From Iron Ore to Copper Ore – The Natural Resources Changed on the Keweenaw Peninsula


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North America » United States » Michigan » Hancock
June 23rd 2015
Published: August 4th 2015
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The drive from Tourist Park Campground in Marquette MI to the City of Hancock Recreational Area in Hancock MI on Wednesday, June 17, 2015 took about two hours and was totally uneventful. The space I was assigned in the RV park was adequate, but the road was narrow and tree-lined which made backing into the space a challenge. I selected the Hancock/Houghton area because of its midpoint on the Keweenaw Peninsula. In contrast to Marquette MI, whose economy was based on iron ore, the economy and history of the Keweenaw Peninsula are based on copper ore.

The Keweenaw National Historical Park in Calumet MI is unlike most national parks in that it “was established to preserve and interpret the story of the rise, domination and decline of the region’s copper mining industry” and partners with sites owned and operated by state and local governments, private businesses and nonprofit organizations to achieve its goal. The 21 heritage sites, which stretch from Ontonagon MI to the eastern tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula at Copper Harbor MI, operate independently of the National Park Service; and, therefore, the operational dates, hours and admission fees vary.

Although copper mining originated thousands of years earlier, copper mining in Michigan's Upper Peninsula (UP) boomed in the 19th century, and the UP was the nation's leading producer of copper from 1845 until 1887. Indeed, in 1869, it produced more than 95%!o(MISSING)f the country's copper; however, by 1887, the copper production of one mine in Montana exceeded the production in all of Michigan. Those mining operations attracted experienced hard rock miners as well as those willing to work and to learn. After the Civil War and into the early 1900s, tens of thousands of immigrants arrived in the Keweenaw and cities like Red Jacket (now Calumet) soon urbanized. As the industry grew so did the need for educated mining professionals and, thus, to the 1885 founding of the Michigan Mining School (now Michigan Technological University) in Houghton.

Many wealthy mine managers built mansions which still line the streets of former mining towns like Calumet, Houghton, Hancock and Ontonagon. As the mines began to close and the area lost its major economic base; miners, mining supply houses, shop owners and others supported by the industry left the area and the population declined sharply. The industry left many abandoned mines and buildings across Copper Country. Some mines, such as the Adventure
This Sign From First National Bank Of Calumet Dates To c. 1885This Sign From First National Bank Of Calumet Dates To c. 1885This Sign From First National Bank Of Calumet Dates To c. 1885

Keweenaw National Historical Park - Calumet MI
Mine, the Quincy Mine, and the Delaware Mine, are now part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park and are open as tourist attractions. Many other mines were simply abandoned. Tourism, education, and logging are now the major industries.

My first stop on Thursday, June 18, 2015 was at the Keweenaw National Historical Park’s Calumet Visitor Center in downtown Calumet which provides an excellent introduction to the history of the area and is, in my opinion, a requisite stop. The exhibits, in addition to copper mining, provide insight into the lives of those who came here seeking a better life. One of those exhibits relates the story of the Italian Hall Disaster, sometimes referred to as the 1913 Massacre. As the Keweenaw's mines probed deeper in the late 1800s, the ore quality decreased and the costs per ton increased. In response, the mining companies sought innovative ways to remain competitive. “Single-jacking” and “double-jacking” – two methods of hand drilling – had long vanished, and the invention of the one-man drill to replace the two-man drill in 1910 resulted in significant workforce reductions.

By 1913, the Calumet and Hecla (C&H) Mining Company had achieved dominance in the area, and Calumet had become a regional hub for the Keweenaw. The Western Federation of Miners (WFM) first established a local in the area in 1908, but it wasn't until 1913 that the WFM had a large enough membership to effectively strike. At the time, there were perhaps 15,000 men working in the mines and the WFM claimed 9,000 of them as members. The membership voted in favor of demanding union recognition from management, and asking for a conference with management to address its grievances. The membership also voted to declare a strike if management refused to grant the concessions or agree to a conference. After the vote was held, the WFM sent letters to the mines demanding the conference; but the mine managers refused its demand, and a strike was called on July 23, 1913.

