Recently I received in my inbox a very interesting USGS aerial photo from 1955 featuring the southern end of Torch Lake. What made this photo so interesting was not so much when it was taken, but what it captured – dredges. In fact it captures all three – one from C&H and two from Quincy. All three are working out on the sands, connected to land by their snaking pontoon lines. You can check out the photo for yourself below, which I have enhanced with a few arrows to help point out the vessels in question.
Once the novelty of the dredges wore off, my attention turned to the sand deposits themselves. At the top are the Ahmeek Mill deposits, which C&H utilized as its mill for the last thirty or so years of its existence (thus their large size). At the bottom are the various deposits from the Quincy Mills and Reclamation Plant, with the sands from the plant being the furthest south. Studying the photo it became obvious that the reclamation process was essentially re-shaping the lake, moving sands from one spot and putting them in another. It was a similar process to what originally occurred on the lake as copper mills began filling in its volume with waste. I then decided to take a closer look at the lake and try to see how exactly it evolved over the last century.
We begin at the beginning, or at least close to it. This map is rendered from a 1880 nautical map (courtesy the Office of Coast Survey Historical Map and Chart Project) and portrays the lake in its natural state. By this time only two mills were in operation on its shores, those of C&H at Lake Linden. At this time the mill’s tailings were slowly filling in the bottom of the lake and would soon emerge on the surface as new land.
It is now 1917, and all the major players were now in operation. To the north C&H had finally caused a dent in the lakes volume and created two protrusions of man-made land radiating out from their mills. To the south Quincy had only recently opened its new mills along the lake, but due to the lakes relative shallowness on this end those mills had already succeeded in creating a new shoreline. Smack dab in the middle were the Bigelow-Clark mills (Tamarack and Osceola) which had been in operation since about 1890.
Moving forward in time once again, we find ourselves at the tail end of the Depression. In the years that had elapsed several new mills had been established along the shore, including the Ahmeek and two new reclamation plants. But the Depression had taken its toll, forcing the closure of the Quincy, Tamarack, and Osceola mills. And with the closing of its conglomerate workings, the end was near for the C&H mills as well (if not already).
During the last decade it was Reclamation that had kept the great C&H alive, as the company re-worked its massive sand deposits in the lake along with those of its newly acquired neighbors – the Tamarack and Osceola Mills. At this point both the sands at Lake Linden and Tamarack Mills had reached their apex, from now on only their positions would shift as the dredges did their work.
With the Depression and both World Wars now history, the Copper Empire was on its last legs as the 50′s closed. C&H had exhausted its tailings at Lake Linden, which have now been condensed from two piles into one large one which threatened to choke off the north end of the lake. At the south end Quincy had finally gotten into the reclamation game, and had succeeded in moving a good deal of its tailings southward. In the middle the Tamarack/Osceola sands were for the most part gone, leaving only a large island out in the middle of the lake.
At this point only one stamp mill was still operating on these shores – the Ahmeek. Now owned and operated by C&H, the mill had been processing all of the struggling mines copper for the last 20 or so years. Because of this, the sands at Tamarack City had managed to stretch almost half way across the lake.
This is now the end, as the great C&H had just closed its doors only a few years before. At this time no mill or reclamation plant was in operation. Over the last few decades the Quincy had succeeded in moving almost all of its original mill sands southward to their final resting spot while at Tamarack City C&H had re-processed the Ahmeek sands as well, moving them over to the Tamarack/Osceola pile. From this point on the sands would move by current and wind alone.
And we have finally come back to the present. Today these sands have all been covered by topsoil and their shorelines have been rip-rapped to minimize erosion. Most likely they will continue to hold this position for many more decades to come, having become permanent landmarks.
And with this the evolution of Torch Lake is complete…