The Albion Rock

the location of the legendary Albion Rock?

If Copper Country explorers like myself can be likened to a real-life Indiana Jones, then the famous Albion Rock is our Ark of the Covenant. Stories of its existence are shrouded in myth and mystery, passed down from one explorer to the next. Legend paints an epic tale: a bare flat rock sitting on the highest point of the Keweenaw from which you can look out across the peninsula from shore to shore – reading the topography like a real-life map. Could such a place really exist?

The legend has its roots in a short passage, quoted on fellow Copper Country explorer Kevin Musser’s web site (who passed away last year). It describes this magical place with the following:

“The spot where I stood was a bare flat rock, the highest peak of the Keweenaw Point, upon Lease, No. 10, belonging to the Albion Mining Company. I had heard this view glowingly described, but my imagination had formed no conception of its grandeur. I have stood upon the hills of Vermont and New Hampshire, and upon the peak of Laurel Mountain, the highest of the Alleganies – I have stood by Niagara in youthful wonder, and in manhood’s realization: but the water, over whose expanse the eye flits like the lost bird, finding nought to rest on, was wanting there to add immensity of space to the scene, as at the Albion Rock; nor was there, as here, the awful precipice, with its tempting depth, that Nature’s instincts teach her creatures they must shun. I have seen sights, but never one before so unconfined by hill or plane, or close horizon, where the spirit seemed set free to range at will. A scene only to be felt.”

The passage is attributed to John St. John, a Copper Country explorer from a different age and time. In the early 1800′s he took a trip along the Lake Superior shore and documented his observations in a book titled very acutely “A True Description of the Lake Superior Country; its Rivers Coasts, Bays, Harbours, Islands, and Commerce”. The book was published in 1846 – at the very cusp of the Keweenaw copper boom. No doubt his descriptions of the virgin lands along the Upper Peninsula were the only taste most Americans would get of the region.

But where is this rock that he speaks of? To find this out you have to read the passage in context – which luckily for us is available on-line thanks to Google Books. (check it out for yourself HERE)The paragraphs before the passage quoted above just happen to describe his journey to that special place. If we follow the clues he leaves, we should be able to find the Albion Rock for ourselves.

John St. John’s journey begins at Eagle River, from where he takes a wagon road into the interior which follows along the river itself:

“From this place a waggon-road is also made three and a half miles to Lease No. 7, (and is being continued to Lease No. 10 by the Albion Company, who are erecting buildings) which belongs to the Pittsburg Company, spoken of as the lessees of Copper Harbour, whose works at this place are noted with their others.”

The “Pittsburg Company” he refers to here is no doubt the Pittsburg & Boston Mining Company who besides being one of the first company’s to mine the Keweenaw, was also responsible for the famous Cliff Mine which at the time this was written was in it’s exploration stages.

“Having kept the road which runs near the Eagle River, ascending with it into the interior, and by which I had already got 200 feet above Lake Superior, I here left the valley of the Eagle River, passing the drifts into the side hill, and climbed some 300 feet, to where they had first commenced work by sinking a shaft, which was abandoned, and the drifts below commenced.”

Here’s were we get our first clues to where the Albion Rock might be located. We know he kept to the valley, which brings him up the road that is now M26. His remark of climbing “200 feet” puts him at some point near the Phoenix Mine, about half way to the town of Phoenix. (this elevation is marked on the map below with a yellow line). His then leaves the valley, passing what he calls “drifts in the side hill”. This must refer to a mine, which around 1846 could only be the Phoenix – which at this time was mined by the Lake Superior Copper Company. The location of this mine is marked by an “x” in the map.

