The Cliff Churches

Today we take a leisurely cruise down a stream of consciousness, more specifically mine. So try to follow along if you can. It all started as I was browsing through some Phoenix photos at the Keweenaw Digital Archives in preparation for a post I was going to write today. It was then that I stumbled across the photo you see above, and noticed a peculiar building marked with the arrow. This building looked like a church, especially the steeple-looking protrusion off its front. This got me thinking…

In the foreground of that same picture is the Phoenix Church, previously known as the Church of the Assumption. The story of this church tells the tale of its birth down the road at Cliff Location around 1858. Several decades after the mine closed, the church was moved up the road to Phoenix where it currently stands (check out my post about the church HERE). While I’m not doubting the official account, I had always suspected that the Cliff Church wasn’t so much “moved” as it was was dismantled and its parts used to build a new church. This is because I have yet to find any photographs of this church as it appeared at the Cliff, at least not any church that looks at all like the current Phoenix Church. So finding that mystery building got me thinking that perhaps the story was mixed up, and that it wasn’t the Church of the Assumption that got moved to Phoenix but it was this mystery building instead.

After finding this closer shot of that mystery building I began to feel more confident of my theory. This sure looked like a church, and even the photo description labeled it as a “possible steeple”. With this in mind I took a look at all the Cliff photos I could find to see if this mystery building could be found.

Eureka! While not an exact duplicate, this Cliff Church sure looked like the mystery building at Phoenix. Two windows up front – check. Pitched roof – check. Steeple looking thing – check. Better yet the description at the archives labels this as “Church at Cliff it was moved to Phoenix Location in 1898”. Double eureka! With this new information I hastily began throwing together a new post about how the Phoenix Church was a fraud and that only I discovered the real truth. But then I found this…

This building looked awfully familiar, but its description in the archives told a different tale: “Eagle Harbor Methodist Church, built 1846-47. (Mr. King bought this and moved it to his place as basis for his home in Eagle Harbor.)” Ugh! It looked like I was a little premature on my declaration. Was this church in Cliff or Eagle Harbor? I decided to take a look at some Cliff photos to find out…

Here’s a photo of the Cliff Location – dated as 1926 (keep in mind this would be after the Phoenix Church was moved). The mine is in the foreground, with the South Cliff to the right and Cliff Location to the left. Though the photo is grainy and dark, it looks like there are two churches in this shot. The first one sits along the Cliff Drive while the second is back on a side road in town. By using this photo and an old Topo Map I have of the area, I put together a map to try to locate where these church’s were:

Here is a current aerial image of the site with the old town site superimposed over the top. Though the topo marked the buildings in town, it did not differentiate the churches. But based on several photographs of the site I was able to narrow their locations down to the red squares.

One of those churches can be clearly seen in this photo, which was taken on the north-east side of town looking out towards the mine. This church has a very unique steeple design that we can find on several other photographs of the area.

Here it is again, this time from the south.

Here’s that church in close up. This is identified on the archives (by reader Dave Freeze no less!) as the Methodist Church. This is definitely not the mystery building, nor is it the Phoenix Church since this photo was taken after the Phoenix Church as moved (and it’s also not Catholic).

Unfortunately I was unable to find any photos of that second church I had previously identified at Cliff. So it was there that my stream of consciousness dried up. I had thought I was onto something, but I got no where. I was no where near find out what that mystery building in Phoenix was, nor was I able to definitively show that the “Eagle Harbor Church” that looked very similar to it ever existed at Cliff. I got nothing.

But through process of elimination I think I at least made it clear what churches the Phoenix Church couldn’t be. Both of those churches I identified at Cliff were still standing at the location in 1937 – when those photos were taken. That means neither could have been the Phoenix Church since it was moved in 1899. So where was the Phoenix Church when it call Cliff home? There’s only one other possibility – which a makes perfect sense.

Sitting down at the Catholic Cliff Cemetery are these old foundations. Could these be the old foundation to the original Cliff Catholic Church – before it was moved to Phoenix? Since it sits along the old Catholic cemetery it makes sense, but the foundation looks too small to have supported a church of the Phoenix’s size.

So what started as a conspirator theory ended up taking me through dozens of photographs, the creation of a Cliff Location map, and lots of guesswork but in the end got me nowhere fast. After wasting most of my morning I decided to write it all down here. Perhaps someone out there can take the reigns and run with it….

