The Mineral House

The Quincy Smelter’s Mineral House (marked with an arrow) was built in 1904 to replace the old railroad warehouse sitting in front of it.

While the Quincy Smelting Works were constructed in 1898, the complex wouldn’t acquire a dedicated mineral house for six more years. In those early years copper ore arrived to the complex packed in barrels, which were then offloaded from train cars in a large wood-framed warehouse on the plant’s northern end (seen immediately in front of the current mineral house in the photo above). From there the barrels would then be loaded onto hand trucks and brought down to the furnace building for smelting. Before long it became apparent to Quincy management that this labor-intensive process was highly inefficient, and a drain to the company’s bottom line. To remedy this situation a more automated system would be installed in 1904, replacing the barrels with automatic discharge bins and the hand trucks with tram cars. At the center of the entire system was the Mineral House.

The smelter’s mineral house was built just to the north of the main furnace building, adjacent to the old railroad warehouse that once served the same purpose. Unlike that earlier wooden structure this new mineral house was designed to stand the test of time, built with thick walls of Jacobsville sandstone and featuring a steel interior skeleton supporting the building’s collection of mineral bins.

The mineral house was loaded by means of an elevated set of train tracks that ran straight through the building’s second level. From that elevated position ore cars could drop their contents directly into a series of storage bins sitting below the trestle in the building’s lower level.

In order to reach the mineral house’s upper level and loading trestle, a special spur of track had to be erected extending from the Mineral Range main line up towards the building’s east facade along an inclined earthen bank. Ore cars could then be pushed up the incline and out over the mineral house’s storage bins to deliver their contents.

Approaching the mineral house today we notice the earthen incline did not go right up against the mineral house itself. Instead there was a small gap which was crossed by means of a narrow wood trestle. We also notice that the earthen incline was actually a stamp sand incline – as evident by the tell-tale reddish rock cascading down its sides. Most likely the stamp sand was added after the fact, and the approach itself was originally a free-standing trestle at one point. This makes some sense considering old Sanborn maps of the site labeled this approach as having “Coal and mineral bins” underneath it.

As we got closer we could make out another interesting detail, this time relating to the sandstone blocks from which the building was built. Oddly the corner blocks on this end of the mineral house were not flush with the front facade, but instead extend several inches out from the wall. At first it appeared as if we were missing another part of the building here, and those protruding blocks once interlocked with an adjacent structure.

But after taking a look at these plans for the mineral house – drawn up in 1904 – it appears as if those hanging blocks were intentionally set that way. Why this was done, however, is a mystery. The only thing I can think of is that the building was designed with possible future expansions in mind and those hanging blocks were left to make it easier to add length to the building later on.

Sitting at either end of the building are pairs of short doorways – just like this one – that were originally designed for the egress of tram cars filled with copper en route to the furnace building. This particular door was most likely rarely used, as it sits on the building’s east facade and is partially blocked by the adjacent railroad approach. Similar doors on the opposite end of the building were more likely used more frequently.

Heading over to that opposite side of the mineral house we find not only those other two small door openings (now covered) but a large opening on the buildings upper facade as well. This opening seemed to match the size and shape of the trestle entrance on the building’s opposite end and most likely served the same purpose. From this point that trestle would have then extended out over our heads and into the limestone building and Briquetting plant behind us. At some point it appears that this part of the trestle was removed and only the large gaping hole was left in its place.

With not much else to see here on the outside, we proceeded to make our way inside to explore the building further….

Any photos or stories about the Quincy Smelter you would like to share? Just go over to our dedicated Quincy Smelter Thread at Copper Country forum and contribute to the discussion!

Discuss…

  1. Chicaugon Lake Jim

    Mike, just curious, are my eyes playing tricks on me or is the very first photo on this posting a photo of a scale model of the smelt works? If it is a model of the works, is there some place you could go to see it?

  2. I was playing tricks on you. In order to help the mineral house stand out in the photo I intentional blurred out the surrounding buildings. This gives the illusion that your looking at a model due to the extreme narrow depth of field the blurry effect produces. I’m afraid is just a photo.

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