Portage Lake

I’ve featured this particular photo before here on CCE, but not nearly in such high resolution as it appears today. This is a shot overlooking Portage Lake, as seen from the perspective of the Dollar Peninsula. The structures seen in the center of the photo above belong to the Tamarack / Osceola smelter and wire mill. Dollar Bay sits just beyond. Though not nearly as clear and crisp as the photo I featured yesterday, the panoramic view provided in this image coupled with its high-definition resolution provides for a few interesting views of sights not normally seen in old photography of the area. Here’s a few highlights…

Of course the most obvious detail in the photo is the passing train which is making its way towards Dollar Bay from the stamp mills near Grosse Point. The tracks and train belong to the Mineral Range Railroad, while the empty rock cars would have been coming back from either the Franklin or Arcadian Mills. Due to the photo’s date stamp I would guess the train was coming back from the Franklin Mill, after dropping off a load of copper from the Franklin Jr. Mine.

Speaking of the Arcadian, you can make out a few of its old rock-houses still perched up atop Arcadian Hill. At this point the mine would have been already closed for a few years and those rock-houses would soon be moved south to the Trimountain Mine. Three of those rock-houses can be seen still standing in the photo.

Further along the hill we have more mine shafts, these belonging to the Quincy Mine. The one seen here is the North Quincy shaft – or No.6 – built atop the old Pewabic property. Of even more interest is the large structure found along the water at the base of the hill. These are the coal facilities for the Tamarack and Osceola mines, otherwise known as the Union coal docks. After consolidation the docks were sold to private interests, and later abandoned. Today a series of new condo’s are being built in its place.

Making our way across the lake we notice a pair of ships making their way along the canal. At first I thought these were simply two separate ships, but after a closer look you can see that the first is actually towing the second. You can clearly see the tow line here on this close up of the second boat. Considering the second boat looks to be wind powered only, I wonder if a lack of wind this day made the towing necessary. Who knows.

Continuing back towards the lake’s south shore we come across a natural feature that no longer exists – Snowshoe Island. This very small island would be swallowed up by the Isle Royale stamp sands, which today stretch well past this point in the lake.

Speaking of the Isle Royale Mill, this photo provides for an excellent view of that very facility while it was actually in operation. Most interesting to me here is the view of the mill’s launder, which looks to be built up atop a high trestle running out into the lake. You can even make out the sands themselves as they drop off the launder’s end. In a few decades that sand would completely coverer the island seen in the foreground. Also seen in this view is the Isle Royale No.2 rock-house, sitting atop the hill just to the right of the mill.

Photo courtesy Library of Congress, Detroit Publishing Company Photograph Collection

Show More


  1. Borrowing from another casual historical interest in shipping…
    The boat under tow would have been intended to be that way full time. It’s either an old sailing vessel repurposed as a barge, or even one built with the intention of only ever being under tow. The masts are for when the rope broke… Not usually in the best of weather on the lakes…
    Here’s a nice, short history of Great Lakes shipping for those of you with a little interest…
    For those of you with a lot of interest (and time) there are a few websites out there…

  2. Speaking of the towed barges, this one looks to be actually on the smaller side as far as schooner-barges go. Some, specifically built for this purpose, were near 300 feet long. James Davidson owned and operated a large fleet of these massive barges from the late 1800’s to the early 1900’s out of his company’s headquarters in Bay City. In fact today there is a park sitting atop his old shipyard’s land, and a few of those barges remain, sunk in the river and hulls torn off down to the waterline.

  3. I really enjoy these archive photos. Nice touch with the high resolution. Now if only you could make them with sound effects! I would love to hear what it must of sounded like at the mines, mills, and railroads when they were at their peak.

    One question of verification, the last photo of the Isle Royale Mill, the part of the building that is way over to the left side of the frame, is that what is behind the present day Citgo station on the main highway?

  4. Jim… I think the part of the mill that still stands behind the gas station (though in ruin) might be that forth level – the part of the building directly in front of the rock bins (the part of the building you mention). The original mill would of covered the current gas station and reached right up to the highway (which in this photo sits right on the edge of that cliff).

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *