The first Calumet depot wasn’t in Calumet at all, but instead sat a good distance down the road in neighboring Hecla Location. While the Mineral Rang Railroad would reach the Calumet area around 1872, it found itself blocked from entering the village thanks to the swath of mine owned lands standing in its way. It wasn’t until about 1885 when the Hancock & Calumet Railroad arrived to the west end of the village that its first true depot took root. Unlike the independent Mineral Range, the Tamarack Mine owned Hancock & Calumet Railroad and as such was given permission to cross Tamarack owned land, providing it a quick and easy route into the village.
That first depot was nothing more then a simple frame building, and while it served its purpose as the surrounding village grew in both size and scope such a rudimentary building became an embarrassment – hardly representative of the great metropolis that Calumet had become at the dawn of the 20th century. In the decade to follow both the depot and the railroad would fall under control of its previous competitor – the Mineral Range. The depot would change hands again when in 1891 the Mineral Range fell under the control of the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railroad, a monster railroad company that operated lines all across the northern frontier of the midwest. The new owners also felt the old depot was in need of replacement, along with every other depot found along its newly acquired Copper Country lines. But for Calumet, it would receive the largest and most opulent renovations of them all – a grand structure serving as the railroad’s flagship depot.The new Calumet Depot was finished in 1908 at a cost of over $20,000. Built of brick and accented with locally quarrel sandstone, it was 115 feet long by 35 feet wide. It was topped by a large overhanging roof which created a wide awning surrounding the first floor. Up top was a petite second story capped by another hipped roof and finished off with an octagonal cupola. The building was modern in every way, complete with modern toilet facilities, steam heat, and electrified inside and out. Its waiting rooms were tiled, while sandstone accents and carved wood highlights could be found across its facade. In addition to the ticket offices and waiting rooms, the depot also housed railroad offices on its second floor, including space for the railroad superintendent. The depot would keep its Mineral Range name, but as part of the large DSS&A rail network passengers could board a train here and be taken almost anywhere in the midwest and from there anywhere in the country. With such connections at their doorstep and such an impressive depot to serve as the gateway, it was clear Calumet had become a metropolitan center on par with any of the great midwest cities.
Unfortunately unlike most of those other cities, Calumet’s fortunes were tied to the copper industry. When that industry faltered and eventually collapsed, so too did Calumet. While freight service would continue for some time, passenger service would dwindle substantially. By the 1950s that service was limited to the train above, the Copper Country Limited, which ran several trains a week between Calumet and Chicago. The Mineral Range depot would serve as the Copper Country Limited’s northern terminus for several decades until the last of the great Copper Country mines – Calumet’s own C&H – called it quits in 1967. A year later the Copper Country Limited would follow suite, and no longer would passenger service come to Calumet. Without purpose, the old Calumet depot was sold to private interests in 1973.
Amazing the old depot remains standing to this day, though it’s hardly the same prestigious gateway to a modern metropolitan center it once was. Today the old passenger trains and the trolley line once at its feet are only ghosts – all having abandoned the city decades ago. Numerous owners over the years have all failed at giving the old building new life, and today the depot only serves as a reminder of Calumet’s long lost grandeur – as empty and broken as the city itself. Yet just like that damaged city, there is still some dignity and prestige to be found – you just have to take a closer look.The first floor of the Calumet Depot is dividing up into five sections. In the center is the ticket office, where people could buy their tickets. On either side are a pair of waiting rooms, one for men and the other for the ladies. I’m not sure which door was for which waiting room, but usually the larger of the two (which in this case is the south right side one) is the men’s. Past those waiting rooms and occupying both far ends of the building is a pair of baggage rooms. Originally the building only had one baggage room on its north (left) end, with the south (right) end serving as an extension to the men’s waiting room. Later that extension was converted into a second baggage room, with its own large freight door cut into the facade. Up top were the offices, reached by a set of stairs which I believe exited the building just north of the ladies waiting room. Inside here was also a telegraph room and a pair of bathrooms. In the basement were the boilers and heating plant.
