Valley of the Mines

overlooking the Allouez gap from the vantage point of a North Kearsarge poor rock pile, the Cliff range is seen in the distance

One of the highest concentrations of mines along the Keweenaw can be found in a 4 mile strip of land sitting between the towns of Calumet and Mohawk in an area known as the Allouez Gap. Seven mines – Mohawk, Ahmeek, Kingston, Allouez, North Kearsarge, Wolverine, and South Kearsarge – called this area home sinking over a dozen shafts into the Kearsarge Amygdaloid lode. The lode itself accounted for over 17% of all production in the Copper Country, second only to the great Calumet Conglomerate.

At the turn of the century, when the surrounding forests had long been cleared, you could look across this valley and see a swath of industrial havoc sweeping to the horizon. The view would include a domino line of towering rock houses, a spider-web of rail lines, and a man-made forest of smokestacks billowing black smoke into the air. A postcard of the industrial revolution that had occurred, and surely an awesome sight even today.

A look across the same valley a hundred years ago. You can make out at least 6 mines stretching out to the horizon

Today, of course, the picture is a bit different. The forest has returned, covering most the scars that remain. The rock houses have been demolished, the rail lines torn up, and the smokestacks have long fallen. What does remain, however, are the rock piles, pile after pile, stretching to the horizon. They stand in stark contrast to the green forest that surrounds them, soaring up above the trees and watching over the landscape they once ruled. It is these silent sentries that first catch our eye traveling past Kearsarge, and take us on an exploration into the surrounding woods.

a line of rock piles is all that remains today, notice the one hiding in the trees in the middle of the picture

the remains of an industrial swath – the Kingston Mine sits silent and headframe-less in the Allouez gap.

Huffing and puffing our way atop the first pile, we were treated with an awesome vista of the valley ahead of us. Not only were we atop a large rock pile, but the rock pile itself sat near the rim of the valley, hundreds of feet above the topography surrounding it. Ahead of us we could see another large rock pile, almost as tall as the one we stood on. Then another smaller one further down the valley. And another. Turning around we faced yet another rock pile poking up above the trees at the valley’s rim. We hit the jackpot. It was time to see what we could find.

a mining attempt from years past? Or just a rock with a series of holes and a railroad spike?

We notice ruins below the rock piles, in the foundation sitting on the right side of the road. We believe it may be an old powder house, sitting a safe distance from the rest of the mine.

18 comments

  1. The Baltic Mill was indeed at Redridge along with the Atlantic. When you first come down the hill to Redridge – just before the dam – you can briefly glimpse a smokestack out over the tree line. This is what Jay’s referring to and it belongs to the Baltic Mill.

  2. Wasn’t the Baltic mill located at Redridge ?

  3. What cheese factory?

    I think ill break out the snowshoes and machete and cut my way to it….

    Maybe… One day…

    Haha

  4. Jay …

    Baltic was interesting, but I found the old cheese factory ruins even more interesting. Both of which I’ll feature soon – probably when I finish up this church sidetrack…

    BTW, the stack you ask about is from the Baltic Mill. And you can’t get to it very easily – perhaps even not at all.

  5. As I said, I’ve been wrong before and this probably won’t be the last time :) .

  6. Its not the mill at Freda, its burried in the woods, and id have not a clue to get to it.

    I just know that its out there

  7. Herb from Wisconsin

    From what I recall from the time I visited the Baltic location, there were some very nice intact ruins and the waste piles were highly mineralized in places.

    In the some of the photos in this topic looking towards Cliff, that prominent knob would seem to be the fabled Albion Rock location!

  8. Jay — sorry! There’s another smokestack closer to Redridge. You can see it when you come down the big hill just before Redridge, on the Freda road. It’s a bit more broken down than the Champion stack in Freda — there are holes and lots of missing cement at the top.