His next remark referring to “climbing some 300 feet” to where “they had first commenced work by sinking a shaft” is a little more vague. I’m not sure who “they” refer to, but I can only guess its the Phoenix mine again. This seems to place him at the top of the Cliffs where Elmo’s tower currently sits, but his elevation remark of 300 feet would put him at an elevation around 1100 feet – marked on the map with a red line. Of course he did say “some 300 feet”, so it could be an estimate.

the Cliff Range along Phoenix

“From this already high eminence, I proceeded west, ascending by irregular knobs and beaches of trap rock, for, I suppose, one-half to three-quarters of a mile in a south course, which I arrived suddenly on the top of a naked rock, about twenty feet square, which raised itself above every thing else within scope of the eye; to the north and west was Lake Superior, “a dark blue desert, waste of waters;” – to the east was Keweenaw Bay, twenty miles distant, and away to the S.E. the Huron Mountains, sixty miles or more.”

Besides being an extremely long run-on sentence, this passage gives us the first distance measurement for his journey. Of course as he is walking, his distances are probably far from accurate. If we give him the benefit of the doubt we can say he walked about a mile. He also was nice enough to give us a direction, which is probably a little bit more accurate (assuming he used a compass). He says he “proceeded west” in a “south course”, which I’m going to take as meaning he walked southwest. The Black line on the map is a roughly a mile from the point in which he would first hit the 1100 foot elevation (if he came up the hill straight from the Phoenix Mine). This puts the Albion Rock at the spot marked with a yellow circle.

Of course the million dollar question becomes: does this spot fit his description? Armed with this information, we trekked up to this very spot ourselves this winter on snowshoes. Following a similar route, we treked up and down the cliff line until we reached a large flat snow-covered rock at the spot marked in the map. The space was indeed about “twenty feet square”, and offered unfettered views in almost all directions. While spectacular in their own right, they were a far cry from what Mr. St. John described. Here’s what he describes:

“The portage lake and valleys were spread out like a map before me; – at my feet was the edge of a perpendicular precipice of 800 feet; around its base swept off to west the valley of Eagle River, in which were marked alternate Copse and Beaver Meadows.”

We could not see any of these things he mentions: no Keweenaw Bay, no Huron Mountains, no Portage Lake. And while we were sitting along a precipice, it was no means 800 feet high. (in fact there’s no precipice this high along the entire Cliff Range) Its only about 200 feet. We did, however, see Beaver Meadows and the Eagle River valley.

So was this spot Albion Rock? I think it was. If you follow his descriptions of his journey from Eagle River to the rock, you come straight to this spot. But there are some puzzling issues, first of which is the height of the rock. Even if we assume he’s exaggerating the “perpendicular precipice of 800 feet” for dramatic effect, this spot is no where near the “highest peak of the Keweenaw Point” as he later describes it. The spot is only 1280 feet at best, far shy of other points along the peninsula. Its not even the highest point along the Cliff Range – which sits at 1450 feet just to the west of the North American Gap (and another 2 miles away, a distance Mr. St. John was sure to record)

Then there are other facts that don’t quite add up. Most notable is the assertion that this rocks sits upon “Lease No. 10 belonging to the Albion Mining Company”. The rock I located sites between the Cliff Mine and the Phoenix Mine – both owned by the Pittsburg and Boston Mining Company. What’s more is that other sources have placed the “Albion Mine” to the west of the North American Mine. This would indeed place Albion rock atop the highest point of the Cliff Range, and not where I think it is.

a Phoenix Shaft, which St. John might have passed on his journey to Albion Rock

Yet the most striking evidence supporting my placement of the rock is his mention of “drifts” and a “shaft”. Six mines were opened along the Cliff Range, only two of which existed in 1846 – the Cliff and the Phoenix. And the Cliff itself was just starting – having opened only in 1845. And remember that the book was published in 1846, which means the exploration in question most likely occurred in 1845 at the latest. The Cliff mine probably hadn’t even finished its first drift – let alone having already abandoned a shaft. This means the mine in question has got to be the Phoenix. St. John puts this rock at most a mile from this mine, not the almost three miles separating the Phoenix from the Albion Location. This would put St. John’s path exactly where I placed it, and makes the spot we climbed to Albion Rock.

Of course, feel free to prove me wrong.

