The Many Mills of Phoenix

The Phoenix Mine

When the region’s premiere copper mining company – the Lake Superior Copper Company – folded up after only five years of profitless work along the Eagle River a new company was re-organized to take its place. Fittingly this new company was named the Phoenix, and like its mythical avian namesake would arise from the ashes of the Lake Superior Copper Company as a much stronger and vigorous mine. Its a mine that may not have been the region’s most profitable but managed to continue on for nearly three quarters of a century continuously re-inventing and adapting itself to ever growing challenges.

In the context of today’s post, these re-inventions and adaptations resulted in the continual evolution of the companies stamping facilities. As the Lake Superior Copper Company the mine had the distinction of building the copper country’s first mill, a very crude and underpowered affair sitting along the banks of the Eagle River. But that early mill would hardly be the last. In the ensuing years the Phoenix would utilize no less than five separate mills, often re-building and re-fitting those mills as requirements demanded.

Just recently I took an excursion out to one of those old Phoenix mills, the identity of which I was not entirely sure of. So in preparation of my exploration recap to be featured here shortly I thought I’d try to clear up all the confusion by taking a closer look at the Phoenix mine and the many mills under its control. We start, of course, at the beginning.

Mill One: Lake Superior Copper Co.

The Lake Superior Copper Company manage to take lease of a large portion of land stretching from the mouth of the Eagle river up to its divergence at the current town of Phoenix. In 1844 it sunk its first adit into the bank east bank of the Eagle River about a mile upstream, and then continued to sink several shafts as well. A year later it built its first stamp mill, but there was not a great deal of stamp rock being hauled to the surface and the mill was hardly utilized. After the Lake Superior Copper Company went under and was re-organized in 1849 as the Phoenix, the old mill was once again put back into operation but with little results.

The Old Phoenix MIll with Ashbed Lode in the background

Mill Two: Old Phoenix / Ashbed Mill

Finally the powers-that-be at Phoenix had enough of the old mill and decided to build a new and more efficient mill for the mine in 1859. This new mill utilized 48 stamp heads of the Wagner design, powered by what was considered the largest steam engine at the time in the region. It was constructed along the steep banks of the Eagle River near the newly discovered Ashbed lode. A raised tramway connected it with the nearby Ashbed shafts, which is why the mill was known as the Ashbed Mill.

The Robbin’s Mine in the foreground (stamp mill on right)

Mill Three: Robbins Mill

By 1863 the Phoenix had begun mining the copper veins running through the southern end of its property, which were known as the New Phoenix and the Robbins (or west) veins. During this time there was very little stamp rock being produced, instead these new shafts were accumulating a great deal of poor rock which can still be seen today sitting up alongside the bluffs. A small stamp mill was built along the highway at the Robbins, which was being used at this time to process any stamp rock the shafts happened to produce. Soon however, these new shafts began to hit profitable ground, and a new mill quickly became a pressing need.

Mill Four: Bay State Mill

During most of the Phoenix’s life it was neighbored to the east by the Bay State Mining Company. The company was a poor producer as well as poorly run. But there was one thing the Bay State had going for it – a conveniently located stamp mill just across the street from the New Phoenix shafts. Before long the Phoenix had its sites on its eastern competitor and by 1871 was able to buy it up.

The old Bay State Mill with the New Phoenix Mine in the background

The Bay State Mill had the perfect location, sitting less the 500 feet from the New Phoenix shafts. A elevated tramway was constructed connecting the mill to the New Phoenix shafts sitting across the street. The old stamp batteries from the Ashbed Mill was removed and re-installed in the Bay State Mill. Two dams were built across the Eagle River to provide the necessary water from the mill, the water transported via a wooden launder 3/4’s of a mile in length. The Bay State Mill would become the Phoenix’s main stamp mill for the remainder of the century.

Mill Five: The St. Clair Mill

By the turn of the century the Phoenix Mine had evolved yet again, this time becoming the Phoenix Consolidated Mining Company. This new consolidated mine joined the original Phoenix mine with the nearby Garden City and St. Clair mines. This acquisition added yet another stamp mill to the Phoenix rolls, this one sitting at the St. Clair Mine a mile or so to the east.

Mill Six: The New Phoenix Mill

After consolidation the mine found itself with a great deal of property and an even greater deal of inefficiency. In order to combat this problem the new company started to consolidate its surface buildings as well, utilizing a centralized surface plant near the Bay State mill. In 1902 it also decided to build a new modern centralized mill, sitting halfway between the New Phoenix, Robbins, and St. Clair properties to the south and the old Phoenix and Ashbed properties in the north.

The New Phoenix Mill with the Phoenix railroad above it

The new Phoenix Mill was built on concrete foundations along the east bank of the Eagle River. Its equipment included one steam stamp and 12 jigs obtained from the old Wolverine Mill at Kearsarge, along with a collection of Wilfley tables.To serve the new mill the company built itself a 2.5 mile long narrow gauge railroad with equipment bought from the defunct Wolverine railroad, including several rock cars and one locomotive.

Discuss…

  1. Great story! But then again, I’m a little fond of the Phoenix mine history… :)

  2. I thought you’d of all people would appreciate it Kurt.

  3. Good stuff. Now I have a name for that mill. The Ashbed. Can’t wait to see what you’ll have on the Lake Superior Copper Co.’s site.

  4. SMG…

    Glad you enjoyed. I wrote this because I was confused when I went out there last week and found the ruins you tipped me off to. I was sure the mill should of been on the east bank of the river, not the west. But then I found that photo of the Ashbed / Old Phoenix MIll and everything fit perfectly.

    The Phoenix mill should of been further upstream past the old Lake Superior Copper Co. workings.

    As far as the Lake Superior Copper Co.’s site I’m afraid you’ll be disappointed. Didn’t find too much more than you did. Ran out of daylight before we got to far down the river…

  5. Grant Holmstrom

    Here’s an article on the Ashbed mine From Clarence Monette ‘s book Some CC Names and Places

    This was the home of the Ashbed Mining Company which was located between the Arnold proper and the Copper Falls proper of the Arnold, with Lake Superior on the north and the lands of the Central mine on the South. It was organized in 1880. Very little copper was found. The copper ore secured from here was stamped at the Copper Falls mill. The Company built the usual buildings to support copper mining and homes for their workers. Work was stopped in 1865, resumed in 1872 and again stopped in 1877. The third period of activity was in 1881 and 1882. In 1914 after being closed for a number of years, machinery from the Mandan shafts was moved and with other mining items, were put to work. A force of carpenters renovated and repaired the residences for employees. Operations continued through that winter. This community was served by the Keweenaw Central RR company.

  6. Grant..

    When I am referring to the Ashbed Mill I am in fact more correctly referring to the Old Phoenix Mill. I use the term Ashbed to differentiate it from the other many stamp mills used by the Phoenix. The Ashbed Mine you refer to here is in fact further east of the Phoenix, though they both mined the sam copper vein which was known as the Ashbed vein.

  7. An interesting photo of Keweenaw Coppers Ashbed Mine (Phoenix Ashbed). Slightly different angle of the mine, what I thought was interesting is the New Mill appears in the far left side of the photo, a little more angle and the trestle would be in it.
    http://digarch.lib.mtu.edu/showbib.aspx?bib_id=702766#

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