Mohawk Mill Pump House

This post was originally written not knowing that the ruins here are in fact those of the Mohawk Mill’s Pump House. Scroll down for an update

Sitting just outside of Gay – north of the vast expanse of stamp sands along the shore – the fast and shallow Tobacco river flows into Lake Superior. Today the site is home to a serene park – but scattered along the shore and within the bordering woods lie evidence of a more industrious past. These clues – when put together – seem to make the case that a mill once operated on these shore. What type of mill – I’m not sure. First the clues:

Clue #1: The Smoke Stack
The first clue sits just inside the park in plain site along the entrance road. This masonry structure is built up out of what looks like sandstone, sitting a good 10 feet in height. Roughly octagonal in shape, one side has fallen down reveiling a hollow inner core. There is no doubt in my mind that this is the base to a smoke stack – which in the Copper Country means there was a steam engine of some type nearby.

Clue #2: Machinery Mount
Sitting in the woods back from that smokestack is this pedestal made of brick and adorned with threaded rods. We have seen this many times before as well – and it no doubt supported some type of machine. Perhaps a steam engine, or maybe a boiler. Not Sure.

Clue #3: Old Dock
I’ve featured this old wood dock before (check it out HERE). It stretches out from a small point near the mouth of the river, and consists of two parrallel wood “cribs” sunk into the river by piling stones inside of its walls. The dock seems to continue back through the beach and up to the small bluff beyond – evident by the series of steel spikes running up the shore. A dock would suggest that either supplies were brought to the site by boat, or something was shipped away from here by boat.

Clue #4: Stamp Sand
This evidence seems to point to a Stamp Mill, since the existence of stamp sand strongly suggests the other. Most of the beach along the dock (seen here) and down into a small cove south of here is covered in a thick layer of very coarse and dark stamp sand. At first I thought these sands could have simply came from the nearby Mohawk / Wolverine mills. But that might not be the case.

Heres a shot of those Gay sands in question, as seen from that old dock. While they are close to this point – they sit a good half mile to the south of the Tobacco River. Sands don’t travel northward on this side of the Keweenaw, if you look at aerial images of the Gay sands you can see that they are clearly migrating south (which they would continue to do if it wasn’t for the breakwater at the Traverse River). While some of those sands might have made their way up here, there is just too much for it to be from freak happenstance. Also a good stretch of clean beach sits between the Tobacco River and the Gay sands. These sands seem to of been put here by man, not nature.

Here’s an aerial view of the area in question. I marked the location of the dock and the stack. The Gay sands sit to the southwest of here, and as you can see there are clean beaches sitting just south of the river. I also marked what could have been an old railroad spur feeding the mill – which does seem to continue out to the Gay mills.

The way I see it there are only two possibilities for this site: a stamp mill or a lumber mill. While the presence of stamp sand seems to strongly suggest the presence of a stamp mill, those sands could have made their way here from someplace else. The problem with the stamp mill theory is that I have no idea what mine the mill would have belonged to. Also there isn’t that much stamp sand here, so whose-ever mill this was it didn’t process very much ore. And as far as the lumber mill idea, logs could have been floated down the Tobacco River – its fast enough and wide enough for most of its route. But the presence of those stamp sands don’t seem to fit.

Perhaps one of my readers has an idea, or even the answer….

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  1. Well there was Dions sawmill where you show the rail spur and the Copper Range did service it into the early 1960’s. This was probably the pump house for the Mohawk/Wolverine Mills, Tech has a photo of an overground water pipe coming from this drection in the Archives.

    Looked in the Copper Handbook, and how I wish they would rescan the thing, so all the page was there, this was the pump house for both of the Mills, originally a 20,000,000 gallon triple expansion pump, then supplemented with a 9,000,000 pump, gees, don’t think there was a shortage of water.
    Not sure of how coal was brought down here, although if the railroad track came to Dions sawmill, the chance the track came this far is possible. The coal dock was the other way out of Gay, a spur track went from the main line down to the dock. Little Traverse?, the road is on the old railroad tracks about 2 or 3 miles out of Gay. Took a photo of the former coal dock a couple of years ago. Copper Handbook mentions the coaling facilities and dock. Funny, now a boat can’t even get to the former dock as the stampsand has pretty much filled it in.
    The only thing I can think with the stamp sand, would be fill of some sort.

    1. Just to add some “official” detail, found this online in a 2005 Michigan DEQ publication:

      Michigan’s Copper Country
      Ellis W. Courter
      Contribution to Michigan Geology 92 01

      “The Wolverine and Mohawk mills at Gay were not only
      unique duplicates of one another but they were pretty
      much a combined venture. They were managed by a joint
      superintendent, and a single pump brought water from the
      bay via the Tobacco River to both mills. The pump-house,
      a real “super human” affair, is worthy of mention. It was
      equipped with a 20,000,000 gallon, triple-expansion snow
      pump which was supplemented by a 9,000,000 gallon
      Norberg pump. Together these pumps easily supplied both
      mills with ample water.”