    I’d be almost certain that the stack is from the Baltic mill, which near the lakeshore and was supplied by the dam. However as Mike recently mentioned, there were a number of other mills along the shore between Redridge and Freda, so maybe it was from one of them instead.

  9. Jay,
    I’d have to assume that the smokestack would be from the Freda Mill (but I’ve been wrong before ;) ).

  10. Mike how Did You like Baltic?

    Ive been meaning to get back out there now that I know more, but haven’t had any time, and snows are in the forecast I am not sure what this weekends plans are.

    And on a random note, whats the smoke stacks out towards Lake Superior near the Red Ridge Dam?

  11. Todd..

    Your comment was caught in my spam filter, and since I’ve been working a lot lately I hadn’t noticed until today. Sorry. Now that I’ve approved you it shouldn’t happen again.

    I didn’t really think of it before your comment, but that angle does seem very steep. Perhaps Joe (our resident mining engineering expert) will chime in to help us out. Either way it seems many shafts didn’t share the standard shaft/hoist alignment. One of the more notable is the Ahmeek No. 1 outside of Copper City. There the ropes had to make a compound turn up towards the shaft – the concrete supports for those turning sheaves can still be seen along the road still today.

  12. dcclark- thanks for the reply, that certainly makes sense, I thought that there was probably some geographic reason for the shaft arrangement. I envy you in terms of being able to check out the ruins, I haven’t been able to wander about in the Keewenaw in quite a while. CCE sure helps to fill that void however, it’s great to see other Copper Country enthusiasts besides myself even if exploring is by proxy!

  13. Todd — I know that in some locations, it wasn’t feasible to put the Hoist on the “usual” side. I don’t know where that photo is, but North Kearsarge #1 is a good example. The hoist was on the “opposite” side because there’s a big drop-off (almost a cliff) just on the other side of the shaft-rockhouse, where the hoist would normally be. Incidentally, this odd arrangement was why I found myself standing directly over the cap there — not a brilliant move. No clue how the physics of it work out though.

  14. I was wondering why, in the second picture, the hoist is on the opposite side of the shafthouse as compared to most others? Wouldn’t this put a larger amount of stress on the head sheaves,etc. because it doesn’t appear that there is any extra batter bracing over the typical shafthouse. I know that the hoist arrangement was mentioned in another post but I couldn’t find it right away. Are there any others that had this severe angle arrangement?

  15. Basically its a difference in development, in Baltic, Champion and Tri-mountain they kept the development in the foot wall, and not in the lode. This ment they produced more waste rock but their workings were more stable. Other mines like Quincy, Keasarge, etc developed in Ore which cost less but led to operational problems. For example quincy lost No. 2 Shaft a few times due to collapse, they had to re-sink parts of the shaft because of this. The reason for the collapse and rock bursts was they didn’t leave any pillars so the abutment stress from the large openings was concentrated as they went deeper. You didnt have this issues on the baltic lode because they kept a pillar of rock inbetween the shafts and the lode, and they backfilled the stopes after they were done with stamp sand and poor rock.

  16. Dave – The size of poor rock piles I’m sure are related to the depth of the mine, but also to the richness of the copper deposits. Large poor rock piles could also mean the mine hit a large patch of unproductive ground, most of which ended up in the waste dumps.

    It’s funny you should bring Baltic up, since we just took a trip down there today. Those piles are HUGE, and dwarf the Kearsarge piles in both height and girth. A very deep mine ( or poor mine ) for sure.

  17. If you ever get a chance look at photos of the Baltic mine. I’ve seen several pictures taken showing how the rock piles grew as the mine went deeper.

  18. To get a perspective on the rock piles scattered near Kearsarge, check out this great aerial photo from Neil Harri taken during the summer. The pile we took these photos from is one just south of the road. The entire area is just littered with them in all directions.

    Neil takes some great photos, and his unique perspective on the Copper Country is a must see for anyone. To see more, check out his guest album at the Pasty Cam here.

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