Running alongside all these rooms was the depot’s main platform, a large slab of concrete lining the tracks where passengers could stand to away their trains. Part of that platform would have been covered originally by the building’s large overhanging roof – supported by the line of now-empty brackets seen protruding out of the depot’s facade.Here’s a closer look at those support brackets, which today stretch off into space empty and without purpose. These are impressive up close, the woodwork showing a type of craftsmanship beyond their utilitarian purpose. Most notable is the how the angled support beam is gracefully arched and how the cross beam is set into a half-circle seat within that arched support beam. Then there’s the small stone pedestals on which the entire thing rests – pieces made of locally quarried sandstone. These little support stones are integral to holding that awning up, but were treated more as an artistic embellishment more akin to a gargoyle or cherub. Yet considering the masonry contractor for the building was Paul Roehm, such use is not that unusual. Especially considering what Mr. Roehm was most famous for – his towering castle-like sandstone home in Laurium. The old brackets and their sandstone ledges are even more impressive at the old depot’s corners, as a trio of them circle their way around the brick corner. You can also see here how that corner was cut off diagonally to provide a flat surface for the corner bracket – an impressive detail easily missed. With the awning missing the Calumet depot’s upper floor can be more easily viewed from ground level. Besides the sandstone sills the windows are rather unadorned. There was sure a good amount of them – meaning those offices were well lit during the day with a generous amount of natural light. Further up and protruding up from that second floor is this short brick stack. This provided exhaust for the boilers found in the building’s basement. Those boilers would have fed the steam steam radiators scattered about the structure and provided the necessary heat required of the region’s harsh winters. Back down at ground level we take a look at the first part of the building most people would have encountered upon their journey – the ticket booth. These trio of windows protrude out of the facade looking out on the platform. Tickets could have been bought here at this external window or inside within the comfort of the waiting rooms. At the far end of the building can be found another ticket booth, this one looking out at neighboring Oak Street. This one looks to not have been used long, as a small doorway was cut into its face at some point. On withe side of this old ticket booth are a pair of rooms which I believe once housed the depot’s restrooms.
Here even more sandstone can be found, both below the old windows and along the building’s water table as well – an element which designed to push water away from the building’s foundation.Once tickets were purchased, riders could then either wait outside on the platform or inside in one of the building’s two waiting rooms – one for men and another for women. To enter those rooms riders would make their way through these paneled doors – one of several that once led to the depot’s waiting areas. The doors were once surrounded by a set of windows that included a large transom overhead – now boarded up with red plywood. Building design of this period relied heavily on natural light to illuminate the interior spaces – which these windows would have accomplished. Here’s a closer look at some of the decorative wood work around the door and those window casings. These details would have been courtesy Edward Ulseth, a local contractor who was responsible for the depot’s finishes. On the other side of the ticket off we find another set of waiting room doors – these one used I believe by the ladies. A second door to its left I believe provided access to the offices upstairs, but I’m not sure. That doorway is not as well decorated as the waiting room door next door, making me think it wasn’t for use by riders. While this door originally opened to one of the depot’s waiting rooms, I would guess that later in its life as passenger service dwindled the space was converted into other uses – its last use labeled on its door via a small plaque still attached to its surface with only the word “room” barely visible. Sitting at the far end of the building are another set of doors, though these look to be for more industrial then decorative. These doors provided access to the depot’s original baggage and freight room, where items riding the trails other then people would be stored awaiting their journey. Along the door’s edges are a pair of hearty iron plates, most likely used to protect the neighboring brick from damage from the large carts and palettes of materials which would make their way through the opening. Apparently that large baggage and freight area wasn’t large enough, as this lean-to addition would be later added to the building’s northern end. Here we find more of those loading type doors, mining that this area was also used for baggage and freight and not passengers. Back at the opposite end of the building we find yet another freight loading door – complete with the same iron “bumpers” seen at the building’s baggage end. These doors, however, sit within what would have originally been part of the depot’s main waiting room. Once again it appears that the freight and baggage areas of the building were lacking, requiring the addition of yet another room dedicated to those pursuits. This time a portion of the Calumet depot’s waiting room was set aside for this purpose. Most likely this occurred later in the depot’s life, as passenger traffic began to wain and mail and package service became the railroad’s bread and butter. One last item of note to be found along the facade of the old Calumet depot – this survey marker cemented into the brick facade itself. I find it interesting that the marker was incorporated into the building itself, but I guess that’s one way to insure it isn’t tampered with and stays put. By the date on its surface this particular marker looks to have been added to the building in 1934, several decades after its completion.
Moving away from the depot itself, we turn our attention to the platform running alongside it. Originally the platform was concrete, but over time most of that concrete has broken up. What does remain is a line of wood timbers marking the platform’s outer edge. To the left of these timbers was the platform while to the right was the tracks themselves. Here we look southward towards Hancock, a view that would have once been dominated by several more freight houses and other railroad related structures. Today the old depot largely stands alone. Turning around and looking the opposite way finds the platform to continue onward for some distance – almost meeting up with the northern end of 9th street. To the left you can seen the old rail line – now a snowmobile trail – as it angles off to the west. Once again more rail related structures would have dominated this view a century ago, but today the space sits largely empty.
- The Depot Then
- The Depot Today
A century ago the Calumet Depot was the gateway to a metropolitan Calumet, a regal structure found at the center of the region’s modern transportation web. At its front door were both trains that could take passengers all across the US, but also trolleys are which could bring them all across the Copper Country quickly and in comfort. Today, unfortunately those old rail lines and trolley lines are absent, lost to the death of an empire. Yet even after a century the old Calumet Depot remains and without those rails and trains it remains the only evidence of the great transportation network that once called Calumet home. It also serves as yet another decaying monument to Calumet’s long-lost metropolitan stature and a time largely forgot.