Railroads of the Copper Country (KCRR)

a map of the Keweenaw Central

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 Keweenaw Central stops at the Crestview park

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.

the Keweenaw Central at its northern terminus, the mining town of Mandan

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.

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

16 comments

  1. Yea I think it was just a “proposed” route for a “possible” stamp mill location out at the cove. Keweenaw Copper basically bought up the entire north-east corner of the peninsula and probably didn’t even known where to start at the time.

  2. I know its an old topic, but I was out to Keystone bay/point and Fish Cove Point two weeks ago. And I have no idea why they would have a Coach line to Keystone, other than the sand beach could have been an attraction in the day.
    I was basically all over the area and did not see any grading, as normally I have an eye for picking out the “random” flat areas that are rail grades. All maps I have seen note that the grade does stop just south of Mandan. To get to Fish Cove would be quite the grade down to the shore.

  3. I find it interesting, that a Keweenaw Central passenger car still exists in Canada. I was doing some web searching on the KC one day and up it comes.
    Hopefully the link will work, or I’ll have to email to let you know its there in the junk bin.
    http://www.pdcrailway.com/coach103.htm

  4. Vince…
    Sorry your comment didn’t show up right away, it was held up and I had to approve it before it would show. Everything is good now. Glad you enjoy the site. I checked out your artwork – great stuff. I always wanted to try something like that, show off what this area might of once looked like in its golden years, I just never had the talent for it.

    Gordy…
    I think this can go down as one of those best laid plans of mice and men… Keweenaw Central probably had high hopes for its line, but like all things in the Copper Country the cycle of boom and bust had other plans in mind.

    As far as the end of the KC I was never certain, so its great that you filled in the blanks. One some maps the lower KC lines (in and around Mohawk) are marked at Copper Range lines, while others mark them as C&H lines. I think I might of been confusing the issue. Either way it was a short run for sure.

  5. For info, the copyright on the map was 1911. So it was after the completion of the railroad.

  6. Looking at Clarence Monettes book about the Keweenaw Central, the line was still being built at the time of the expansion article, its mentioned in the book the line opened from Mohawk copper mines to Mandan in Nov 1906. By May 1908 everything was completed except the line towards Phoenix, which needed to be standard gauged and hoked up the system which was completed by June 1908. This was the Crestview line eventually. 1909 stock report showed the Medora mine was closed. So hard to believe a railroad was built out to the middle of now where. So much spent for something that did not last that long. It mentions in 1932 some road building materials needed to be moved to Phoenix from Mohawk, they replaced a few ties and moved what was the last unoffical run of the Keweenaw Central. The end came in 1944 when C&H bought the Keweenaw Copper Co which owned the Keweenaw Central RR. Then in 1967, the company charter ws dissolved.

    I thought I had read somewhere that the Medora shaft was across the highway from the town of Mandan, I know there are foundations there, just never really looked around much. Seem I am always by myself when I go looking.

  7. Hi my name is Vince I am enjoying studying the photos and reading all out comments.
    I am a copper country artiest and historian my friend who just passed away Kevin Musner would chat often on subjects like this so that I could recreate the past with photos. I have a Keweenaw Central drawing on my web artbyvincent in the Delaware area from an old photo I used. Also have a 50 lb piece of rail I found with my metal detector on the old Keweenaw Central right of way. I sand blasted it on the side of the rail it was casted Cambreia Steel 86 for 1886 too cool. one of many artifacts I have been blessed to find of the great Keweenaw days gone by. I appreciate your photos and information and find this to be a great web to do research. My grand father worked the Ahmeek 3 & 4 and my first train ride was on Clint Jones’s Keweenaw Central. I meet him in Marqutte in the 90.s to give him a copy of one of my drawings he’s a nice guy and has given me great child hood memory’s now I’m a copper country nut and rail road fanatic see what a Steam Locomotive can do to a kid.
    I have saved this web to my favorites.

    Vincent Fontana

  8. Gordy..
    Looks like I’ll have to start spending some money to get these larger versions. It would probably make my job a lot easier.

    Thanks for the clarification. The original mention of these extension lines to the KC that I brought up (and thought those lines on the map might refer to) can be found HERE. Now that I think about it the map was probably made before those extension plans were made. Also just because the extensions were planned, doesn’t mean they were completed of course.

  9. I went and spent 5 bucks and got the digitized version of the map, on the map it says Keweenaw Central and connections. I am willing to bet, the thin black lines were stage coach connections or roads, the one goes Delaware to Eagle Harbor, the other goes from Mandan to Copper Habor and out to Keystone Point. The end of the track shows Fish Cove, which is the near the mouth of the Montreal River

  10. Gordy…
    Aerial images are a great way to find these old rail lines, even though most have been abandoned for decades. Most telling is the earth fills placed in low lying areas (marshes and swamps) which are clearly evident in these photos.

  11. To hard to tell what those thin lines are unless I could see a larger view of the birds eye view map, if they are railroads, maybe logging lines. Mandan was not really on the main track either, it was served off a short branch from the main track. (mile or two to the north of the main track) The main track went to the east maybe another mile before it ended. I tried to follow it last year off into the trees to see how far it went with an ATV, but being I was by myself I gave it up.
    I look at a lot of he right of ways from Microsoft Terraserver, surprising how easy the old right of ways can be picked out after 40, 50, 60 years or more.
    I don’t think the grading for those line extensions were ever completed though, they would be pretty easy to pick out

  12. The section of track from Calumet Junction
    to the Mohawk Depot was owned by the KCRR.

  13. Dave – I’m assuming you’re referring to the archive map at the top of the post and not the one I made. Based on a route change announcement placed in the Daily Mining Gazette in 1907, it appears that there were plans to extend the line north from the Mandan terminus. One was an extension east “from Mundane (??) to the Empire tract of the Keweenaw Copper Company”. I believe this is the dotted line, and its end corresponds to the mouth of the Montreal River. Perhaps the Keweenaw Copper Company had proposed a mill or smelter at this location, as that would be the only need for a rail-line to go that far.

    The other extension (the black thin line I think) would be an extension from Mandan to the Medora Mine, which sits to the south of Lake Medora.

    It appears that at least at the time of the newspaper clipping, the extensions were graded but no rails had been laid. It would seem that the rails were never laid, and the grading was as far as it went.

  14. I have a question about the map of the KCRR. Where does the dotted portion of the line run to? Also what is the thin black line that appears to connect to the KCRR near Mandan?

  15. Joe – What’s funny is that when researching for the Keweenaw Central almost everything I found was relating to the the tourist line and not the original line. An interesting part of Copper Country history, and I’ll definitely feature it in the future.

  16. I don’t know if you were planning on it but a neat feature might be Clint Jone’s old Keweenaw Central line, the old tourist line that ran along the old KC track in the 1970′s