Where Stamp Mills Roam

Getting the copper out from the underground is only the first step in the copper production process. The copper that leaves the mine is encased in a tomb of igneous rock, which needs to be removed. This process is carried out at the stamp mill. Copper rock removed from mines was shipped to numerous stamp mills scattered across the Keweenaw. Each mine would have it’s own stamp mill, such as the Mohawk Mill at Gay.

the quincy mill site on torch lake (courtesy HAER, Library of Congress)

These mills couldn’t just be built anywhere. If they could, most mines would have saved some money and built them next to their mines. However, stamp mills needed two things that a mine site could not provide. First, stamp mills needed water and lots of it. Second, stamp mills needed a place to dump the large amount of waste they created – known as stamp sand. In the case of the Keweenaw, this meant only one thing. Stamp mills had to be built on large bodies of water.

When mines were small and production was low, mines could afford to build small stamp mills on lakes or rivers. Mine companies dammed up rivers to create artificial lakes to fill their water needs, like at Boston or Redridge. They then dumped the waste in the surrounding forest or swamp, like they did at Copper Falls. But soon these small facilities could no longer meet the demands of large production mines, the places to dump stamp sand were becoming harder to come by. It was time for larger bodies of water… much larger.

a typical stamp mill ruin at freda

This is why most stamp mills in the copper country are found in one of two places. The first is along the shores of Torch Lake. This lake was the perfect fit fore companies like C&H and Quincy, for the very deep waters of the lake (100 ft or more in places) provided plenty of room for these companies substantial stamp sand production. The second preferred spot is along Lake Superior itself, as the Mohawk mine elected to place their facility. Not only is the storage capacity for stamp sand unending, the lake would facilitate the removal of the sands by washing them away naturally. (or so you would think) In the end, over fifteen of these facilities would be built along the Keweenaw shores. They would process over 8 billion pounds of copper and deposit in Torch Lake alone over 200 million tons of stamp sand. (Filling approximately 20% of the lakes volume)

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  1. Have you given any thought to the idea of using a GPSr and posting the coordinates for some of the more difficult to find sight?

  2. The last word in my last post should be sights not sight!

    There is a freeware program, USAPhotomaps, available from the web sight jdmcox.com, which allows you locate places using zip codes. Once you get to the desired area the program will download a high quality aerial photo of your area of interest. Once you have the photo you can create waypoints for your points of interest. There are other features available in this program. This program is very easy to use.

  3. David – there was a time long ago when I first started up this site that I had included very detailed instructions on how to find these places (your idea of posting GPS coordinates would be the logical next step) so that others could see in person what we do every day. Since then, however, I have taken these descriptions off and instead reverted to generalities. The reason is simply one of liability. Most of these ruin sites are dangerous, and some of them may or may not be on private property. Although I encourage my readers to go out and explore the Copper Country for themselves (by all means), I don’t want to lead them to places they shouldn’t be. If people got hurt, or ended up trespassing while following my directions to these sites, I might be held responsible. That is why I am purposely vague in my descriptions on where these place are.

    As for how I find these places, it is mostly trial and error. Microsoft runs a map site called Terraserver USA, which has great arial images of the entire Keweenaw. Using these I can usually find large ruins (and especially poor rock piles) rather effortlessly. After that we just take a walk through the woods to see what we can find.

    Thanks for the suggestion though…

  4. I understand your reasoning completely in just giving general locations of the sights.

    Have you had a chance to photograph the one remaining, as far as I know, steam stamp that is located at the remains of the Ahmeek Stamp mill? The base the stamp was on is 50 ft above lake level. “The block is in the shape of a truncated pyramid 40 ft square at the base and 38 feet high. This block rests on a slab of concrete 4 ft 6 in thick. A mile of steel is embedded in each mortar block and slab, uniting them throughly.” I think a picture of this would give people an idea of the size of some the structure that were built here. The stamp mill itself was 218×190 feet. At its highest point it was 122 feet above lake level. There is an article in the October 19th 1912 issue of “The Engineering and Mining Journal”. It begins on page 749.

  5. David – I know exactly the stamp you refer to. In fact I lived in its shadow for a year during my brief stay in Tamarack City. I’m amazed it still stands after all these years. (why they took the rest of the stamps but not that one is a mystery). I use to walk up to the top of the old railroad approach across the street from it and try to picture the towering trestle that once crossed over to the mill. I was always amazed that such a towering structure was built there (122 feet!).

    Unfortunately I hadn’t got around to it this last summer, but now that you have brought up such nice memories, I think we’re going to take a trip soon. Stay tuned!