EDIT: Looks like I was proven wrong. After comments from more then one reader, I’m pretty sure that Albion rock was further to the south-west from where I deduce the rock is in this post. This spot would be the highest point along the range, and would make more sense then the spot I describe. Check out the comments to learn more…

25 comments

  1. Have not had a chance to read all of the above, but I might have a connection for the “Albion” name. The Brockway, for whom the drive was named, had a brother associated with the Wesleyan Seminary – later to become Albion College – at Albion, MI, 10 miles east of Marshall, MI, also mentioned above. The name there (in southern MI) came from the T. in NY whence the first settler came.

  2. I think the view would be great. I don’t think its to far from the high spot we discussed before. The far south lookout is close to where it has to be.

  3. SMG, sounds like a great project (the GIS enhanced method that is), and might shed better light on this mystery then my flawed attempt. In the end I wonder how much of St. John’s descriptions are based on actual fact and how much is hyperbole or creative prose. I mean he writes this account but there really is no way for anyone else to check out his claims. I wonder if the view he described is really as awesome as he makes it sounds.

    The Gratiot river explorations sound interesting, and I have never taken the time to do much bushwhacking out there along the cliffs (except at the Cliff’s themselves). Perhaps now I’ll have to go take a closer look…

  4. St. John states that the precipice was 800 feet. This is ludicrous if he is measuring from the ground up. If you are measuring from the Lake however, this 1450 ft knob everyone seems to agree was the “Rock”, this is approx. 800 feet above the Lake level (which is approx. 600 above sea level).

    I’ve been taking a course in Geographic Information Systems technology and have decided that this mystery would make for a great class project. I’m hoping to recreate what St. John may have seen and what path he took. View-shed analysis of the Greenstone Ridge will point out any and all spots where the Lake was visible in the East and West. This analysis will get to the bottom of the story.

    As far as the Albion/Manhattan. I was out on the Gratiot again recently and came across more foundations and privies (one that was stone lined and only 10 feet or so away from Cliff Drive) to the north of the river and west of Cliff Drive. There is also one large shaft lying right along the river itself. Maybe 15 feet from the edge. Hodge’s smelter was supposedly built near the river right in this area for the purpose of testing the ores of the area. Perhaps this shaft and the ores found therein provided the materials and location for this early smelter.

    I’ve still never found any slag near the river but I fear there may not have been enough produced to have left much of a trace.

  5. This is an old thread but I’ll see if I can add to it. The smelter at Albion is kind of a Holy Grail for me at the moment. It is possibly the earliest attempt at smelting in the Keweenaw, the others being the Suffolk Mine near Gratiot Lake and one that was excavated (although its argued it wasn’t a furnace) near Fort Wilkins.

    The Albion Mine workings are within section 11. There are structural remains (most likely housing, maybe some exploratory shafts, trenches) south of the Gratiot River on the east side of Cliff Drive. I have found two foundations and privies. One is on Ojibway Road south of the bridge. The other is south of that road nearer Cliff Drive. On the river itself you can see the remains of one, maybe two, dams. The smelter is supposedly located on the River near the bridge but where I’m not sure yet.

    The adit in section 11 at the base of the Cliff I have not seen. I am wondering if there are and structural remains near there or it there is a wagon road that can be followed south. This may get to the answer of the smelter question.

  6. I did some more research and it does appear that the Albion/Hodge smelter on Gratiot River in 1846 was the first attempt to smelt copper rock on Keweenaw Point.

    Herb from Wis.

  7. Explorer:

    The new version of the website doesn’t work in Mozilla for Mac OS 9.1 that I normally use. In I.E. It loads okay, but I don’t know if it will let me post. It seems glitchy. We’ll see….

    Thanks for the additional info guys. I’ve also collected more bits and pieces about the Albion and it seems they worked a very lean (i.e. “barren”) fissure vein and indeed lost their “subterranen lottery.”

