Hoist Building Lineage

Through our explorations in the Copper Country, we have noticed various trends in mining technology, infrastructure, and building techniques. We have also noticed how these trends evolve over the years, shaping the ruins we find on our travels. The Gratiot Hoist Building is the apogee of hoist building design, and it’s lineage can be traced back to the earliest mine ruins we have discovered. Following this line says interesting things about mine technology and construction techniques over the years.

an early hoist building foundation

At the beginning, hoist buildings (or engine houses as they were called) were crude affairs. Then mines were only able to afford one hoisting engine, and a series of pulleys and cables transferred its power to multiple shafts. The building was often built out of wood, and the engine itself supported by masonry foundations.

Later, by the time the Osceola matured, the hoist building had been slightly refined. While the foundation walls were still built out of poor rock, pedestals made from brick now supported the engines. Now each shaft would sport its own hoist and hoist building, making their presence more prevalent across old mine sites.

a hoist building at the top of it’s form

As the mines deepened, and mine companies became more profitable, the hoist buildings would undergo another transformation. The hoist had to become more powerful and larger to support these new shaft depths, creating the need for even large buildings to house them. The brick machine pedestals had to be replaced by expansive poured concrete foundations. The poor rock walls became more refined and architecturally pleasing, now rising high up to the roof replacing the early wood walls that graced the buildings.

a modern hoist building similar to the Gratiot Mine Hoist building

Soon the price of copper fell, the depression hit, and times become tough. The mine companies had to cut the fat to survive, and one of the casualties was the hoist and hoist building. Smaller electric hoists replaced large, high-maintenance steam engines. In turn, the buildings that housed them became strictly functional, underlying the uncertainty of the mine’s very existence. Metal framed and sheathed buildings replaced large masonry walls. This is where the Gratiot Mine comes in – the low point of copper country industrial design.

What is left of the hoist building is only the concrete foundation on which the hoist sat. Scrap hunters at some point have long removed the walls and roof, probably in the recent past. The hoist itself, and any machinery in the building was also ripped out – creating large holes and damage to the structure. The ugliness of simplistic and functional design becomes stripped of its cosmetic façade – leaving only a concrete form in its place. This is the end result of design governed by function over form. Then end result of copper mining industrial design.

One comment

  1. In the copper country, however, it was actually more expensive to build hoist and shaft buildings out of metal instead of wood. Metal required materials to be shipped in from elsewhere, and mine companies often had to hire outside their own crews to get the expertise needed for such jobs. The decision to move to steel was more one of fire danger and high maintenance, both of which are greatly increased with a wood or masonry structure.

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