HCTCRails and Roads

Railroads of the Copper Country (HCTC)

A HCTC car stopped at the Douglas House station

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.

a look inside a typical HCTC trolley car

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.

one of several elevated trestles used to cross other rail lines along the HCTC route

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”.

a stop along the HCTC line

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.

the last HCTC trolley – rotting in a field outside Laurium

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.

Read More on the Railroads of the Copper Country Series:
DSS&A RR | Copper Range RR | C&H RR | HCTC | Keweenaw Central RR

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  1. Love your site….trolley line was standard gauge (4′ 8.5″)not narrow gauge. Take a close look at pictures. Original main car barn is across street from food co-op in Hancock (Ethel & Ingot Streets). Keep up the good work…what is your name? First at least… RonK

  2. Ron – Thanks for the catch on the narrow gauge oops. After looking back at my sources I realized that I had mistakenly mixed up some numbers which resulted in my obviously wrong gauge of 2 ft (???) Missed the boat on that one, and thanks to you I corrected it.

    I had seen photos of the car barn in Hancock (still standing) but the barn in Laurium is a mystery to me. The exact route of the line through laurium is a little tough to determine. I known the line came down Hecla to at least Lake Linden Av and I think it ran down Lake Linden Ave for a while. At some point it crossed over to the east side of Laurium but on what street I don’t know. Perhaps you can shed some light…

    As far as my name – its Mike. I thought I had put it on my about page, but my wife just informed me that I have not. My mistake.

    Once again thanks for the catch and by all means keep it up. You guys out there have to keep me on my toes!

  3. Hi Mike. I had to check my files for info on the HCTC route into and thru Laurium. Your 04/27/07 entry on Osceola has an USGS map that shows the HCTC tracks from Hancock and Lake Linden. The line from Hancock entered via Calumet St, S. Florida St, Lake Linden Ave, Hecla St, First St, then Woodland Ave, after crossing Stable St the line went into the open fields and curved over and onto Caledonia St (at Curve St), at East Pine it turned NW to the Albion transfer station at Rockland and East Pine. The Lake Linden line appears to have entered on Atlantic St, turning onto Hancock St and goes NW to S. Florida St I think the Laurium Carhouse and Substation were on S. Florida St and this was the location for Lake Linden Jct. The Hancock line crossed the H&TL on a trestle and the Lake Linden line was located just east of the H&TL ROW. Hope this helps. The information was gathered from booklets by Wilbert B. Maki and Clarence J. Monette. RonK

  4. Ron – Thanks for providing the info. That map I used was hard for me to read so I wasn’t sure. I knew the line entered Laurium somewhere near S. Florida, but wasn’t exactly sure where. Lake Linden Ave is definitely wide enough for a trolley, as is South Florida. Most of the roads on the north side of Laurium (including Woodland) always seemed too narrow, but I think that was just me. The naming of “curve street” is classic, but I have found that street names are a great indication around here of where things once were. This would be another example.

    Knowing this I would agree that the old car barn sat along S. Florida, probably where the current fire station now stands. I plan to do some exploring in these towns through which the HCTC ran and provide more posts in the future. Hopefully I can uncover more clues…

  5. That photo that links into the story, the 2 tracks, the guys standing around on the platform is probably Electric Park. I noticed that the first time I rode into there on my ATV, the track layout and small hill off to the south and remains of the platform, gave me the clue, to bad we will really never know though.

  6. Gordy..

    I think you might be on to something. If you take a look at THIS PHOTO you can see the wood platform at Electric Park looking very similar to this one. (the hill also looks the same) The telephone poles seem to fit as well. The only problem I have is that I believe the HCTC ran single track between towns and not double. It possible a siding was installed here to allow cars to pass each other, but I’m not sure. Unfortunately you can’t see the track in the picture I linked to above.

  7. When I was at Electric Park, there was definitely room for two tracks there. I almost think I saw ties fo two tracks, but its been a couple of years. Being that was such a busy place, they would run special trains to the park, and have somewere to keep the cars. I am sure they would not run back empty and come back later. Also I would think with a regular schedule, they would have to pass somewhere out on the line. I just looked at a schedule for the street cars, north and south bounds were scheduled at the sametime at Electric Park, so there had to be a siding there.

  8. I think electric park was purposely placed at the half-way point on the line between Calumet and Hancock, so a second run of tracks here for cars to pass each other makes a lot of sense. (as do the other reasons you mention). I think that picture is definitely taken at the park.

  9. Grant — although I haven’t done any serious bushwhacking, I think that essentially nothing is left at Electric Park. There are some trails through there on the old railbeds, and a clear-ish area where I think the platform (or something) may have been. That’s about it.

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