A Dam Mystery

Fresh from my week-long Strep ordeal (much better now thankfully) I find an interesting mystery waiting for me in my inbox. Brian Wereley had just returned from a Copper Country Exploration of his own, where he had found what looks to be an old dam hiding away in the woods. He had sent me the photos to see if I could identify it, which I cant. So I decided to post it up on the old website and see what my readers have to say. (That would be you) Hopefully one of us can get an idea.

The first picture above is a wide shot of the structure. Brian estimates it as being some 80 feet across and 30 feet high at its deepest point. It sits within a natural-looking gully, stretching from hillside to hillside. Any reservoir it might have once held back has long since been drained or dried up over time. The only source of water is a small stream, which now flows under the dam on its way down the hillside.

Here is where the structure is located, just south-west of South Range. Its position is baffling to me, because it doesn’t seem to be near anything. Any dam such as this that I have found before was near a mine or stamp mill. No stamp mills here, and the closest mine (the Baltic) sits almost a mile to the south-east (over the top of Six Mile Hill no less). While the Wheal Kate Mine (started along Whealkate Mountain just to the north of here) is nearby, that mine pre-dates the concrete used in the dam’s construction. The concrete makes this baby turn-of-the-century, most likely built by Copper Range. But for what purpose?

Here’s a closer look at what appears to be a spillway along the dam’s face. This is the only “embellishment” along the entire structure. No pipes, control valves, gates, doors, anchor bolts… nothing. THere is also no evidence of a pump house or other structure nearby, which would have been needed in order to bring the water from here to wherever it was needed. If it was a gravity-feed system (like what was done at the Quincy Mill Dam), it would have never made it over Six-Mile Hill to feed the Baltic Mine.

Here’s a shot looking over the top of the structure. Its more modern-looking construction would seem to suggest it was built by the Copper Range – which got me thinking about the railroad. Dam’s like this were also made to feet water towers along railroads. Readers have pointed out to me in the past that water from wells would be undesirable for use in train engine boilers, so surface water was collected instead. (it was much softer I believe was the reason) So this dam could have supplied water to a water tank along the Copper Range Line. Unfortunately we have another geography problem.

According to the list of water stations at Kevin Musser’s site the closest towers (in 1916) were at Mill Mine Junction – about a mile and a half to the north-east. While the topography would allow the use of a gravity feed system from this dam to the junction’s towers, it doesn’t make sense for it to do so. Mill Mine Junction has a stream of its own running nearby. It would seem to be much easier to simply dam that stream for water then this small little one a good mile and a half away. But that’s just me.

So I don’t know. I want to say it was built to supply water for a Copper Range water station – but it doesn’t really make sense on closer examination. The only other option would be a reservoir for the village of South Range, but it doesn’t seem large enough for an entire town’s water needs. Hopefully someone out there reading this can shed some light on the subject. For me, its a dam mystery.

Thanks to Brian Wereley for the photos (which are his) and the story. Its a great find, and I’m a little jealous. If anyone else out there has some questions about mystery ruins you found, feel free to send some pics my way. I’ll do my best to identify things I know, but if it stumps me I can always post it here and get a whole group of experts to take a look. I love getting photos so send them in!

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  1. Well, lets take this situation one step at a time.

    Why would someone need water?
    Steam engines
    Wilfley tables
    Steam heat
    Fire prevention
    Drinking water
    Mechanical advantage [water wheel turning a shaft]

    Would the stream at Mill Mine Junction have provided enough usable water at the time?

    It is a shame Kevin is no longer around to ask, but how did COPR, et al refill their water tanks?

  2. John…

    I suppose that this could be for some other industry. Perhaps there was a lumber mill, or brewery or something else that required a water reservoir or a boiler. Fire prevention is a great idea, perhaps for south range? Or the Baltic Mine even? It still seems strange for it to be located so far away.

    Mill Mine Jct is still my best guess, since the topography seems right. Your right about Kevin, he would know the answer right away.

  3. The 1929 map comes through again. The map shows the dam. But I cannot tell if there is any water behind it because the copy I have is black and white. The map also shows a structure at the end of the road that runs east to west, near the area where it changes from road to a trail northwest of the dam. I cannot tell what the structure is because the copy of the map is not the greatest. It is not a mine shaft. The square is solid black indicating some type of building. Hope this gives some ideas where to search. If I can, I will get an approximate location if you want to use a GPS receiver to narrow down the location.

  4. The location of the building is some where near N 47` 3′ 56.26″ w 88` 39′ 17.58″.

    I have been looking at the the 1929 map, there are several locations where creeks have been damed for one use or another. Looking at newer USGS topo maps show some of the dams still exist while others have bee removed and the stream flows freely.

  5. It makes me wonder how many more dams like this one must be out there, hiding out in the woods in area’s far from any mine or town. These are places I don’t look, and most others don’t as well. This one must of been built to supply water to something, something that is one those maps but not so obvious on the ground today. I guess I’ll have to go down there and take a look. But with gas as it is I’ll have to save up some money first..

    Its interesting to me that now a days it would be tuff to even get a permit to build a dam, no less the dozens or so built by mine companies back in the day. Those companies had a large amount of control over their land, much more then most companies are afforded today. (for good or bad I suppose)

  6. There is one on the C&H grade north of Lake Linden also, probably less than a mile north of M26. Noticed it several years ago while riding and looking with the ATV. Its all full of silt behind the dam, and I can’t think of a reason for it where it is located. Water still runs through the area.May have been a flood control type thing. Its also made of concrete.

  7. My initial thought on this dam was flood control as well. Looking at the tiny puddle in front of the dam it seems like it’d take eons to actually fill. They must have been a patient bunch back then.

  8. A lot of the streams up here are intermittent, and only show up in force during the hight of spring run-off. This is especially true of the ridgeline up along Torch Lake. Walking along those trails in the spring, I would see hundreds of small streams cascading down those hills – some of them rather large in volume. The one here at South Range must of been much bigger during the height of spring thaw I’d assume.

  9. Heading back up this weekend, will see if I can make some sense out of the area. Also will find that building hopefully.

  10. Also, since we know the vintage of the dam, would there be anyway (old plat book, etc.) to find out who owned the land at that point in time?

  11. I know a local historian.. or a few people (locally near this area) that would be able to tell us more about this… and why… I am curious now too. My sisters and I have played near here… we may even been here before.

  12. I shared on facebook… and got the results I was looking for from my “Go-to” guy for local history!

    Brian Juntikka says ” In the early days of South Range, this concrete dam was built with the intention that it would supply the village with potable water. But the project was a complete flop. It never worked because there never was enough water in that creek to amount to anything. When the village realized the blunder, they contracted with Copper Range Company and hooked into their water main at Baltic – and the village has had running water ever since”.

  13. I looked at a couple maps today after your first comment and had the thought of it maybe it had something to do with town. It was just to far away from anything else. Kind of interesting that it was a big mistake though. Guess no one thought to look at how much water flowed in that creek year round.

  14. Thanks for clearing up the mystery Tasha! Its interesting considering South Range’s unique role as being independent of the Copper Range company. In the end it looks like they needed the old mining company after all like all the others, at least for their water.

    I’d like to think the village tried the dam as a way to “stick it to the man”, considering the irony when the village crawled back to the mine when their plan failed. But that just might be me.

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