The miners and the mines were still at a standoff at Christmas 1913 when the work stoppage was five months old. On Christmas Eve, over four hundred of the striking miners and their families had gathered on the second floor of Calumet's Italian Hall for a Christmas party sponsored by the WFM Ladies Auxiliary. A steep stairway was the only way to the second floor, and there was only one
The Exhibits Are Interesting And InformativeThe Exhibits Are Interesting And InformativeThe Exhibits Are Interesting And Informative

Keweenaw National Historical Park - Calumet MI
poorly-marked fire escape. The disaster began when someone falsely yelled, "Fire;" however, people still panicked and rushed for the stairs. In the ensuing melee, seventy-three people (including fifty-nine children) were killed. It is conjectured by some that the false alarm was called out by an anti-union ally of management in order to disrupt the party. The strike would not end until April 1914.

There were several investigations into the disaster. In the coroner's inquest, witnesses who did not speak English were forced to answer questions in English, and many persons who were called to testify had not even seen what had happened. After three days, the coroner issued a ruling that did not give a cause of death for any of the victims. Early in 1914, a subcommittee of the U.S. House of Representatives came to the Copper Country to investigate the strike, and took sworn testimony from witnesses for a full day on March 7, 1914. Twenty witnesses were offered interpreters and testified under oath. Eight witnesses swore that the man who first trumpeted the cry of "fire" was wearing a button on his coat touting Citizens' Alliance (or the "Alliance," a pro-management group). After the first wave
Snow Issues Had To Be Resolved Even In “The Good Old Days”Snow Issues Had To Be Resolved Even In “The Good Old Days”Snow Issues Had To Be Resolved Even In “The Good Old Days”

Keweenaw National Historical Park - Calumet MI
of grief had passed; bitterness against the company remained, but the indignation of many was directed toward Citizens' Alliance.

The Alliance insisted that the WFM president Charles Moyer publicly exonerate the Alliance of all fault in the tragedy. Moyer refused. Rather than provide such exoneration, Moyer announced that the Alliance was responsible for the catastrophe by claiming that an Alliance agent yelled the word “fire.” Members of the Alliance subsequently assaulted Moyer across the Portage Ship Canal in Hancock, then shot and kidnapped him. They placed him on a train with instructions to leave the state and never return. After getting medical attention in Chicago and holding a press conference where he displayed his gunshot wound, Moyer defiantly returned to the Keweenaw to continue his union activities. The tragedy was memorialized by Woody Guthrie in the song "1913 Massacre," which groundlessly claims that the doors were held shut on the outside by "the copper boss' thug men." The Italian Hall was demolished in October 1984, and only the archway remains; however, even the demolition was controversial and generated a movement to save Keweenaw history. The movement resulted in the creation of the Keweenaw National Historical Park.

After my stop at the visitor center, I headed east on US 41 toward the easternmost tip of the Peninsula. When the pavement ended, I turned around, made a short drive through Copper Harbor and headed westward on MI 26 to the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse and Museum. In addition to the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse, the museum complex includes a small commercial fishing museum, a small maritime museum and the small Keweenaw History Museum. The Eagle Harbor Life-Saving Museum was closed due to work on the roof.

I first encountered three very interesting, well-documented outdoor displays – two anchors and a bell buoy. My next stop was the Keweenaw History Museum which has a few interesting displays including a 1927 Chrysler and the story of what had once been a piece of cargo on the City of Bangor. The ship held a relatively light load of 248 new Chryslers, some of which were in the hold while others were on the exposed deck. As heavy seas washed over her deck, several of the automobiles were carried away by the sweeping waves. The Bangor finally ran aground on November 30, 1926 right off the tip of Keweenaw Point. The crew spent a bitterly cold night in the galley and in the deckhouse; and, in the morning, after the winds had subsided, they began to pick away at the ice-encrusted lines that secured the lifeboats. By afternoon all the men had made to shore.

In the isolated wilderness with poor clothing and no shelter, the men hunkered down for the night in the snow around a small fire. The next day, a motor-powered United States Coast Guard rescue lifeboat came around the point at full speed and at full capacity. It was already carrying the shipwrecked crew from the Thomas Maytham back to the lifesaving station at Eagle Harbor. The Thomas Maytham had wrecked at Point Isabelle, about 25 miles to the west. The tireless rescue lifeboat captain assured the City of Bangor crew he would return as soon as possible and that he would look for a bright fire to signal their location in the darkness. Encouraged, the crew set about making a fire bigger and hotter than before. True to his word, the Coast Guard rescue boat returned for the frostbitten, stranded sailors. Another furious storm blew through and ice stranded the rescue vessel. The crewmen as well as the Coast Guard rescuers were taken
A Picture Is Worth A Thousand WordsA Picture Is Worth A Thousand WordsA Picture Is Worth A Thousand Words

Eagle Harbor Lighthouse and Museum
from Copper Harbor by sleigh.