    In 1853 the company purchased land south of Portage Lake at Houghton and opened the “New” Albion Mine there. The old property became the Manhatten and was last worked 1862-65. A good little history is under Manhatten in Stevens’ The Copper Handbook.

    Even more interesting, perhaps, is that Prof. James Hodge (of the Albion Co.) built a smelter in 1846 on Gratiot River “a short distance of the present main road” (that written in 1901). It was only used twice, but that’s one early smelter! Was there any earlier smelting attempt? Another one of those wish-you-could-find-it early historic sites.

    When we were exploring for Albion Rock last August I did find traces of an ancient road at the very western end of the cliffs and a couple of old pits up there. Probably from the Old Albion.

    The “For Sale” sign was along the road at the base of the Cliffs and said I believe “160 acres” and also “includes 1/4 mile of cliff” or something to that effect. I had descended the cliff in a gulley at the far western end and was walking along the road back to N.A. Gap when I saw the sign. So it was right in that 1450 Albion Rock area.

    Let’s see if this works….

  8. Capt. Kurt Fosburg

    Kurt again. A little more… From the Butler & Burbank USGS professional paper 144 (1929); “Albion-Manhattan: The Albion-Manhattan Co. in 1848 sunk a shaft 115 feet through the greenstone flow, drove an adit to connect with it, and sunk 200 feet below the adit level. The vein was 2.5 feet wide but barren. Later a shaft sunk to a depth of 70 feet near the greenstone flow yielded 5 tons of Copper.” Oh, and Herb from Wis.; where was there more land available along the cliff? The piece near Phoenix is sold. :) KF

  9. Capt. Kurt Fosburg

    Hei Guys. Have to agree; my bedrock geology maps of the Mohawk quadrangle have the site just southwest of Albion rock labled as “Manhatten Exploration/old Albion”. One shaft at the cliff (possibly an adit), two south on the other side of the road, in a straight line running NW to SE. Listed as 2 miles southwest of the Cliff mine, a fissure exploration, with the furthest south shaft almost dead centered in section 11. KF

  10. According to the summer 2007 issue of the Copper Country History Magazine (published by the Keweenaw Press of Lake Linden), the Albion Mine was later re-opened as the Manhattan Mine. Its location is listed as “one and one-half miles west of the Cliff Mines”. This would, of course, put it right smack dab at the point Herb described. Looks like we have a winner. :)

  11. I doubt many Albion ruins would exist today (if any), outside of perhaps a half-collapsed chimeny or two (like at the N. American). Sounds like the mine never moved much beyond the exploratory stage, thus any significant permanent structures would’ve been unlikely and would be tough to find today; so goes the subterranean lottery.

  12. I’ve been looking thru my stuff for material about the Albion Mine. Not very much. A little in Foster & Whitney (1850) and also in the History of the UP (1883) where they call it the “Albion-Manhatten.” Don Clarke doesn’t seem to have done a booklet about it; probably too little data.

    The Albion seems to have been a New York Company, and an early operation where just having a location along the Greenstone (esp. so close the Cliff Mine itself) was taken to be a guarantee of success. Twasn’t so. Worked c1845-48 then suspended by 1850, sometime later resumed up to 1857 then stopped again. Worked again in 1862 then abandoned. Nothing after that as I see it.

    In 1880s location was said to be “marked by ruins.” I wonder if any were stone and still exist? No exact location is given outside of being in Section 11 which amounts to 640 acres in size. Anyone ever find the Albion Mine site in 11-57-32?

  13. I have been on the ledge talked about with the ATV several times. My GPS shows coming into the location, the high spot was around 1410′, while the ledge shows about 1380′, it is higher to the west, when at the ledge, but its so overgrown. Clear day, you can see the smokestack in Gay. Must have been a real view back without the trees

  14. Probably a better way to state the previous post is that Albion Rock is the highest point along the Greenstone Ridge (aka: “The Cliffs”), and the 5th highest point on Keweennaw Point north of Portage Lake (unless I’ve missed something).