  2. You know I never thought that this could be anything to do with the mills, since its a good half mile away. But you know what? My Sanborn map of the Gay Mill says the pump house was roughly a half mile from the mill. And by the angle of the pipe coming from the mill (thanks to the photo you linked to) that would put the pump house right smack dab where this ruin is. The Sanborn map even labels the smokestack of the pump house of having a “stone base” – which is what this is.

    To think I had the answer all along and just didn’t put 2 and 2 together. I must be slipping in my old(er) age.

    The “dock” was then most likely part of the intake pipe to the lake. The Sanborn shows a railroad spur running past the mill to the northwest – which would put it along that spur I marked on the map – which must of fed the coal.

    Had the answer all along and didn’t know it. Thanks for jogging the brain!

  3. From what I have read and can’t remember where, that water intake was deep down, they tunneled out under the lake, then blasted a hole in the bottom of the lake. Have to look around and see if I can find that info

  4. That may have been the original water intake, they kept adding length to the thing as they had many water issues, usually in winter, with ice being the big trouble. 1908 they added 150 feet to the crib and still had issues with sand and float ice, they deepened it in 1912 to have more water over it and still had issues. 1917 they decided to tunnel out. The tunnel went out about 2800 ft, water was about 37 feet deep there. What a place to not want to be, imagine what would have happened if the lake broke through. yikes

  5. I suppose once they ran the new line there would be no need to tear up the cribs so they just let them sit there.

    Great info Gordy (as usual). Thanks for putting this thing to rest for me. Its been bugging me for a while. i suppose I should just read more of the Monette Books – I’m just cheap I think.

  6. Well, I have been buying for many years, you would be bankrupt if tried to get it all at once. Most of the info is from the Tech Archives, which I was I could go and sit and read everyday, maybe when I retire.

  7. Just a guess that four foot opening in the \concrete was a water pipe not a LP steam line. in all my years in the trade, I never seen a 4′ steam line. The two nuclear plants in Wisconsin can put three million gallons of water per minute on the reactor in an energency, the pipes are 12′ the pump motor is 6,000 HP. Jim

  8. Thanks for the interesting info. I have property along the lake near that former water plant at the Tobacco River. It is in between the Tobacco River and Gay. There are concrete supports for a pipe of some sort on my property. The pipe would have been parrallel to the road from the river to Gay. Also, you should look at aerial photos of different dates. At one point there was so much stamp sand that the pile reached the Tobacco river. I will post the photos if I am able. The stamp sand shifts around quite a bit. I assume when a storm comes through it can move from the south to north, but it usually moves south. Every year we camp up there and the sand is different. It also depends on the water level of the lake which varies year to year. What was the diameter of the tunnel and did they fill it in on the lake side(2800 feet out in the lake)?

  9. Brad…

    I would guess that those pipe remains on your property belong to the old water pipe that once sent the pumped water down to the mills at Gay. From what I understand that pipe would of been on the lake side of the road.

    As far as the intake tunnel I’m not too sure. Most likely its still open, as spending the time to go out and collapse it would seem wasteful. There was a similar tunnel dug under the lake out near Freda as well to supply water to the Copper Range mills. At the time I guess it was quite the project.

    Thanks for the great photo. It’s sure interesting to see how far those sands have shifted over the years. It also explains why there was sand out there at the Tobacco River at all (because it was put there of course).

  10. The Gay water tunnel I believe is covered either in Monettes book about Gay, or one of the Mining Magazines available from Google Books, I’d have to look tomorrow for it. The tunnel is probably still there, although unused now, so it may be full of silt. It was used I want to say up until the 1970’s. The water pipe did run up the east side of the road, its obvious in the old high altitude photos. Heres a photo of the pipeline

  11. This below is from the 1920 Mine Register, somewhere it is covered in detail from what I remember
    The pump house is located on the river, near its mouth, the intake being protected by timber cribs running 300′ into the lake to prevent clogging from floating bark and anchor ice.(old intake, wood crib still on beach)
    Work was started, 1919, on an intake shaft and tunnel under the lake.
    Pump station was cut at 90′ below lake level; shaft was 110′ below lake level and tunnel was driven 1,423′ to July, 1919. Estimated length to be 2,200′ where 30′ of water will be attained.

  12. i was here last August, and i guess this is a mystery solved now for me too.

    but i also noticed that if you go up the Tobacco River a little ways from the park, there are more concrete ruins to what looks like a small dam or other kind of retaining wall, on the west bank of the river, just inside the woods. anyone have any clue as to what that is? also, someone had written their name in the concrete, and dated it “1906”

  13. There was a dam up there, I have seen a photo of it, think it was a post card.
    Not sure what the purpose was, but I know it helped with floating logs down the river in the spring

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