When copper was king in the U.P.

In the far background, the Eagle River Light Station sits on a bluff overlooking the river and offers stunning river view. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
In the far background, the Eagle River Light Station sits on a bluff overlooking the river and offers stunning river view. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
Shrine of Bishop Baraga. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
Shrine of Bishop Baraga. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
Built in 1908, the Laurium Manor Inn was the most opulent of all the mansions built on the Keweenaw during the heady copper days. It  has been lovingly restored by its owners into a bed and breakfast with a luxurious period decor that includes dining room walls  covered with elephant skin and gold leaf. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
Built in 1908, the Laurium Manor Inn was the most opulent of all the mansions built on the Keweenaw during the heady copper days. It has been lovingly restored by its owners into a bed and breakfast with a luxurious period decor that includes dining room walls covered with elephant skin and gold leaf. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
This large sheet of native copper is on display at Houghton’s the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum, which also features copper rocks of all shapes and sizes as well as other minerals.  (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
This large sheet of native copper is on display at Houghton’s the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum, which also features copper rocks of all shapes and sizes as well as other minerals. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
In historic Calumet, home of the once-mighty Calumet and Hecla Mine, we did a walking tour around town with interpreters to see the old churches, red brick buildings, an opera house and a bank. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
In historic Calumet, home of the once-mighty Calumet and Hecla Mine, we did a walking tour around town with interpreters to see the old churches, red brick buildings, an opera house and a bank. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
At the Jampot store, the bearded Father Basil showed us the mouth-watering array of jams and jellies made from locally-picked wild thimbleberries and raspberries.  (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
At the Jampot store, the bearded Father Basil showed us the mouth-watering array of organic or all-natural breads, cookies, candies and fruitcakes. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
Visitors take a small tram car down the side of a  mountain and into the old Quincy copper mine, located in the Keweenaw National Historical Park near Hancock. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)
Visitors take a small tram car down the side of a mountain and into the old Quincy copper mine, located in the Keweenaw National Historical Park near Hancock. (Pamela O’Meara/Review)

It's beautiful country, steeped in history and a half-day drive away

While the winters may be extreme, Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula is beautiful year-round. Its hilly terrain is covered by hardwood and conifer trees; scenic waterfalls mark its rivers, and it boasts of miles of shoreline and many inland lakes. Wherever you are on the peninsula, you’re never more than 10 miles from Lake Superior. It’s a haven for people who enjoy nature and outdoor activities – no matter what the season.

Historically, the sparsely populated northwestern section of MichiganWs Upper Peninsula was known as Copper Country because in the 1860s it produced 90 percent of the nationss copper.  The peak period of the once-prosperous mines was from 1890 to 1920, and the last area mine closed in the late 1960s.

Copper has long been a valuable commodity. Five thousand years earlier, native people had also mined copper in the peninsula. The veins they found close to the surface supported their own copper economy as they used it for tools and decorations and in trade for items from far away. Today, copper is used in electronics and all aspects of our everyday lives.

The Keweenaw Peninsula is about a half-day drive from the Twin Cities through the rolling hills, small towns and forests of northern Wisconsin. Visitors like me who want to learn how copper once was mined can don a bright yellow hard hat and a heavy yellow rain slicker — it’s cold underground — and travel by tram down the side of a mountain to the old Quincy copper mine, located in the Keweenaw National Historical Park near Hancock.  lnside a dimly lighted tunnel, a tractor-pulled wagon carried us half a mile into the mountain to see turn-of-the-20th-century mining equipment.

Mining was cold, dark, dirty work; the miners were also well-aware of the fact there were millions of tons of earth and rock over their heads and no feasible escape if it caved in. The “air blasts” that rumbled up from shifting earth and rock in the deepest shafts — Quincy’s No. 2 mine shaft was over two miles deep — and shook the tunnels terrified the men. They protested when the mines went from three- to two- to one-person drills and they were all alone.

But the shareholders and owners did well. Just check out the Laurium Manor Inn, listed on the National Register of Historic Places to see how one owner prospered. Copper baron Thomas Hoatson Jr., the primary owner of the Calumet and Hecla Mining Co. (later Calumet and Arizona) spared no expense to build this 45-room mansion for his wife and six children.

Start of the Copper Rush

In 1841 MichiganIs state geologist Douglass Houghton reported finding large copper deposits lying on the surface in the U.P. In 1842, for a relatively small sum of money, the Ojibwe Indians then living there were talked into ceding their claims to 30,000 square miles of the Upper Peninsula, and the Copper Rush began. The first boom was in the town of Copper Harbor, reachable only by water. Soon, boom towns sprang up all over the U.P. as prospectors rushed in. Sometimes masses of copper up to hundreds of tons were found and had to be chiseled apart to recover the precious metal. In a few years, Michigan became the nationIs leading copper producer, providing more than three-fourths of the copper in the nation. Owners and shareholders made millions before the Depression brought mining to a halt.