Over 200 cars remained aboard the ship, either encased in ice or deep within its holds. It took until February to chop all the ice free and open up the backroads. Finally, many of the cars were driven to Calumet where they were sold. Over the course of the next several months, however, the unsalvageable City of Bangor disintegrated and discharged its cargo into Lake Superior. Several Keweenaw residents claimed automobiles that washed up on shore, and, amazingly, ran and drove beautifully. And they all, including the crew, lived happily ever after. What a neat story!

The Kivela Boatworks Museum has some interesting displays but with documentation too distant for the average person to be able to read. The lighthouse keeper’s dwelling has a nice collection of commonplace artifacts; but, with a significant amount of justification, the displays tend to focus on the keepers that tended the lighthouse over the years. The information I found indicates the lighthouse tower is open for climbing; however, the tower was not open on the day of my visit. Perhaps staffing was the issue. At the end of the day, Eagle Harbor Lighthouse and Museums is a
Victoria Reservoir Is Remote But InvitingVictoria Reservoir Is Remote But InvitingVictoria Reservoir Is Remote But Inviting

Victoria Dam and Reservoir - Rockland MI
worthy stop while on a mandatory drive along Lake Superior’s north shore.

Friday, June 19, 2015 found me setting out on a scenic drive to Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park which is home to, according to one web site, over 90 waterfalls. Most of the waterfalls are located in, ta-dah, wilderness areas and accessible only via long and/or strenuous hikes; however, I had been told (and Rand McNally agrees) the drive itself is worthwhile. It is. My first stop was Old Victoria in Rockland MI. I knew the opening time was well after my arrival; but, after all, this was a scenic, leisurely drive and I wanted to get an overview of the attraction. Although Old Victoria is remote and has but a few buildings, the attraction maintains daily hours from June through September which leads me to believe there is a brisk business and, therefore, something worthwhile behind those locked doors! Perhaps, a hidden jewel???

Old Victoria was a nice stop on my way to Victoria Dam and Reservoir, also in Rockland MI. I was unaware of the attraction until roadway signage enlightened me. A few scenic miles past Old Victoria, I discovered a nice lake in a tranquil setting that looks
What A Great VistaWhat A Great VistaWhat A Great Vista

Lake Of The Clouds – Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park MI
like it might be a fisherman’s well-kept secret. I decided to get breakfast in Ontonagon MI since the next several hours didn’t offer many opportunities to refuel the body. I passed through Silver City MI (I had lived in Silver City NM from 1998 until I started The Great Adventure in 2010) and, eventually, reached the end of the highway and Lake of the Clouds. A short walk led me to a vantage point overlooking the picturesque lake. On my return trip, I spotted signage directing me to Presque Isle River Waterfalls many miles from, but with an address of, Ontonagon MI.

Presque Isle River has a series of waterfalls at the westernmost edge of Porcupine Mountains Wilderness State Park – Iagoo Falls, Nawadaha Falls, Manido Falls and Manabezho Falls. The river itself is treacherous, as one would expect with a series of falls within close proximity; however, authorities have fashioned stairs and walkways that make the trip to the attraction, although not A.D.A. compliant, relatively easy. I had a longer scenic route planned for the return to Hancock but had had as much fun for one day as one man deserves and opted to let Irene (my G.P.S.) guide me home on the route of her choosing.

Sunday, June 21, 2015 found me heading for the Quincy Mine & Hoist right out my back door in Hancock. The Quincy Mine was founded in 1846 by the merger of the Northwest Mining Company and the Portage Mining Company. Due to poor communication between government offices, these two speculative mining companies had purchased the same tracts of land during the mining rush of the early 1840s. The directors met and decided to merge. Significant investment came from Massachusetts, and, indeed, the town of Quincy MA lent its name to the mine. Many other copper mines were founded in the same era, but the Quincy Mine became the most successful and was the country's leading copper-producing mine from 1863 through 1867 (after which it was exceeded by the Calumet and Hecla). The Quincy Mine became known as "Old Reliable," because dividends were paid to investors every year from 1868 through 1920.

