With the arrival of electricity to the Copper Country came the formation of the Houghton Country Street Railway Company in 1899. Utilizing a new method of vehicle power – the electric motor – the company constructed a power station along the shore of the Portage Canal and begin running tracks and overhead transmission lines through the main streets of Hancock and Houghton. With the completion of the line north to the mining location of Boston (some 5 miles distant) in 1900 the first (and only) true interurban railroad in the Upper Peninsula was born.
The continued success of mines north of Boston – most notably the Calumet and Hecla Mine – prompted the company in 1901 to extend its mainline another 6 miles to Calumet. Soon the more than 80,000 people living at mine and mill sites across the Keweenaw’s heartland demanded similar service. This prompted the streetcar service to extend lines further; through the mill communities along Torch Lake and across the scattering of mine communities from Calumet to Mohawk. By 1908 the line had reached its northern terminus at Mohawk and its final length of 32 miles.
In 1908 the line was reincorporated and its name was changed to the Houghton Country Traction Company (HCTC). During its peak usage, the company ran up to 30 streetcars at a time transporting more then 75,000 people a year. The cars ran from 5:45 am (starting at East Houghton) to 12:15am (ending at East Houghton) stopping at any given station every half hour. A trip from Calumet to Houghton would take about an hour, while a trip from Mohawk to Houghton would take an hour and a half. Tickets cost about 7 cents for each zone (traveling from Mohawk to Houghton would cost 4 tickets round trip, or roughly a quarter). You could get a weekly zone pass for about a dollar.
The style of car used by the interurban were double ended with monitor type roofs built by the Kuhlman Car Company. This double ended design allowed the car to be driven from either end by means of duplicate control booths. To run the car the opposite direction, the driver simply dropped one trolley pole, raised the other, and walked to the car’s other end. The cars were crewed by a motorman and conductor and had a top speed of 40 mph.
The cars travelled on a
narrow gauge track (of about 2 ft) standard gauge track (thanks to Ron K for the correction – see comments) that ran single between towns and double through streets. The cars were powered from an overhead electric wire that was suspended from cedar line poles 35 ft tall with three cross arms. Interurban lines were not allowed to cross other rail lines at grade, so the trolley cars were carried over rail lines by means of a 23 ft high elevated trestle. Five of these trestles were built in the Red Jacket area alone, with a few more along the Lake Linden branch.
The HCTC constructed a day-use park along the line between its Boston and Osceola stations. The company named the park Anwebida, which is a Chippewa word meaning “Here May We Drop Our Burdens”. It opened in the summer of 1902 and featured an 5000 square foot hall that seated 800 people along with picnic area, grills, children’s playground, and ball field. The parks success prompted the company to update and expand its grounds in 1905. Electric lights were installed along the walkways and rail line, and a large 40×3 foot sign spelling out the park’s new name: “Electric Park”.
Time and progress took its toll on interurban railroads across the country, especially so with the onset of the Depression. The HCTC saw a general decline of passengers for many years, as automobiles became more popular and local roads were improved. A trip that once took an hour by means of the interurban would take half the time by car. And as mines shut down and workers left, there were not as many people even available to use the service. Shortly after midnight on May 21st, 1932 “old 16” lumbered into the West Hancock car barn carrying 119 passengers. This would be the last run for “old 16” and the last run for the HCTC. After 31 years of service to the Copper Country the interurban was finished.
After this the rails along the length of the line were ripped up and sold for scrap, and rails along the streets of Calumet, Lake Linden, Laurium, and Houghton were covered over. All 30 cars were sold off and dismantled, save two. One was kept by the superintendent of the line and sat next to his house for many years until his death. The other was used as a cabin just outside Laurium – and sits rotting in the same field today. It wasn’t long until more railroads followed.