The Last of Her Kind (p1)

the last shafthouse standing

Once she was one of dozens, scattered up and down the spine of the Keweenaw. They were symbols of a prosperous land, tamed and civilized by its industrious hand. They represented the great copper empire that ruled this land for over a century. But now she is only one, the last of her kind. As mine after mine closed and these great monuments fell with them, she became more and more isolated. More and more alone. As the Copper Empire died, and the cities and towns under its dominion faded to dust, she alone remained. One last torch bearer, one last monument to a dead civilization.

The “E” shaft, better known as Champion #4, stands relatively intact. She is the last shafthouse still standing south of Portage Lake, and one of only 4 such building still standing in all the Keweenaw. While here sisters up and down the Champion mine succumbed to the wrecking ball, she managed to keep producing copper up until 1967. After that, she served a few more decades in the employment of Adams Township allowing workers to maintain the pumps below her that were feeding water from the now flooded mine to Houghton. Since then a diligent group of community members snatched her from fate once again, this time in the service of history education. Because of their actions, Champion #4 will continue her silent vigil.

We could see the #4 from the #3 (D shaft), down at the end of the road. She looked old and raggedy, just like a building over a century old should look. Hopping down from the road, we made our final approach from the old rail spur that once served her. The tracks were gone, but the path was wide and clear. We could see her just up the way, standing up high above us. She was big, a good six stories easy. She was built on the side of a steep hill, her backside sitting up on top of the hill, and her front-side sitting down here at the hill’s bottom.

Here is a large image of her, looking up from below. At the very top you can see the head-frame where the large head sheaves (big grooved wheels over which the hoist rope runs). Below it sits the rock-house portion of the building, where the rock brought up from below was sorted and crushed. At the very bottom was the door that once lead to the rock bins, where rock cars were loaded up with copper rock. Lets take a quick tour of some more details:

Sitting high up on the building is this large beam. This beam (with a combination of pulleys and chains) was used to lower equipment or large pieces of mass copper down from the rockhouse level of the building. It was also used to bring up equipment and supplies, brought into the building through the loading door just below it.

One of those pulleys used in the crane high above. It has since fallen from its lofty perch, and now sits on the ground underneath it. There were a few more scattered about as well.

Behind the shiny steel plating sits the old loading door to the rock-house level. The double doors that once covered the opening have half-rotted away so these pieces of sheet metal were added to seal up the hole.

These windows are to the rock-house level of the building. The dusty nature of the work done here required a good deal of natural ventilation (and much needed light during the mines early years) so there are plenty of windows on the floor – ten in total.

What appears to be another window that has been sealed up. This floor would correspond to the rock bins, so I don’t know what it was for. Perhaps it wasn’t a window at all.

Through this large door (which slides upwards on rails) is the rock loading bay. Lines of rock cars were pulled through these doors where they were loaded with copper rock from overhead chutes. Normally this loading area was left open and accessible, I think this door and the similar one on the opposite side were added after the mine closed, or at least during the mines last years of operation. More tomorrow…

That group of preservation minded community members is now known as Painesdale Mine & Shaft, a non-profit group working to restore the shafthouse and preserve it for future generations. They have done a lot of work so far stabilizing the building and protecting it from demolition but much more work is needed. Check out their website for more information. They’re doing good work and need your support.

21 comments

  1. Who knows, they were getting it for 1800 dollars and 1000 of that was going for repairs.

  2. Gordy — I see, I missed that originally. It’s strange that they’re only renting the dry building. Perhaps it’s going to be office space?

  3. It was in the Oct 1st issue, where they mention getting the roof of the old C&H drill shop replaced that was blown off during the summer, bottom of the article is the mention of the lease

  4. Was a blurb a week or two ago in the Mining Gazette about the township renting the dry building at #6 to Keweenaw Copper if I remember correctly.

  5. I don’t think that the #6 is involved in that exploration. There is a contractor who has been capping the shaft (probably done already), which wouldn’t make sense if someone wanted to explore using the #6. Perhaps the road has been blocked because it’s not maintained anyhow, and the township didn’t want to deal with it.

  6. Thanks mike, glad your enjoying. As far as No.6 re-opening, I believe its part of a new exploration effort just recently announced here, with a mining company looking into the possibility of re-opening some of the mines here. But personally I don’t think it will ever happen. Even though copper prices are high now, you have a large NIMBY presence in these parts now that wouldn’t be particularly pleased with the re-activation of the mines. But I’ve been wrong before, so perhaps it’s still possible.

  7. Nice site.
    Looks like time changes everything. Especially the price of copper. Any chance the the #6 will ever become an active mine? Anybody know what exactly happened after it was de-watered in the late 80′s?

  8. Great job Mike. I have forwarded your website to other people and they are really impressed.

  9. Geoff…
    We play the “what can be preserved” game all the time on our explorations. The answer is, sadly, not much. Most things we find is in bad shape. As far as the intact shafthouses we know that at least two will be protected for the foreseeable future – Quincy #2 thanks to the Quincy Hoist Association (and recently the KNP), and Champion #4 thanks to Painesdale Mine and Shaft.

    I believe that Centennial #3 is a goner, and don’t have any hope of it surviving much longer. And I know that there isn’t enough resources (or interest) to save both the Centennial #6 and the Osceola #13, so the question becomes in my mind which one has the better chance. My money is on Osceola, and I’ll tell you why.

