Michigan Legal Milestones
32. Prentiss M. Brown
Prentiss Marsh Brown, a St. Ignace lawyer, is best remembered as the "father of the Mackinac Bridge." He was appointed chair of the Mackinac Bridge Authority in 1950 and remained so until his death in 1973. Through his leadership, financing and building plans began to take shape. The bridge was completed in 1957 at a cost of just under $100 million. Unveiled September 28, 2007, at the 2007 SBM Annual Meeting. Permanently placed November 1, 2007, at Bridge View Park in St. Ignace as part of the Mackinac Bridge's 50th anniversary celebration.
Michigan Bar Journal
A Mackinac Milestone: Visionary Prentiss Brown to be Honored at 32nd Michigan Legal Milestone
Complete Text on Milestone Marker
Michigan Lawyer, Mackinac Visionary
Prentiss Marsh Brown dreamed of what it would take to bridge the Mackinac Straits. He grew up in St. Ignace at the dawn of the 20th century and often gazed south across the Straits, a daunting stretch of cold, deep water. He could not know then that despite a life of achievement placing him among Michigan's most distinguished citizens, he would best be remembered as "the Father of the Mackinac Bridge."
Brown, who was admitted to the State Bar of Michigan in 1914, served as prosecuting attorney of Mackinac County for 12 years. During that time, he missed an argument before the Michigan Supreme Court, his efforts to reach Lansing stymied by the Straits of Mackinac's winter ice. He later recalled, "That bitter hike across the Straits made a lasting impression on me—for the need of a bridge across the Straits."
Known for his financial expertise, Brown served as director of the Office of Price Administration under President Franklin Roosevelt, having drafted the legislation for the office while a member of the U.S. Senate from 1936 to 1943. In 1950, he was appointed chair of the Mackinac Bridge Authority and through his leadership, financing and building plans began to take shape. Accepting no pay, he and his colleagues overcame many financing obstacles, eventually funding the bridge's construction through the sale of revenue bonds.
The Mackinac Bridge is rightly hailed as an engineering marvel, but the work of Prentiss Brown in overcoming legal obstacles and arranging financing is no less significant. Prentiss Brown remained chair of the Mackinac Bridge Authority until his death in 1973. He is interred in St. Ignace's Lakeside Cemetery on the shores of the straits he dreamed of bridging.
Placed by the State Bar of Michigan, the Emmet-Charlevoix Bar Association, the Cheboygan County Bar Association, and the 50th Judicial Circuit Bar Association, 2007.