    I also notice that on the modern (top) photo that Explorer posted, you can see the general area towards the SW end of the Cliffs where Albion Rock is located. To the left of where he wrote “Cliff Mine” and left of the road in the photo a little feature sort of juts up slightly on the horizon. Just a guess and possibly an optical illusion, but I wonder if that isn’t the 1450 ft. hogback or knob on the 7.5 topo? From the 1450 ft. spot Cliff Mine was clearly visible.

    The photo also shows how densely timbered the Cliffs are today without a thinning forest fire up there it would seem for many decades.

    Anyone know what the Albion Company was named after?

    Herb from Wis.
    http://www.atthecreation.com

  15. From what I can glean from my topo maps, Albion Rock appears to be the 5th highest elevation on Keweenaw Point and the highest point on the Mineral Range proper. The higher spots are all isolated peaks south of the productive copper-bearing formation.

    Also, when you cross Portage Lake going north and get a first glimpse of the Cliffs dead ahead when passing thru Allouez, I believe that’s Albion Rock you’re looking at and would have been quite a landmark in the early days.

    Albion Rock = 1450 ft.
    Mt. Houghton = 1466 ft.
    Mt. Bohemia = 1465 ft.
    Gratiot Mtn. = 1490 ft.
    Mt. Horace Greeley = 1512 ft.

  16. Explorer & others:

    Sometimes we have to guess around what these wonderful early accounts say. St. John’s distance from Eagle River to Albion Rock confused me for a long time, and I got even more confused once I started climbing around up there because you get good views all along the Cliffs, but mainly to the south. To also see Lake Superior makes a special condition. Only from that 1450 ft. bench could I see a little darker blue between the leafed out trees that was Lake Superior. And that is on Lease 10, the old Albion Location.

    I found my well-marked up topo and by survey lines Albion Rock is in the SE 1/4 of the SW 1/4, Section 2, T57N, R32W, about 3/4 mile SW along the Copper Range from North American Gap — exactly where Ross circled in red on his linked page.

    If we assume the forest was not so thick up there in 1845 like it is now St. John’s highly romanticized vista is possible from that area. We do know that the early copper explorers had a wonderful mania for burning the woods to uncover the outcrops and to kill the mosquitoes. I’ll bet that in 1845 it was bare or charred woods up there.

    That said, it still seems to me that he was describing 2 slightly different spots and combining them in his text: One at the “800 ft” (sic) high brink at the cliff face itself, and then back a few yards from the brink on that 1450 ft. hogback where Lake Superior would be visible. That’s where I sat and ate my lunch on the 2nd day and figured it out as best I could. If the forest up there were burned off you could see a lot more from that 1450 ft hogback than what is visible today. A LOT more!

    I’ll try to write up my trip and observations there. I got some photos too. It was a good adventure. All kinds of raptors were circling up there. (a power vortex?) I also put a little blaze on a tree near the precipice. Your story on the North American Mine was very useful, although we didn’t find the chimney. We did see some low rock walls, some very early stampsand, and what appeared to be an old wooden flume partly buried in the ground. This is a great website, Explorer, and no mistake!

    Herb from Wis.
    http://www.atthecreation.com

  17. Here’s a snapshot of a topo map showing the possible location. Circled in red is a location in sec 2 at 1450ft.

    http://www.geocities.com/rossnheather@sbcglobal.net/Albion.html?1212072227343

  18. “This is SW of Cliff Mine and no more than 1/2 mile SW of North American Gap”

    Is anyone able to attach coordinates to this location? I’d like to give this area a look. Thanks, Ross

  19. Herb…

    You know the more I thought about this, and the more people like yourself commented on this post, the more I think my thinking was flawed. I think I was a bit too literal in my reading of the text – as you note. The spot you mention makes much more sense, and as the highest point along the Cliff Range it would be the most logical spot to take in such a grand view. (as you mentioned, no hills blocking the view). With not trees in the way (which would make sense at the time) thew view would indeed be what Mr. St. John described.

