Old Schools of the Copper Country (p2)

While the Copper Country had its fair share of rural schools thanks to its Finnish immigrants, most schools in the region were found within the various towns and villages scattered across the peninsula. As the Copper Country grew and prospered, it wasn’t only single young men who called the area home. Soon married men, with families, began arriving with intentions of putting down roots. In turn, mine companies began to cater to these family men by building schools at their mine and mill locations.

Above is a photo of such a school – the Isle Royale School. Built for the Isle Royale Consolidated around the turn of the century, the school served children of the mines workforce. While the northern shafts of the Isle Royale were close enough to the city to utilize Houghton’s school system, its southern shafts were over a mile away. Built near the old Dodge Mine, this school served the residents of nearby Dodgeville and other shaft locations. Today the building serves as an apartment complex, though the Isle Royale name still adorns the front doorway.

With many stamp mills located miles from the mine for which it worked, companies had to often build a secondary school building at their mill towns as well. Here is the old Gay School (or should I have said school at Gay?) which was built around 1923. With the nearby Mohawk and Wolverine Mills in operation, this little school catered to over 1500 residents and nearly 200 students. Amazingly it continued to operate as a school for decades after the mills closed (due mostly to Gay’s remote setting), finally closing down in the 1960’s. It remains vacant today.

Another mill town – Redridge – also had its own school. This large two story school was built by the Atlantic Mining Company along with most of the town around 1895. Students from this school would move on to nearby Jeffers High School in Painesdale to finish their schooling, the Copper Range Railroad providing busing service (by train). The school is currently an apartment building and is the only remaining structure from the old town.

Mine companies weren’t the only ones to get into the school building business. Municipalities also had to cater to its more family oriented populations. While the nearby Cliff Mine had its own school, the port of Eagle River had to build another for its own growing population. I believe this school also survived into the mid 20th century, due to the Eagle River’s remoteness. Today the Eagle River school is a community building.

This two story school building was Eagle Harbor’s second, its first being the one room Rathbone School House a few blocks away. With the port town’s population swelling thanks namely to the success of the nearby Central Mine, the small one room school house that had previously catered to students was no longer large enough. In 1872 this two-story school was built, and continued to serve the town for over 50 years. It closed in 1956 and is now a community center.

It was often easy to distinguish the rich mines from those less fortunate by simply taking a look at the type of schools it built. While most companies built simply wood framed affairs, those flush with money often constructed more elaborate buildings to showcase their status. This beauty was built by the Quincy Mine in 1909 for the residents of its smelter town of Ripley. Finished in sandstone and featuring a hipped roof adorned with a large cupola, this building was one of the finest in the area. Today it serves – surprise, surprise – as an apartment complex. (I guess schools make good apartment buildings)

Making our way back south, we find a community with a different type of benefactor. Instead of mining, the lakeside town of Chassell owes its existence to lumber. It was the Sturgeon River Lumber Company that platted the town and erected its large sawmill along the lakefront in 1888. This was the communities elementary school (known as Southwell Elementary), built in 1917 to replace an earlier structure destroyed by fire. Today it serves as the Chassell Heritage Center.

Sitting next door to Chassell’s elementary school is its High School, built in 1912. It housed 7th and 8th grades, with 8th grade being the students “senior” year. If students wanted further education they had to attend Houghton or Hancock to the north.

To Be Continued…

Show More


  1. I like this series, Mike. All of these buildings look familiar, but of course I never thought about them being schools until now!

  2. Probably should have said the “school at Gay, Michigan,” that way there is no mistake on what your thinking, cough cough.

  3. Really is a shame somebody does not do something with the School in Gay. It really is in fair shape, I would have thought somebody would have made a house, or condo type thing out of it.

  4. I have to agree with Bill from Indiana. It is too bad that somebody doesn’t do something with the School in Gay, that is the first thing I thought when I saw the picture. In my younger years as a carpenter I had worked on a few old schools that we converted to homes / duplexes. Very rewarding work for me (even tho I wouldn’t realize for many years to come). For me old buildings like that have a great deal of character and “old school charm” (no pun intended).

  5. I hope so also Bill. Its not so great inside from what I understand. If you have a few hundred thousand laying around, I would head up there and start though, at least get the building sealed up. Must have a nice view from the second story.

  6. The school is currently owned by the township I believe. As for converting to residences I’m afraid Gay’s remote location makes that rather difficult. There’s just nothing left in Gay to warrant such an investment in money I would think – its a good 30 minutes away from anything.

    But the school is rather unique that’s for sure. I always feel like it should belong along the coast of Main or in some Alaskan fishing village. It looks more nautical then terrestrial in my opinion.