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  1. According to the Keweenaw Historical website, the church was disassembled and reassembled at the new site. So the church could have been modified or enlarged.

  2. I’ve suspected that those foundations in the last photo are a mausoleum, used to store bodies through the winter until the thaw made gravedigging possible again.

    As far as the church — no clue.

  3. It might just be me, but the 3rd and 4th pictures look like the same building in the exact same place but one is at a slightly different angle and of course taken from a closer point. Look at the trees.

  4. I’m with Jay…pic 3 & 4 look like the same building. Check out the 3 boards on the roof below the steeple. The siding just above the front door…looks like it has the same flaws in both pics.

  5. I have some information that may help answer some questions about the churches. Yes there was a third church at the Cliff. The third church was an Episcopal church. If you do a search of Tech’s digital archives using “Cliff Mine” as your search key words you will get 6 or 7 pages of images. On the third page, the third image is a shot showing a Keweenaw Central loco and three cars. The tracks run in front of both of the churches. I have a copy of the photo from the archives. The detail on the on-line photo is a little difficult to see. Directly behind the loco and the first car sits the Episcopal church. The church was built in 1855. Hervey Parke one of the founders of Parke, Davis and company was one of the founders of this church. According to the book “The Cliff”the last service was held in 1869. In 1872 the local Odd Fellows were given permission to use the church as a lodge hall. Some of the “fittings” were used when the Christ Episcopal was built in Calumet. The Cliff mine ceased operations in 1903. The K.C.R.R. tracks through the Cliff location were put in place in 1906. What good timing! Some time after this, the church was dismantled and the wood was used to build “chapels” at the Florida location and South Range.

    The Methodist Church, which measured 65 X 35 feet, met a somewhat similar fate. Near the “turn of the century” a storm hit the area, causing the roof to fall in. Much of the lumber was used to build a Finnish Methodist church in Laurium. I do not have any information as to when the Methodist church was abandoned. The Methodist church in the photo is located just to the right of the large rock in the photo. The place where the window was on the side nearest the steeple is clearly missing. There is a photo in the Cliff, page 90, that shows the Episcopal Church and Methodist church were not to far from each other.

    Other sources for this post were an article from the Sept. 2nd 1955 Mining Gazette and an e-mail from Kevin Musser dated 5-26-1998.

    I hope this answers some of the questions about the churches at the Cliff.

  6. So in summary there were apparently three churches at Cliff – the Catholic (which was moved to Phoenix), the Methodist (which I detail above) and the Episcopal which Dave mentions. I’m a little fuzzy on my religious denominations, but would the Methodist Church been responsible for the Protestant Cemetery, or would there be a fourth church at Cliff (a Protestant?)

  7. I think the term Protestant was used to mean any church that was not Catholic. At the time the Cliff and other mines were in operation, from the 1840’s to the 1900’s, the Catholics and Protestants would not think of marrying someone outside of their own religion.

    Could you give me a link to the photo, the fifth one down in your post, that show the view from the ridge?

    Also the picture I referred to in my earlier posting was shot from the Hillside cemetery looking toward the southeast.

  8. Amazing, and intriquing, I never realized how many churches where around…

    I never thought cliffton was over there,
    I kinda figured it was in deep woods or something.

    Anything left of it? and whats at south cliff mine?

  9. The number of churches in some of the towns in the Copper Country is amazing. When the mining was at its peak each nationality had its own church. Take a look at pictures of Calumet. In some pictures you can see two or three steeples. Sounds like a job the Copper Country explorer.

  10. Dave… I hot-linked all the photos to their corresponding listing in the archives. As for the topo, its that 1929 version from the USGS paper 144 you sent me.

    Jay… South Cliff is more or less just an extension of the Cliff Mine, the two were connected via an underground drift (which runs right under Cliff Drive no less). I believe S. Cliff had two shafts, both vertical. As for Cliff Location, many of the old foundations can still be seen along the road there – there just a little overgrown.

    The town shown on my map is marked “Cliff” on the that 1929 Topo, which would technically make the town Cliff Location. “Cliffton” must of been up the road a tad bit, sitting near the corner of US41 and Cliff Drive. A lot of these old photos seem to show another collection of houses up there. The two are used interchangeably a lot but I believe they might of technically been two separate towns.