    If you ever feel like writing a more detailed piece on this mysterious rock, I’d be glad to post it here on the site for everyone to read. Consider it a “guest editorial”. I think you have a much better sense of where this place is then I do.

  20. A pal and I went in search of Albion Rock last August. Before that I mentioned Albion Rock in some of my comments here and elsewhere.

    Over the years I’ve worked a lot with old books and documents. All of the early travelers are notoriously inaccurate in their estimation of distances. Usually they over-estimate, but in this case I think St. John under-estimated. Remember, he walked the Copper Range in 1845 and at best took rough notes along the way. Probably he also worked off memory while writing his excellent book and made mistakes. IMO he was farther SW of the point where Explorer puts him (solely based on the text). I believe he was describing a spot SW of the North American Gap near at the 1450 ft level on the modern 7.5 topo map. That is on the old Albion Location (lease 10?), and thus the name, and also, I believe, the highest point on the Range in that area. Albion Rock is also marked as such on St. John’s map showing approx. lease lines, but no survey lines yet at that early date.

    Last August we spent two days walking that part of the Mineral Range and concluded that spot as the most logical place, because there the cliff face PROJECTS outward with clear views BOTH WAYS towards Keweenaw Bay up the valley of Eagle River, and also towards the Huron Mtns. (altho it was hazy). At that 1450 ft. spot, I don’t think any hills intervene.

    Then, from a flat bench of rock just a few steps back from the cliff face (the 1450 ft spot on the topo) you could see (esp.if the trees were REMOVED) north to Lake Superior, Isle Royale, etc. Only there did all the various features seem to come together. I don’t have my maps or notes in front of me to give the Section, etc. but maybe it was Section 2. This is SW of Cliff Mine and no more than 1/2 mile SW of North American Gap (if memory serves me right).

    Thanks for putting this page up because this historical (mystical?) place should be worked out and made known. I was planning to make my own webpage about Albion Rock and may do it yet.

    BTW: while there I saw that acreage along the Cliff there was for sale!

    Herb from Wis.
    http://www.atthecreation.com

  21. He didn’t see that stuff, because we didn’t when we were up there. While the spot you refer to might of given that view, his description of his journey does not support that. He would have had to walk a good 3 miles to get out to that point – much further then his estimate of “1/2-3/4 of a mile”.

    But saying that, your location would also put it near the Albion Mine, which is what he labeled it as. Perhaps his description of the view was accurate, but he just got the facts wrong about the journey it took to get there. He was probably working off memory and just messed up.

    Thats my guess, but I’m thinking that the real Albion rock is that high point south of the North American. I’ll just have to get out there and try to find it.

  22. I can’t see how he could have seen the Huron Mountains or Keweenaw Bay from either your spot for Albion Rock, or farther west. Its not much higher for one, plus the hills looking to the east would block it. Farther south, up on the cliffs along Cliff Drive, I have seen the Gay smokestack, along with the Keweenaw Bay & Huron Mountains, my GPS put me at 1345′where I was at.
    Wonder more if its poor memory when he wrote it, combining things of what he saw

  23. Not related to Albion Rock, but if there is an image that you can’t right click and save as, simply hold down “Shift” and “Print Screen”. Then in Photoshop (or similar program), use “Edit/Paste” You’ll have to crop out your toolbar and such, but it doen’t work too bad.

  24. I stopped using Topozone weeks ago, ever since they started pushing pop-up ads like crazy. For every time you zoomed in or out of the map – new pop up. I would have dozens open up on me. Even before that my love for them had wained since they no longer allowed you to “save as..” or even copy the image for pasting into Photoshop.

    The topo’s used here are from Terraserver, which are much easier to copy to Photoshop (they actually offer a download option). And their display system is much more responsive then Topozone’s. Oh well.

  25. Interesting, Mike, I’ll have to check it out!

    On a sidenote, I see that our friend Topozone has been folded into trails.com, and the topographic maps aren’t available for free any more (or at least, you have to deal with giant watermarks and lack of detail). Sad.

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