Historic Calumet

To draw and keep good miners, Calumet was developed as a company town with pleasant living conditions: sturdy homes, schools, churches, a bathhouse, a hospital and a library stocked with reading material in 20 different languages to appeal to the flood of immigrants following the copper rush.

But all wasn’t perfect between management and the copper miners, who went on a strike to protest harsh working conditions. It ended in disaster. Striking miners and their families were attending a Christmas party in the Italian Hall. Someone yelled “Fire!” though there was none. Panicked people rushed down a narrow stairway, but were unable to open the doors at the bottom. The crush left about 73 dead and made headlines across the country. The tragedy was memorialized in Woody Guthrie’s song, “1913 Massacre.” We silently observed the memorial.

Copper Country today

Today the town of Calumet, once home to the mighty Calumet and Hecla Mine, the world’s leading copper producer from 1869 to 1876, is part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park, which was established to preserve the copper story in the U.P. We took a walking tour around town with interpreters to see the old churches, red brick buildings, an opera house and bank. The beautiful St. Paul the Apostle Catholic Church was built in 1908 and has windows painted to look like stained glass.

The once bustling old mining towns are quieter but reinventing themselves for a new boom in tourism.

 In Copper Harbor, friends and I had a little time to browse around town. I stopped in the Laughing Loon gift shop for souvenirs and got a collection of glowing copper necklaces and earrings to give as gifts. We also drove up to the hills overlooking some former mines for lunch at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge and then stopped at Fort Wilkins Historic State Park. The fort was established as an Army post to keep law and order on land and keep shipping lanes open on the lake during the Copper Rush, but it closed just two years later. We wandered in and out of the historic buildings and talked to costumed interpreters about life at the fort.

Then we stopped at the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum on the campus of Michigan Technological University in Houghton to marvel at the nationally-noted displays of copper rocks of all shapes and sizes as well as other minerals. Director Ted Bornhorst pointed out the many gems of the collection and shared some local copper lore.

In the Shelden Grill we dined on tender whitefish while looking out at the ruins of the old Quincy smelting operation and the lift bridge that connects Houghton to Hancock.

For our the last night in the U.P., we dined at Michigan House Cafe & Red Jacket Brewing Co. in one of Calumet’s old restored buildings. Dinner included local grilled trout and Red Jacket beer. It was a good place to sit back and reflect on the beauty of the Keweenaw Peninsula and the history we learned on our tour of Copper Country before heading home.

Pamela O’Meara can be reached at 651-748-7818 or pomeara@lillienews.com.


Shrine of Bishop Baraga

Just north of L’Anse is the shrine of Catholic Bishop Frederic Baraga, first bishop of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, who’s fondly known as the Snowshoe Priest for his long treks through the frigid, untracked wilderness on snowshoes to minister to his people. The 35-foot bronze statue of Baraga rises about 60 feet above a bluff on Keweenaw Bay and has a wide lawn where visitors may picnic. Baraga founded five missions along the south shore of Lake Superior after leaving his upper-class life in his native Slovenia in 1830; he served the native population and mining towns via canoe and snowshoes into his 60s.
It’s said that Baraga’s territory encompassed the entirety of the upper Great Lakes, some 800,000 square miles. A stone cross is located at Schroeder, Minnesota, where Bishop Baraga and his guide had once erected a wooden one. During one of his many trips to areas of both Michigan peninsulas, Wisconsin and Minnesota — this time, reportedly, to investigate reports of an epidemic in an Ojibwe village — he had encountered dangerous weather on Lake Superior and was thankful to have been washed up on shore safely.


If you are in the area, check out these offbeat places.

Jampot Bakery
Just a few miles south of Eagle Harbor on State Highway 26, which travels along the western shore of the peninsula, is the Jampot Bakery. Seeking a place away from the pressures of modern life in Chicago in the 1980s, the leaders of a Ukrainian Catholic monastery found it on a shoreline site overlooking Lake Superior and scenic Jacob’s Falls. Next, they set out to find a way to support themselves. At the Jampot store, the bearded Father Basil showed us the mouth-watering array of jams and jellies made from locally-picked wild thimbleberries and raspberries. The shop also sells organic or all-natural breads, cookies, candies and fruitcakes, and we had a hard time deciding what to buy to take home. Products are also available from the Jampot’s website.
 

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