in service to the copper empire, perhaps…

The Copper Country is a one industry town. For over a century the copper mine was king, and all things across the peninsula existed to serve it. Railroads existed to transport copper. Towns existed to house the workers. Businesses existed to serve the men that served the mines. Schools existed to prepare children of workers to be workers themselves. Hospitals existed to keep workers working. Mines did not like competition from other industries, those industries could steal good workers, raise wages, or worse yet – introduce unions. It was as it was by design.

So when we came across today’s find – recently uncovered by the low water levels on the big lake – we assumed it had to service the mines in some capacity. But in exactly what capacity it did, we weren’t sure. While the squat tower of an old smokestack sat nearby, no other signs of ruins could be seen. For the most part it was the docks – stretched out into the shallow lake-shore – that demanded our attention.

an old dock at the mouth of the tobacco river

It was actually two docks, separated by about ten feet or so. To their left was the mouth of the Tobacco River, a small stream that started miles inland at Thayer’s lake and makes a meandering trip down to this spot. To their opposite side and a bit further down the beach, the towering black sand dunes of the Gay Sands stretched across the horizon. Here in the middle they sat within a beach of large stones scattered about their carcasses.

(see the big picture)

Walking out on those carcasses, we quickly realized that a good portion of the structures were missing. Along the top of the dock were a long line of nails, all of which were pounded down over themselves, short a good 4-6 inches from being fully driven into the logs. It looked as if we were standing on the bottom half of the dock, the part of the dock which was to stay below water. The top part of the dock was salvaged some time ago, leaving behind only the sunken bottom half. Now with the lake level a few feet below normal, this submerged half was now accessible.

the dock was a series of boxes sitting in a line out into the water

within each “box” was set a pile of rocks which were used to sink and anchor the dock to the lake bed

The dock was built to last, constructed from large square timbers set together to from a line of square frames. These frames were lined along their bottom with planks to create a series of boxes. By filling the boxes with large stones, the dock was sunk down underwater and anchored to the lake floor. Most of the boxes were still filled with stones (some with stamp sand), but a few had either been intentionally emptied or the lake had scoured the rocks away. Most likely the amount of stones scattered about the ruins once lived inside the boxes and helped secure the dock.

Here are a few more observations:

The left dock (the one closest to the river) was much shorter then its brother. Here is the the shorter docks end, which could have been washed away or removed along with the upper portions. It also could have been designed that way.

the longer dock, mostly in shambles. Notice the wood planking along its side

Along the outer rims of the timbers were attached a series of thin wooden planks, nailed vertically along the dock’s length. Most of these planks have been broken off, or were missing all together. They were probably destroyed when the top portion of the dock was removed for salvage.

While there wasn’t too much to this dock – and especially much left – we did spy a second dock across the river mouth. This one was much larger, and built more permanently. (see the big picture) Instead of square timbers it looked to be built from concrete and steel. We later found out that this is the old Kauppis dock which existed for many decades for local commercial fisherman. While originally built in the same fashion as the dock at our feet, this one was rebuilt sometime after the second World War to its current form. While not used for commercial fishing anymore, it has at least managed to survived intact to this day – more then half a century since it was built.


  1. It turns out this dock is in fact the crib that once protected the water intake pipe for the Mohawk Mill, which sits down the beach from here. The pipe runs down the middle, buried under the rocks.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *