Here’s another great high-resolution shot of the old Copper Country, this time showcasing the Copper Range’s Michigan Smelter. This massive complex smelted the ore from all of the Copper Range properties (Baltic, Trimountain, Champion) as well as a few other independent mines scattered across the peninsula. The smelter utilized its hill-side location rather effectively, taking advantage of gravity to move mineral and materials throughout the complex. Elevated trestles delivered coal, limestone, and copper into storage bins built along the side of the hill. From there those minerals were dumped onto small tram cars for delivery down to the complex’s furnace building located at the base of the hill.
As with the rest of these high-resolution photographs I’ve been featuring recently, there’s quite a few interesting details to be found among the pixels. Here’s a few that caught my eye…
Starting at the smelter itself we find a line of Copper Range RR cars parked along a siding. These box cars would have been used to haul the finished copper ingots and cakes back to the company’s docks in Houghton. I love the lettering used on the left car, which is quite the contrast to the more dignified look of the adjacent car. More intriguing – though not visible here – are the labels on the next two cars: Missouri Pacific and the Chicago Milwaukee and Saint Paul. I would guess that these cars were bought off of those other railroads and Copper Range hadn’t changed the labeling yet.
Speaking of wrong cars at the wrong place, here’s a line of Mineral Range box cars (and attached gondola’s) sitting atop the smelter’s coal trestle. Not only are these tracks Copper Range tracks, but any coal coming to the smelter would have arrived from the Copper Range coal docks back at Houghton. I suppose these cars could also have been bought up by Copper Range and they have yet to change the graphics.
This particular item doesn’t appear on Sanborn maps from the period, but I’m pretty confident its a slag trestle. Waste slag from the furnaces would have been transported across this trestle and dumped here for disposal. The complex had a second one of these, but that one dumped its slag directly into the Portage Canal. By the looks of the small waste pile at this slag trestle’s feet it would appear that it wasn’t used too frequently.
Sitting at the bottom of the photo just outside the smelter’s industrial landscape we have a small glimpse of daily life in the Copper Country. A delivery man has made a house call to a small farm near the smelter. From what I can make out on the side of the buggy it appears he hails from a local bakery. It’s interesting to see that he’s taking the time to close the gate behind him, though I suppose if he didn’t those cows roaming about would have gotten out.
The only significant part of this entire complex still standing today is this building – the facility’s main office. Today it’s an apartment building.
Just a bit further up the canal from that office building we find this small structure. This is the Michigan School, which served the students living in around the smelter complex as well as the neighboring Atlantic Mill location. Perhaps more interesting than the school is the stamp sand shore on which that school is built. It looks as if this entire length of shore from the Atlantic Mill to the smelter is built up entirely of stamp sand. You can see a glimpse of the old shoreline up behind the school, where the road to the smelter makes its curvy and winding way (marked by a line of telephone poles).
Moving still further up along the Portage Canal shoreline we come across the Atlantic Mill location. The mill itself is mostly shrouded in the greenery of the hillside, but its soaring smoke stack can easily be seen rising up out of the canopy. Atop the hill in the distance stands on of the Isle Royale Mine rock-houses. I’m pretty confident it’s the number 2, and by the looks of the smoke coming from its adjacent stacks the shaft is in full production.
Taking a gander across the pond to the Hancock side we find a few more large buildings garnering our attention. The larger of the two shoreline structures is the old HCTC power house. You can make out it’s coal dock just to its right. Sitting in front of the power house is Hancock’s waterworks complex, used to provide drinking water to the city from the nearby lake. Lastly, up on the hill overlooking both structures, is the newly erected (1904) St. Joseph Hospital. St. Joseph’s continues to serve the community as a hospital still today, though its now known as Portage Health.
Last but not least we have this odd detail to consider. The first time I featured these photographs I had identified this structure as a launder, used to move tailings from the Atlantic Mill down to this point for disposal. My thinking was that the Atlantic had been forced to stop dumping its tailings into the canal, so it brought them down here instead. Several readers weren’t so sure and called me on it. With the low resolution of that last photo we couldn’t really tell one way or the other. Now with a much better resolution at our disposal we take a second look. Unfortunately things aren’t that much more clear.
Whatever it is it does appear to have been some type of trestle or launder. But by this time it appears to have been sitting out in that water for some time, since it looks to be falling down in several places. It also doesn’t appear to be going anywhere in particular, nor does it seem to come from the Atlantic Mill either. Perhaps someone out there has a clue to what this thing was for, but I’m all out of guesses.