    As for a series on Calumet Churches, I’ve already been doing some of that for the new site. Some of that work will probably spill over to here in the future.

  11. Interesting thread. Old churches have a coolness all of their own so do old cemeteries. I had no clue there was a 2nd cemetery at Cliff location for Catholics. And I still need to find the Hillside, altho now from the aerial photo I see where it is.

  12. Gosh this is so fun, wish I had a tech archive in my computer.
    I did some looking today on this topic. One of the last as usual, I had a link to Copper Country Reflections page here:
    Strangely enough, he has a photo, 5th one from the bottom, in the description, he has the Methodist Church with the steeple on the right and on the left the Episcopal Church. From the looks of it, its nowhere near the main road.
    Almost looks like the Methodist Church should be moved over to the south? side of the next street.
    Also a small blurb in a book called Inventory of the Church Archives, they listed Cliff Mine, also called Clifton. I think it was one and the same. The Catholic Church was listed as in Clifton, St Marys Church.
    Also found a Journal of the Proceedings of the Annual Convention of xxxx year of the Protestant Episcopal Church in 1868. (Grace Church) of Cliff Mine was very poor and location was almost depopulated.

  13. I do not think the two buildings you indicate as the churches are the churches. There a several reasons for this conclusion. First both churches were gone from the Cliff area by 1906. Also the picture in the Tech archives showing the KC train in front of the churches was shot looking directly southeast from the Hillside cemetery. Also both buildings are farther southeast beyond the KC right of way.

  14. You are correct in your theory regarding the foundation near the Catholic cemetery. According to Clarence Monette, with whom I was good friends, there were three churches in Clifton: a Methodist church (the one indicated in the photographs), the Episcopal church, located not far away, and the Catholic church. I asked Clarence once where the Church of the Assumption had stood in Clifton, mentioning the size of the foundation, as you pointed out, looked too small to be that of the church in Phoenix. He replied that it, indeed, was the site of the Catholic church, but after the foundation was laid, Fr. Baraga decided that the church should be a bit larger, so the length of the church extended beyond the foundation.
    There are two cemeteries in Clifton, the Catholic cemetery, and the Protestant cemetery. The Protestant cemetery is located near the base of the cliff; the Catholic cemetery is located near the highway. I hope this helps.

    1. My 2xGreat-grandfather, Joseph Long, is buried in the Cliff Catholic cemetery, the family oral history has an alternative version of when the Church of the Assumption “grew”. The expansion may have occurred when the building was moved to Phoenix. The Catholics were the minority at the Cliff and got the least desirable location for their church and cemetery – the swampy ground to the south of the village. My Grandmother was a little girl when my 2xGreat-grandmother was buried next to Joseph, her most vivid memory of the day is the water coming up around the coffin when it was lowered in the grave. Once the church was moved and the cemetery fell into disuse, some folks reinterred their relatives in other cemeteries. Some claimed the highly mineralized water had petrified their loved ones – or so goes the local legends.
      Whatever the case, back in the 19th century, a good Catholic wouldn’t be caught dead in a Protestant cemetery or vice-versa.

  15. Lots of speculation going on in these many posts about the Catholic church at Cliff Location(same as Clifton, which was the townsite at Cliff Location, or simply the Cliff—- whew!! Yes, the poor rock foundation was where the Catholic church stood, on the east edge of the Catholic cemetary, there in the cedar swamp. Was that building physically moved to the Phoenix corner, or disassembled? It could have been skidded during the winter after ‘icing’ a skidway along a treeless path at that time by a team of oxen or mules. Or was it dismantled and moved by wagon? Might there be some old documents or photos somewhere to clear up this mystery?

    I have a great-great uncle buried in this Catholic cemetary named George Stroh who died from drowning in November 1873 at the age of 12 years. Drowned in November in the Keweenaw? Maybe he broke through thin ice? His mother Sophia(wife of Peter Stroh)however is buried at Evergreen Cemetary at Eagle River having died”of a broken heart” so goes family tradition. This begs the question – why would a staunch German-Catholic not be buried next to her son in the Catholic cemetary but instead in a Protestant gravesite? Hmmmm!!!

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