The Calumet Depot

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.

875b9ffc-15e5-4f96-a0f5-b62031481406

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.

Mineral Range Depot, Calumet
The Mineral Range Depot – Photo Courtesy Paul Petosky
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.

Mineral Range Depot, Calumet, ca 1960s
The Mineral Range Depot in the 1960s – Photo Courtesy Paul Meier

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.

final

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.

Mineral Range Depot Wide View
A View from the Platform
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.

The Missing Awning at the Calumet Depot
The Missing Awning
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.

Sandstone Ledges at the Calumet Depot
Sandstone Ledges
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.

More Awning Remains at the Calumet Depot
More Awning Remains
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.

The Second Floor of the Calumet Depot
The Second Floor
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.

The Smokestack at the Calumet Depot
The Smokestack
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.

The Ticket Office at the Calumet Depot
The Ticket Office
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.

Another Ticket Office at the Calumet Depot
Another Ticket Office?
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.

Waiting Room Entrance at the Calumet Depot
Waiting Room Entrance
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.

Entrance Details at the Calumet Depot
Entrance Details
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.

Women's Waiting Room Entrance at the Calumet Depot
Women’s Waiting Room Entrance
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.

The Baggage Room of the Calumet Depot
The Baggage Room
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.

The Back Addition at the Calumet Depot
The Back Addition
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.

The New Baggage Room at the Calumet Depot
The New Baggage Room
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.

The Bench Mark at the Calumet Depot
The Bench Mark
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.

 

The Platform at the Calumet Depot
The Platform
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.

More of the Platform at the Calumet Depot
More of the Platform
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.

oldphoto
nowphoto
  • 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.

Discuss…

  1. Looked around the station last time I was up there. Such a wonderful building. While the city has some bright spots of well kept buildings, so many great old buildings are on the edge of ruin. It is both beautiful and depressing at the same time.

  2. I’m not sure what’s up with the depot. Last I knew it was put up for sale on Ebay of all places, but I don’t think the reserve was met. So it still sits, but its not advertised locally as being for sale. At least the roof has been stabilized. I always thought this would make a great restaurant, sitting right on the snowmobile trail as it does.

    As far as Calumet is concerned I think there’s two types of building owners out there, those in the majority that have a real interest in rehabilitating their structures for the communities long-term gain, and those few individuals that hope to make a quick buck off flipping them. Because their structure is “historic” owners will sometimes crank the price up based on “potential”, even though the building is a mess. I think some are waiting on the park service to sweep in and buy it up from under them for a good price.

    I know of a few buildings that have had nothing done to them since I’ve been up here but still have a abnormally high asking price. Needless to say they are still for sale, and slowly rotting away.

  3. Actually, those timbers along the edge of the platform are to keep the platforms surface in place, usually, the platform sits higher than the track. It gave a nice solid edge to whatever surface was there.
    They are still built that way, and depending on who’s paying for it, the surfaces could be brick, blacktop or concrete.

  4. Thanks Gordy, I should of known better about the platform. I know the platform at Painesdale (along the Copper Range) was also concrete, so I should of made the connection. This station was built after the turn of the century, so concrete could very well have been used. (or perhaps that asphalt stuff is the original material)

  5. More than likely the name on the door would have been Baggage Room. Plus the mail slot would fit, way back, the mail was handled on the train, so you could drop your letter right there as long as it had the postage on it. It would be sorted in the mail car,

  6. The marker in the last photo is a benchmark, basically a surveyor’s mark which denotes a known location and elevation. They are frequently put into sidewalks or the sides of buildings, because they’re expected to stay put for a long time.

    Some of the more interesting benchmarks in the Keweenaw include the top of the Quincy #2 Rockhouse, which of course is still there. But others include the top of the Quincy #6 Rockhouse and the old Franklin Mine watertower, which are both long gone. Some were as simple as “triangular rock between two large oaks”.

  7. Offered on ebay? Wow I missed that…remember what the price was?

  8. It was a reserved bid, and when I saw it no bids had yet been placed. At that time the auction was almost closed, so I don’t think they got any offers. I remember the description very much touted the building’s historical significance, but provided little details to its actual condition.

  9. This is one of those projects that will need an investor group. I very much doubt, especially in these questionable economic times, that the Village of Calumet or the KNHP have the funds to go in and do a complete restoration.

    As mentioned above, a historically-themed restaurant might be a decent business model, but the overhead required to stabilize the structure, obtain permits and licenses, restore it, decorate it, and perform the necessary modifications to convert it into a building suitable for food service would be enormous.

