While mines flourished and cities bloomed along the Keweenaw from Houghton to Copper Harbor, the great mineral lands to the south were relatively ignored. It wouldn’t be till near the end of the nineteenth century that any serious attempts at tapping the southern range’s copper riches would be undertaken, accelerated by the completion of the Copper Range railroad in 1900. Before then the region was simply a vast wilderness, its copper reputation spoiled by one of the Keweenaw’s most abysmal failures – the Wheal Kate Mine.
Rising high above the southern range is one of the tallest peaks along the peninsula – 1500 foot Wheal Kate mountain. Its ominous presence just south of the Portage Valley prompted many to ponder if it was made from solid copper – copper which resisted the great glaciers that had carved out the valley and the lake basin beyond. On this hunch alone, optimistic prospectors bought up the mountain and began sinking shafts into it to find it’s juicy copper center. In the process the mine company platted out the nearby town of South Range. The mine quickly failed but the town somehow managed to survive.
It wasn’t until the arrival of the Copper Range almost a generation later that the town finally thrived. With the railroad running right through the center of town and the presence of several mines in the vicinity (including the Baltic right next door), South Range’s commercial district exploded. Its good fortune lasted as long as the mines that supported it, which finally came to an end in the 1960′s with the closure of the last operating mine along the South Range – the Champion. When the mine closed, the railroad was torn up and abandoned.
Today this is all that’s left of the Copper Range Depot that once graced the South Range downtown. With the wood building itself long since torn down, only the concrete platform can give the old rail corridor company. The old grade is presently used as a snowmobile trail.
Standing across from the old depot is the crown jewel of the South Range of today. This sandstone beauty is the Kaleva Temple, built with an unique angled store entrance to face the oncoming trains. The building was begun in 1907, but the original builder ran out of money and couldn’t complete the structure. A few years later the Knights of Kaleva – a Finnish Fraternal Society – bought the building and completed it in 1910.
Here’s a closer look at the pediment over the buildings central stairway. This building housed the Post Office as well as small 200 seat theater. More recently it has housed an antique store (go figure) and a pet store.
On the other side of the street from the Kaleva Temple is another sandstone beauty, though this one only has a sandstone facade (the rest of the building is brick). This is the current town hall and fire department. It sports a most interesting second floor entrance which is somewhat odd since the building doesn’t sit on a hill or anything.
The building’s pediment betrays the buildings origins as a Depression era government works project. The CWA refers to the Civil Works Administration, which was a short lived forbearer to the WPA. The building was completed in 1934 as a community hall, which would have been at the end of the CWA’s life.
Making a circular sweep back to the other side of the road we come to the current Copper Range Historical Museum. This stately building use to be home to the South Range State Bank. This brick building with ornate sandstone embellishments has been well taken care of recently and looks almost new. Here is what appears to be the original alarm box still attached to the side of the building.
Another shot showing the unique second floor transom-sized windows and the dentil cornice.
Crossing the street back towers the Kaleva, we notice another ruined building behind it that sports some interesting old signs. This one is for Mission Orange, which was first sold in 1933 by the Mission Dry Corporation out of Los Angeles.
And then there’s one for good-ol Vernors as well. Favorite of sick children everywhere.
Along a road one block back from the main drag we found a couple more old buildings – which included this interesting specimen. The large central opening would seem to suggest a fire hall or other municipal building. I thought perhaps that this was the first town hall before the current hall was built in the 30′s, but the odd stone block construction would seem to suggest this building is more modern then that. Perhaps someone out there has a clue…
And one last thing before signing off…. the beauty of sandstone….