library were combined by a state legislative act to become the Peter White Public Library. By 1895, the Library had outgrown its space, prompting White to spearhead construction efforts on a new building.  

In 1900, John Munro and Mary Beecher Longyear donated land at the corner of Front and Ridge Streets to the Library’s Board of Trustees. The new building, designed by a Chicago architectural firm, featured limestone from Indiana, a red tile roof, and custom stained-glass windows. The completed structure opened to the public on September 22, 1904. A 1958 addition modernized the west side of the building, including an entrance on Ridge Street.

Peter White Public Library c1905
1950's Interior or Peter White Public Library
1990's first floor interior.
1990's first floor interior.
Interior shot of the PWPL under construction.
Interior shot of 1999 renovations.

By the early 1990s, the Library had no room for additional equipment or books.  The building’s aging structure could not handle the technology of the ’90s, meet ADA standards, or provide sufficient services to a growing community. A planning committee began fundraising efforts for a new renovation and expansion project which would increase floor space to approximately 65,000 square feet

Throughout February and March of 1998, Library staff and volunteers moved approximately 60% of materials to a temporary facility on Northern Michigan University’s campus. The remaining materials went into storage during the next two and a half years of construction. The grand reopening was celebrated on October 22, 2000. The major benefactors for the project were Cleveland Cliffs Foundation, donations in Memory of William & Dorothy Tanner and Eugene & Evelyn Elzinga, The Frazier Fund, Inc., Members of the Huron Mountain Club, Violet V. Johnson, The L.G. Kaufman Endowment Fund, The W. K. Kellogg Foundation, The Kresge Foundation, The National Endowment for the Humanities, Phyllis M. Reynolds and her family-Joan Miller, Kate Muller, Frances Reynolds and Alice Reynolds, Shiras Institute Board of Trustees, plus Marquette area residents who believed that we all deserved a public Library built for the twenty-first century. 

PWPL 2nd floor
Current interior of 2nd floor.
Youth Area
Current interior of Youth Service Department.


Peter White Public Library of Marquette, Michigan won the 2010 National Medal for Museum and Library Service from The Institute of Museum and Library Service (IMLS).  IMLS selected five museums and five libraries across the country to receive the 2010 National Medal an honor for museums and libraries that make extraordinary civic, educational, economic, environmental, and social contributions. In addition to the National Medal, which was awarded to PWPL by First Lady Michelle Obama at a White House ceremony, PWPL received a $10,000 award and visit from Public Radio’s StoryCorps. 

In 2017, City of Marquette taxpayers approved a .5 mil bond to repair the failing foundation of the 1904 building, renovate the entire lower level for expanded youth services program space, provide additional private study space, replace flooring and update PWPL's technology infrastructure.

During the Covid-19 pandemic, the community was supported through the addition of curbside pick-up and virtual programming. Since then, PWPL has resumed pre-pandemic operations. 

Today, the Peter White Public Library is the largest public library in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Beyond the City of Marquette, the library also serves Chocolay, Ewing, Sands, Skandia, Turin, Wells, and West Branch Townships. During the Fiscal Year of 2022-2023 donors contributed over $526,000 to benefit the annual fund and endowment funds. In addition, the Friends of PWPL have raised a record-setting $50,438.09 through the used book sales. These contributions helped PWPL maintain and grow its collection to 196,398 items. 

About Peter White

Bust of Peter White
Bust of Peter White. Located in the Circulation Lobby

Peter Quintard White was born on October 31, 1830 in Rome, New York to Dr. Stephen and Harriett Tubbs White. Although educated as an Episcopal clergyman, Stephen worked as an innkeeper and later as a book dealer. Shortly thereafter, the family and their new stepmother moved to Green Bay, Wisconsin. White attended school until he left home at age fourteen to work schooners on the Great Lakes.

After working his way north, White landed a job as a store clerk on Mackinac Island. He earned $24 a month for two years until Robert J. Graveraet asked him to join a small party to establish the Marquette Iron Company. They set out by steamer to Sault Ste. Marie, acquired supplies and barges and followed Lake Superior's southern edge for eight days until they reached the waterfront town that would become Marquette.

Peter White in Marquette

Peter White was eighteen when the Graveraet party made landfall in the spring of 1849. They spent the first night with Chippewa Chief Charley  Kawbawgam in his home. A natural at languages, White began learning Chippewa, French, and German. Starting in 1850, following the establishment of the Marquette Iron Company, White worked as clerk of the company store. The company folded a few years later, and White opened his own store in 1854. Around this time, he was also appointed as the Carp River Postmaster, delivering mail for Marquette County’s quickly expanding mining settlements.

Throughout his life, Peter White remained dedicated to the development of Marquette. With the help of Philo Everett, he worked to form a separate diocese of the Episcopal Church in the Upper Peninsula. White served as Marquette’s Park and Cemetery Commissioner for over 40 years. In 1875, he was elected to the state Senate, and in that capacity wrote legislation gifting Presque Isle to the City of Marquette. He personally sponsored a road through the island’s swampy ground and donated enough funds to maintain the park for its first five years. White held public service positions until his death, with his last appointment being to the State Board of Library Commissioners.

White married Ellen Sophia Hewitt, daughter of Dr. Morgan L. Hewitt on Sep 27, 1857. They had six children: Mary, Frances, Morgan, Sadie, Kirkland, and Mark. In 1878, their three youngest children succumbed to diphtheria, and their son Morgan passed away at the age of twelve. Following this death, White sponsored construction of the Morgan Memorial Chapel in St. Paul’s Episcopal Church. The chapel’s stained-glass windows, made by the Tiffany Glass Co., honor White’s other children.

His eldest daughter, Mary, married Alfred O. Jopling, a mining man, in 1881. After presenting the Whites with two grandchildren, Mary died in 1896. His second daughter, Frances, married George Shiras III, a world-renowned photographer and environmentalist, in 1885.

Ellen White died in August of 1905. Peter White followed three years later, on June 6, 1908, while on a business trip in Detroit.

Fun Facts

  • Involved in the making of the first plank road from Negaunee to Marquette. Later converted to strap railroad.
  • Won his first election in 1851 as Marquette County’s first Register of Deeds.
  • First Postmaster to use dogsleds to deliver mail during the winter in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. He held Carp River/Marquette postal position for 12 years.
  • Wrote first bill of lading for first shipment of 7 barrels of ore to leave the Northern Peninsula for B.L. Webb of Detroit.
  • First customs officer of Marquette office in 1857. Also Registrar at U.S. Land Office.
  • Formed first bank in Marquette. Incorporated the First National Bank of Michigan in 1863.
  • Member of first school board. Remained member for 50+ years.
  • Member of committee for naming Negaunee (means Pioneer in the Chippewa language) and Ishpeming (means Heaven).
Library Founder, Peter White

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