    I think the only hope for any of these remaining shafts is with the KNHP. There is only so many non-profit preservation groups an area can support, and I think the Keweenaw is maxed out. (this area isn’t exactly made of money). Because the KNHP will be it, they will most likely be more interested in saving Osceola. Its in town, for one, and has a direct connection to C&H (unlike Centennial it was built from the ground up and operated throughout it’s life soley by C&H), and has a connected community of mining houses and infrastructure (Raymbletown). Whatever is now left inside those buildings was left there by C&H, and I think thats more important to the park. Thats just my opinion however.

    Oh, and while we’re on the subject, the Quincy smelter is a goner too.

  10. The question is is can we preserve any of the shafts? #6 is open and that seams like a lot of work to tear it down and cap it. Osceola is in worse shape than centennial 6 as for #3 it would be nice to keep but it is in need of help other wise it will be gone forever!!…….so who’s going to help save the other shafts??

  11. Gary (and explorer) — yes, the loop is now labeled “private” in no uncertain terms. On the Central road, just after a big uphill but before any logging/4-wheeler trails, there is a small trail on the left. It’s blocked by an old dirt pile and a fallen tree, but there are no Keep Out signs. It leads to some small poor rock piles and a nice view. That should probably get you towards the right area. A recent plat book can also help determine whether you’d be trespassing.

  12. Gary…
    If the Copper Falls Loop road is now private then it’ll be tough. It must be a recent development since we were just up there this past winter (on snowshoes of course) and we didn’t notice any signs. The only way I can think of is to hike through the back-country from the road to central. If you can get to Owl Lake, you can work your way back to the mine. I’ll have to go check it out and see what I can find. Check back.

    Charles…
    The best mine site by far is the Cliff mine. Almost everyone I’ve taken there have always enjoyed it and were amazed by the amount of ruins hiding out in those woods. There isn’t anything very substantial left (except for a few smokestacks) but the sight of large man-made walls hiding out inside the woods is haunting and beautiful at the same time. I would highly recommend it.

    To get there simply take Cliff drive north out of Ahmeek until you start to see the cliffs on your left. Keep going until you see the poor rock piles at the base of the cliff (and one large pile flowing off the top of the cliff), this is the Cliff. If you make your way back behind the piles, you’ll find a trail that takes you past most of the ruins along the base of the cliff. If you keep going you’ll also come across an old cemetery hiding in the trees as well. Climb to the top of the cliff (very tough I might add) and you’ll find even more ruins. Best. Mine. Site. Ever.

  13. Hey im going to be visiting the Keweenaw next week, whats your favorite mining site?

  14. Hi, Would you have directions to the Copper Falls mine. The old semi-circle road is now private is there another way to get to the rock piles and mine?

  15. I agree totally, either the article is confused or I am, both of which are in the realm of possibilities ;)

  16. Joe..
    Well that makes more sense, I was relying on the Daily Mining Gazette which referred to the new location as “the Centennial Mine in Kearsarge” so I assumed that was the #6. (I would put the #3 in Centennial, but that’s just me) So I guess there’s hope after all.

  17. I totally agree, on the preservation issue, The business is moving into the old Key Mill next to Centennial No. 3 is what I heard.

    Jay,
    Centennial No. 6 is north of No.3 , you can see it from 41 very easily. My Gallery is located here:
    http://www.pasty.com/pcam/MTUMiner

  18. A couple of questions, where exactly is the Centennial #6 shafthouse in relation to the #3? I’d like to get some photos when we’re up there in a couple of weeks.

    Also, could someone post a link to Joe’s pics of Centennial #3?

    Thanks.

  19. Joe..
    Centennial #3 is in real bad shape. Since those pictures you took on the Pastycam Gallery, one of the batter braces has snapped in half, part of the floor on the upper level fallen off, and the whole thing is leaning precariously to one side. It might be my imagination but the lean seems to get worse each time I drive by it. I don’t think its got long to live.

    As for Centennial #6 I guess I might of been a little alarmist. I know of no plans to demolish it, but the township had sold the mine site to a local business who is planning on moving into the remaining buildings (I’m not sure which ones). They are getting a bunch of state money to “prepare” the site for the business, and I don’t know what that means for the headframe. I would assume that such a structure on the grounds of a business would be a liability and tearing it down would be more desirable then letting it stay. I don’t know, I might just be getting paranoid.

    But if it does go, I don’t think that’s a huge loss because Osceola #13 is still around and its the exact same thing. Sometimes you have to pick your battles when it comes to preservation.

  20. I havent heard any word on Centennial coming down, I’m friends with the mine inspector… whats the scuttle butt? I had heard that the township of Calumet wanted the mine site to help preserve the two headframes. I’m comming up to Houghton over labor day, so I guess I had better get out there and see it before it comes down!

  21. Before anyone goes after me about the “only 4 shafthouses left” line (I’m looking at you Joe), I know that there is in fact 6 left standing, but here at Copper Country Explorer I don’t count the Mesnard or Centennial #3 in that list. The Mesnard is really just a steal frame (and not really a “house”) and the Centennial #3 is about one stiff breeze away from falling down (so not really “standing”). My list of stlll standing is the Champion #4, the Quincy #2, the Osceola #13, and the Centennial #6 (although I believe that shafthouse may be coming down soon)

    Just thought I’d clear up any confusion.

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