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.
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.
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 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 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.