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.