    Sadly, this one of many historic buildings in the area that is quite likely to disappear. Get your pictures now folks.

  10. Here’s an interesting article from today’s Daily Mining Gazette:

    Calumet Looks at Maintenance

    The Calumet Village Council is considering the possibility of a “minimum maintenance” ordinance that would apply to buildings.

  11. My Grandparents lived right across the tracks from the old depot, I would go by there almost everyday for years. Sad to see this building slowly succumb to the elements. My mother used to tell me how nice it was inside, she said it had beautiful marble floors. Wish I could have had the chance to see the interior but it does not look like that is ever going to happen. Great site! Many of the places pictured here used to serve as my old stomping grounds as a kid,poking around and exploring different places “some places I am sure I had no business being at” brings back many fond memories, thanks!

  12. That should have been one of the first buildings purchased and restored. That was for a lot of people their first stop/experience of calumet and as a kid i remember the millwalkee engine right next to the depot as i use to walk by it everyday going to morrison school.

  13. There is a similar benchmark on the concrete breakwall at McLain State Park. I always thought it was neat.
    As far as interior photos of the depot go, you can still see some at 5th and Elm coffee shop. A local student has done a report on saving the building, and there are many great recent interior photos from when he was granted access.

    • Thanks Eric, I’ll have to check those photos out. Perhaps I’ll have to get access myself so I can share the old building with everyone else here on the site…

  14. My father was the agent at this depot. He was there from 1939 to 1959

  15. also a childhood hangout for me. if i ever win the lottery this building is on my list. would love to see it like it was in the 60s when the CCL still called.

    • does anyone know where the hancock depot was and if its still standing? there are a couple buildings in the area of ginos that look like they could be a former depot. thanks

    • It was behind McGann’s lumber sort of. East of Dakota Ave. The depot wasn’t actually on the main track, it had a spur they had to back into.
      Around Gino’s were a couple of warehouses way back in the 1920’s.

    • thank you gordy seems like that would be pretty time consuming.

  16. think last calumet depot manager was a mr beck–his wife madge worked as waitress at utzmans restauraunt on 5th st–later worked as cook at mich tech–my brother in laws first job was for Milwaukee road–doug picciottino he died 3 weeks ago–he d turn the traind around to face out of calumet at the Y–kept steam up fireing boiler –the train guys stayed at Michigan house over night—his dad ernie picchiottino and normond LaBonte also worked there on cleaning up train–engines windows ect—tommy row picked up the US mail every morning delivered it to post office for yrs–he also owned second hand store on 5th street–across from bat crestos building—tony

  17. For a good read on the DSS&A and the Mineral Range try THE DULUTH, SOUTH SHORE & ATLANTIC RAILWAY by John Gaertner published by the Indiana University Press in 2008. The DSS&A had the most route miles in the UP and had the potential to be a major player. The early proposals for the Canadian Pacific transcontinental route had a route along the south shore of Lake Superior that followed what was to be the eventual DSS&A route and a route that later became the Duluth, Winnipeg, & Pacific: this to avoid construction through the Canadian Shield on the north shore. Once William Van Horne took control of the CPR, he pushed the northern route and completed it. The DSS&A was built as an independent and had good prospects of becoming a major East-West bridge route. It was not to be. Factions hostile to Van Horne managed to get the Canadian Pacific to buy controlling interest in the DSS&A. purportedly as a pre-emptive move against James Hill. This was not a good thing for the DSS&A and CPR. It left the DSS&A with friendly connections at the east end but with hostile connections in Duluth. James Hill would have killed his mother before he would forward traffic via the CPR controlled road. The DSS&A was doomed to be a secondary line from then on and was considered the poor cousin of the Soo Line. The Iron Range and the Copper Country were the DSS&A’s major sources of on-line revenue and bridge traffic was always light. BTW in its later years the Mineral Range was co-owned by C&H.

  18. According to news reports from the north woods, the Calumet Depot has been bought by Calumet Township for $40,000. They figure that about $500,000 to fix it back up. For now they got a $6000 dollar grant from the National Park Service. So they will get power back in the building and hope to get a working toilet for the people to work on the building. Township supervisor figures they will work on one room at a time.

    • That’s some good news for the depot! I wonder what their long range plan for it is…. I’ll have to stop by there next time I go up to Calumet, will update everybody on whatever I can find out.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *