The Southern Range (p2)

The Atlantic Mine’s profitability had spurned a renewed interest in the southern range. This had prompted many investors to take a closer look at the area, hoping to find the next profitable copper deposit. It was atop a high hill overlooking the Pilgrim River valley known as Six Mile Hill where that mystical deposit was finally found: the Baltic Lode. Unlike the Atlantic’s troublesome ash bed variety, the Baltic was much richer in copper (and much more stable) with yields as high as 30 pounds per ton of rock mined. At the time it was believed that the lode might surpass even the Calumet Conglomerate in its richness.

an early look at the Baltic Mine – the first to work the rich Baltic Lode

In 1897 the first mine to open along the Baltic Lode was born. This was the Baltic Mine, sitting along the base of Six Mile Hill where the copper deposit was first discovered. It wasn’t long before the mine became successful, spawning five shafts, the nearby town of Baltic, and a mill of its own out at Redridge. When all was said and done the mine managed to produce over 200 million pounds of copper and paid out almost 8 million dollars to its investors. The Baltic Lode’s richness was no longer in doubt – and others quickly attempted to find the extent of that richness.

As the Baltic Mine first began sinking its shafts, the Copper Range company was was only a name on thousands of acres of land titles between Houghton and Mass City. By 1900 it had transformed those titles into the 45 mile long Copper Range Railroad connecting the Copper Country with the rest of the country for the first time. With the railroad, it had also opened up the possibility for further development along the southern range – a job it gladly took up itself.

clearing the way along the southern range for the Copper Range Railroad

The Copper Range Company was unique in the fact that it was not as much a mining company as it was a holdings company. It invested in mines, buying up controlling interests in the form of corporate stock. After creating the railroad, it turned its attention to the pursuit of copper enlisting the help of state geologist L.L. Hubbard. Resigning his post for the state, Hubbard took little time in finding the southern extension of the Baltic Lode. With the help of the St. Mary’s Land Company (who owned most of the land along the southern range at the time), the Copper Range Company quickly went to work acquiring that copper.

the surface plant for “E” shaft of the Champion Mine, half owned by Copper Range

The result was the Champion Copper Company, a closed corporation with 50% of its stock owned by the Copper Range Company. The mine got to work in 1899, sinking five shafts into the rich lode below its feet, and quickly turned a profit. The mine was rich, and the nearby town of Painesdale exploded from a frontier mining town to a civilized model community in a matter of months. The Copper Range Railroad gladly built a branch line out to the mine (the Painesdale Branch, later to become the main line), and a second branch to bring copper out to the Champion Mill at Freda. In 30 years the mine produced some 800 million pounds of copper – putting the Baltic to shame. The mine truly was the champion of the southern range.

The Trimountain Mine in its early years

The quick success of both the Baltic and Champion mines guaranteed the quick sale of the lands between them, since the rich Baltic Lode no doubt crossed through the property. The winner of the prized land was Thomas Lawson, who began mining as the Trimountain Mining Company in 1902. Unlike its brethren to both the south and north, the Trimountain was plagued by problems from the start. The copper here was buried under a deep level of overburden, and the copper bearing rock that was discovered was relatively poor. Success would come not as easily as it had done at the other mines.

To make matters work Lawson was a financial schemer, interested more in the quick buck then hard earned profit. The mine was managed horribly, threatening its ability to ever raise a profit. He managed to pay out over $300,000 dollars in dividends (mostly to himself) while leaving the mine nearly a million dollars in debt. It wasn’t long before the company was dissolved. All was not lost, however, as the mine would enjoy a second life under new ownership: that of the Copper Range.

one of the Copper Range’s holdings – the Michigan Smelter at Coles Creek

The Copper Range was a copper empire in itself. But empires are not built overnight, and the Copper Range empire was built in small pieces over a generation. The holdings company lived up to its name, and slowly bought up controlling shares of most mines and business along the southern range. Through a series of moves over the next decade, the Copper Range Company took controlling interests in the Baltic, the Trimountain, and finally bought up the remaining 50% of Champion. The also managed to buy up the recently closed Atlantic Mine, including the A&LS railroad.

By 1923 the Copper Range had acquired every mine, mill, and railroad from Atlantic Mine to Painesdale. They owned over 10,000 acres of land along the southern range and supplied power and water to every town along the way. For all intents and purposes, Copper Range was the southern range. It would control the region for 60 more years, before shrinking into oblivion with the rest of the Copper Country.

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