Location: Calumet, Michigan
Webpage: National Park
General Description: The Keweenaw Peninsula is rich in history centered around the hundreds of copper mines that represent the first mining boom and bust period in the United States. For thousands of years, the Native Americans had been harvesting copper from the peninsula to make copper tools and ornaments. Primarily this took advantage of the “float copper” which are nearly pure chunks of copper exposed by the glaciers and shallow pits. Michigan became a state in 1837 and the upper peninsula was extended to include the Keweenaw Peninsula in 1842 with the signing of the Treaty of La Pointe that ceded mineral rights to the United States. in 1840, the state geologist, Douglas Houghton, publishes a report on the upper peninsula that include the copper rich deposit on the Keweenah. A land rush soon developed with rich Boston investors seeking to cash in on the riches. In 1843, the federal government opens a mineral land agency office in Copper Harbor and Fort Wilkins is constructed there to protect the miners in 1844. Also in 1844, the Pittsburgh and Boston Mining Company begins mining near Copper Harbor, but was abandoned in 1845 never turning a profit. This was the same story told over and over again on the Keweenah for the next forty years. From 1845 to 1887 mines on the Keweenah produced nearly 75% of the nation’s copper. The first successful mine was the Cliff Mine near Eagle Harbor returning over $2 million to its investors. Progressing from pits 100 feet deep, mining along the shore centered on following exposed copper fissures. In the 1850s, mining shifted inland along the center of the peninsula where stratiform deposits, although lower grade, could be more efficiently mined and processed. The most successful of these mines were the Calumet and Hecla at Calumet and Quincy mine at Hancock. Annual production from the Keweenah peaked in 1916 at 121,000 tons. Most mines closed during the Great Depression but many reopened during World War II due to high copper prices. However, following the war all but three of the hundreds of mines on the peninsula closed for good and these were more dependent on reprocessing sand leavings then mining new ore deposits. By 1968 copper mining on the Keweenah was over having produced over 5 million metric tons of copper. The mining industry also had a huge social and economic impact on the region. Most of the mining itself was done by immigrants beginning with Cornish with mining experience and Irish immigrants to provide the labor. Successive waves of immigrants brought new workers from all over Europe, each bringing their own culture and religion. At one time there were more than 40 languages spoken in Calumet alone. Often each immigrant wave would move into its own enclave with their own commercial district, schools, and churches. Thus today you find a string of small communities with ethnic names strung out along the main copper vein as the companies would open new shafts along the vein. Many of these communities are now gone as the residents sought work in western mines or the auto industry growing in Detroit. Most of those that are left are of Scandinavian descent since many of these families eventually bought small farms to escape the mines. Today these hardy people still are struggling to make a living in this harsh environment with brutal winters, short growing seasons, and soils more conducive to growing trees then crops. The Keweenah National Historical Park was created in 1992 to preserve this rich history and is primarily a joint effort with private, local, and state organizations throughout the Keweenah Peninsula. There are two primary units, the Calumet and Quincy Units. The NPS operates the Calumet Visitor Center in downtown Calumet and the Quincy Mine tours outside Hancock.
1) Although the NPS only owns about 1700 acres, the collaboration with private and public organizations makes the Historical Parks huge, covering the entire Keweenah Peninsula. There are over 20 National Heritage Sites that are open to the public. The best place to start is the Calumet Visitor Center which is an excellent museum about the entire history of copper mining boom and bust. They have a very good movie about the history of the area and many interesting exhibits about the mining industry and how its changed over the years. There are also exhibits about the mixture of cultures from the multiple waves of immigrants over the years and how they worked to create a sense of community in their new country. We especially enjoyed talking with the Ranger who pulled out a map of Calumet showing the various ethnic communities that grew up as new mine shafts were dug in order to follow the copper veins, each with its own town center, schools, and churches. By 1900, the Calumet Township had a population of over 25,000 with over 50 churches of every denomination tailored to their individual ethnicity. The Calumet and Hecla Mining Company provided cheap housing, schools, libraries, land and material for churches, and doctor services that included modern conveniences such as power and plumbing as soon as it became available. The miners worked long hours 6 days a week for minimal pay as the company had an endless supply of new immigrants looking for work to draw from. The peninsula wide Copper Country Strike of 1912-1913 began the decline of the region as workers began leaving to find better paying jobs elsewhere.
2) While in a week we could not visit all the Heritage Sites, we did drive up the coast to Eagle Harbor Lighthouse at Eagle Harbor. This natural harbor was the site of the first successful copper mine on the Keweenah, the Cliff Mine. Eagle Harbor was established to provide for the miners and a lighthouse was built to guide ships into the harbor. While you cannot ascend to the top of the lighthouse, the lower floors where the lighthouse master lived is open to the public. There are also exhibits providing stories of the wrecks and heroic efforts of the Life-Saving Service.
3) In your exploration of the peninsula be sure to drive up to the top of Brockway Mountain. This is a very scenic drive between Eagle Harbor and Copper Harbor and at the top you get a GREAT panoramic views of Lake Superior and Copper Harbor.
4) The mine tour at the Quincy Mine is a must see. The tour begins with a short surface tour of the Nordberg Steam Hoist, the largest steam power hoist ever built. It is essentially a huge drum that would raise and lower the cable in the mine shaft. The main part of the tour, however, is the tour of the 7th level of the mine. Since the mine eventually extended nearly 2 miles down, this level represents some of the oldest part of the mine where work was essentially done with 3 man crews using hammers and iron spikes. The remainder of the mine is today full of water, which was a constant problem for the miners and was the main reason for a 6 day work week as Sunday was spent hauling water out of the mines. To deal with this problem, they dug a shaft out the side of the hill at level 7 to drain the water and it is this entrance that is used for the tour. A cogwheel tram has been built to transport visitors from the shaft to this entrance and an electric tram is used to carry you 2,000 feet into the mine. They have a number of exhibits set up to demonstrate the mining techniques with history given by the tour guide, although I am certain it looked a lot different to the miners using only candles for illumination instead of the electric lights. The entire tour takes two hours and was well worth it. On site they also have a restored miners house and the upper part of mine shaft 2 open to the public with some nice exhibits.