Like most of the country, the Copper Country was devastated by the economic calamity unleashed by the Great Depression. In wake of the turmoil copper prices plummeted, and the high profits companies had been enjoying evaporated almost overnight. Companies that had already been struggling such as the Isle Royale closed up shop for good, while others were forced to shut down production, mothball their surface plants, and keep their mine’s un-watered in the hopes that copper prices would one day rebound. Either way the result was the same – thousands of miners, trammers, mill workers, and laborers found themselves out of a job.
In response the government began a series of public funded work projects, intended to put unemployed laborers to work constructing schools, bridges, highways and other public buildings. In the Keweenaw these projects – headed first by the Civil Works Administration (CWA), then the Works Progress Administration (WPA) and finally the tweaked Work Projects Administration – mostly involved road and highway construction across the peninsula’s more remote northern reaches. Great stretches of scenic highways still in use today were built during this time, including Lake Shore Drive and Brockway Mountain Drive. But there were also a few oddities that ended up getting built along the way as well – most notable of which are the stone boats.
These model ships are made from a calico collection of stones including a scattering of sandstone and mine rock. Shaped to resemble small warships, the stone boats come complete with several cannons and even a faux machine gun emplacement. A total of three were built: one sits along US41 at Kearsarge and is currently the home to a Veteran’s Memorial; another was built a dozen miles south at Franklin but has largely succumbed to the passage of time; and a third anchors an old school yard in Centennial Heights. Its this third one that we take a closer look at today.
Unlike its more ornate sister at Kearsarge, the stone boat at Centennial Heights is of a much smaller and rougher design. Striking out from a small rise, the boat’s prow faces south-east overlooking the remains of an old playground. The playground was once the school yard for the nearby Centennial Heights School, which is now nothing more than a pile of rubble next door. As for the school yard itself, only the boat and a small swing-set mark the old park’s location.
Protruding out of the boats hull are a series of metal pipes, which most likely were suppose to represent the warship’s cannon emplacements. Along with the “canons” area few inverted pipe caps which look to be portholes.
Also embellishing the boat’s rock hull are a pair of anchor chains at its bow. I would guess these most likely once supported a pair of anchors that have since been removed.
Making my way to the boat’s rear, I took a walk along its concrete capped deck. I quickly came up to the warships diminutive superstructure which consisted solely of the bridge and a raised section supported the smokestack and air vent.
Both the stack and vent were built of large pieces of pipe, including a nice elbow piece to create the air vent’s scoop.
Standing on the ship bow I found myself face to face with its sandstone adorned bridge. A pair of cannons complimented its appearance.
Made from another section of pipe, these upper cannons were quickly rusting away on their undersides. Most likely rain water had flowed down the pipe and came to rest at its base, over time rusting it out. It probably won’t be long until these cannons fall off.
Turning back foreword, I could make out wheree boats forward machine gun once sat. Though the machine gun mount had collapsed years ago, it’s red-brick base still remained. (You can see what the machine gun mount once looked like by checking out the Kearsarge boat’s pic at the top of this post) Last year the old machine gun (also built from pipes) could still be found resting nearby, but it has since been hauled away. (for scrap maybe?) Rounding out the bow’s details is a series of metal posts which must have once supported a railing.
Making my way back to the boat’s stern I took one last look back. Oddly the vessel seemed to be drifting off towards the horizon, its bow pointed towards a foreign port it will never reach. The real question is what the future holds for this stone craft and whether it will share the fortunes of its Kearsarge brother or the ruined fate of its other sibling at Franklin.