While the great Calumet Conglomerate lode might have been getting the lion’s share of attention near the turn of the century in the Copper Country, a strong rival to the north was slowly coming into its own. The Kearsarge Amygdaloid was first pillaged by its namesake – the Kearsarge Mine – in 1881, followed closely by a slew of other mines including the Wolverine, Centennial, South Kearsarge, and the great C&H itself. These mines found success in the newly discovered lode, and soon several more mines moved in to stake their own claims. As the 20th century dawned on the Copper Country, the lode’s northern extension had become a hotbed of activity, with no less then six shafts operating in an are just three miles in size.
With this increase in activity came an increase in workers, and in turn a growing need for worker housing and other commercial services. Stepping in to fill this increasingly urgent need was a man by the name of J.T. Finnegan who in the summer of 1907 acquired a tract of 80 acres just outside of mining company land east of the Kearsarge Lode. The land was in a prime location, sitting along the newly laid Keweenaw Central mainline and centrally located between the Ahmeek Mine to the north, the Allouez to the west, and the North Kearsage to the south-west (shafts from these mines are denoted with red dots in the map above). Soon network of roads were built and the town of Copper City was platted.
Copper City grew quickly, and by 1917 the little town was home to over a hundred houses, two markets, a department store, two saloons, a hotel, a school, fire station, and even a coal and lumber yard. Population at this time – buoyed by the success of the nearby Ahmeek and Allouez mines – had grown to over a thousand. A depot in town along the Keweenaw Central meant the townspeople were connected to the rest of the world, with just a short walk down the street. Best of all, because the town and property were not held by any mine company, its residents were free from the yolk of corporate paternalism and could develop the town as they saw fit.
Copper City’s boisterous past is hardly evident as you take a stroll down its rather wide and spacious streets today however. During those more illustrious days the center of Copper City was here at the corner of 3rd and Mohawk Streets. Anchoring the intersection was the towns large 2-story grade school which was once home to 8 classrooms and a hundred students.
As was the case in most communities in the Copper Country, the old school was abandoned in 1975 and torn down in the years that followed. Today the site where the school has been turned into a city park.
Though the old school may be gone, its original schoolyard remains to this day and continues to serve the towns remaining youth. It was built during the Depression.
Sitting across 3rd street from the old school grounds stands the town’s two municipal buildings, including its post office. This post office is actually the city’s third, having first been located in the Bennetts Department store down the road. Later it was moved to the old Copper City Lumber and Fuel Company’s office before ending up in its final location here. This small building was built in 1955 by postmaster Edward Harjala from wood reclaimed from one of the city’s abandoned houses.
Next door to the post office is the city’s fire hall and community center. Just like the adjacent post office building, this structure is actually the city’s third. The original fire station was a very modest one story wood structure that stood on this very same spot when the city was first built. In 1961 it was replaced by a much larger and grandiose structure that sadly (and somewhat ironically) was destroyed by fire just a few years later. This structure was built to replace it.
To Be Continued…
Information for this series obtained from “The Settling of Copper City Michigan” by Clarence Monette