After its closing, its shafts and stopes slowly filled with groundwater. The groundwater has currently filled up to the seventh level and, therefore, has made all lower levels inaccessible. The seventh level, which is the mine tour entrance level, is drained by a large adit. The adit was originally five feet high and three feet wide when it was constructed in 1892 but was enlarged by Michigan Tech in the 1970s. All tours include a visit to the museum, a video-tour of the No. 2 Shaft-Rock House and a guided tour of the Nordberg steam-powered hoist engine and its building. Beyond that, two tour options are available. Both include a ride on the Cog-Rail Tram car and either a) include or b) exclude the underground mine tour. Of course, I opted for the full tour. The full tour takes about 1-½ - 2 hours.

I began my visit by entering the No. 2 Shaft-Rock House and watching an intriguing video of the operations in the rock house back in the day. Miners filed onto the man car and descended through the shaft and into the bowels of the mine. As I was trying to find video of the man car in operation, I found a web site that has lots of additional photos and limited verbiage about the Quincy Mine. I headed to the Old No. 2 Hoist House where I was issued a helmet and a light jacket. We rode the Cog-Rail Tram
The Exterior Of The Mansion Is MajesticThe Exterior Of The Mansion Is MajesticThe Exterior Of The Mansion Is Majestic

Laurium Manor Inn - Laurium MI
car for the trip down the hill where we were met by a tractor-pulled wagon which transported us into the depths of Level 7 of the Quincy Mine. After an awesome tour of the mine, we returned to the tram car and the hoist house where a docent was waiting to begin our tour of the No. 2 Hoist House and the Nordberg steam-powered hoist engine. The entire experience was well worth the time and the expense for those who want to feel the pulse of the community.

I next headed to the Laurium Manor Inn in Laurium MI. The four-floor, 45-room, 13,000-square foot mansion was built in 1908 (at a time when miners were making 25 cents per hour) for Thomas H. & Cornelia Hoatson, owner of Calumet & Arizona Mining Company at a cost of $50,000 and then added $35,000 of furnishings. The Hoatson family owned the home until 1949. From 1949-1979 it was owned by Maynard & Jane Hurlburt. After the Hurlburt's ownership, it went through a period of vacancy with owners that stripped the mansion of light fixtures, furniture and stained glass windows. In 1989, Julie & Dave Sprenger purchased the vacant mansion and began the repairs and restoration needed to open it as the Laurium Manor Inn. Since then, they have continued to revert the mansion back into its 1908 splendor.

In spite of having paid an admission fee, I felt like an intruder from the moment I entered. Guests were dining and having conversation in the public areas. In spite of having been told that all unoccupied guest rooms had the doors open, I hesitated as I entered. The attraction is beautiful and pretentious with gilded and embossed elephant leather wall coverings in the dining room, a silver leaf covered domed ceiling in the music parlor, a grand triple stair case made of hand carved oak, a 9x14 foot stained glass window on the main stairway landing, a hand-painted landscape mural above a gilded tile fireplace in the den, 10 guest bedrooms (some over 500 square feet) and several other ostentatious appointments emphasizing the wealth of the Hoatsons. It just felt weird! I have stayed in several bed and breakfasts but don’t remember ever having visited a bed and breakfast and probably will not do so in the future.

My final stop of the day and of my 2015 stay in Michigan was at the Sand Hills Lighthouse in Ahmeek MI. I knew beforehand that the lighthouse had been converted to a bed and breakfast and that the grounds were open to the public but that the keepers dwelling and the tower were not; however, I was up for a scenic drive and set out on the short trip anyway.

There are a number of sites that have partnered with the Keweenaw National Historical Park which I did not visit for any of a variety of reasons. Even so, I had a great time on the Keweenaw Peninsula and hope to return during the peak tourist season when more of the attractions and businesses are open. The lakeside villages are quaint and inviting. As much as I am not a shopper, I am a stroller and a people-watcher. Sounds like fun to me.


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6th August 2015

Columet to Silver City
A fine account of some fascinating history in Michigan. Columet provided more than one immigrant to Silver City, NM. They knew copper and hated the cold.
6th August 2015

Thanks Tom
As always, good to hear from you.

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