The first mines to began operations along the Keweenaw did so at the peninsula’s norther end, around old Native American pits near Copper Harbor. Soon companies explored outward discovering rich fissure deposits of copper along the way. Unlike the large lodes discovered later, these early fissure deposits were mostly hit and miss with a few notable exceptions. These early attempts included the Deleware Mine, backed by the overly optimistic Pennsylvania Mining Company. Before the profitability of the mine was ever determined, smelters and stamp mills were built to process the foreseen copper riches along the shores of nearby Lac La Belle. Connected it with the mine was a short line railroad. With those tracks the beginnings of the Keweenaw Central had been laid.
The Delaware, however, turned out not to be the great producer it was hoped it would be. As the Pennsylvania Mining Company and its lands changed hands over and over again, new companies had high hopes of finding a rich lode in the area. As companies explored further west, the rail lines to Lac La Belle were extended to accommodate. The large investment of capital and resources at the mills at Lac La Belle were too great to leave behind. By the 1880’s the line had been extended as far as Phoenix and Cliff. Soon the line would be sold and would become the independent Lac La Belle & Calumet Railroad – the Keweenaw Central’s direct descendent.
In 1905 the railroad officially becomes the Keweenaw Central with a total of 32 miles of track between Calumet and Lac La Belle. Along the way, the railroad laid branch lines to the mining camp of Mandan to the north, up to its day-use park at Crestview (near Phoenix) as well as new track south to Calumet Junction. Extensions were also planned at the north end of the mine, from Mandan to the Empire Mine but were never completed.
The Crestview park was similar to other parks on the Copper Range (Freda Park) and HCTC (Electric Park) lines. The park was atop a bluff overlooking Eagle River and Lake Superior. At the park was a large pavilion, picnic grounds, and even a casino. The railroad ran up to 5 trains a day to the park from Calumet, taking passengers from Crestview Junction near Phoenix up the bluff a mile or two, where it would then back down the hill to rejoin the main line.
While the railroad served many communities north of Mohawk that no other rail lines ventured to, the closing of mines along the route severely affect the lines profitability. It wasn’t long before most stops along its route – most notably Ojibway, Delaware, Wyoming, and Mandan – became ghost towns. By 1917 Copper Range had taken control of the KC tracks from Calumet Jct to Mohawk, in order for the railroad to haul copper rock from the Mohawk and Wolverine Mines. At this point, or sometime after, the Copper Range had gained control of the rest of the line and abandoned most of it. The Keweenaw Central was history.
While short lived, the Keweenaw Central joins the DSS&A, Copper Range, Calumet & Hecla, and HCTC as driving forces behind the Copper County’s prosperity and modernization around the turn of the century. But like the rest of the area, these lines were abandoned and forgotten; rails ripped up, right-of-ways allowed to grow over, and old depots and stations converted to other uses. Most of these old lines have been converted to rail trails and snowmobile routes and can be explored still today. Like the economy that now supports the area, these old rail lines now support tourists instead of trains. Such is the circle of life in the Keweenaw.