An Industrial Landscape

In response to my call for my fellow explorers out there to contribute to the daily postings here on CCE, Paul Meier has stepped up to the plate dutifully to supply some really amazing pics of the copper empire while it was still in operation. This current batch was taken by his grandfather around the 1950’s, and provide a very interesting snapshot of a mining region in the throes of a slow and creeping death. These photos also help to de-romanticize an era some tend to look back at fondly, an inclination I think we are all guilty of once and a while. But as beautiful as the Copper Country is today its easy to forget that this was once an industrial landscape, littered (both literally and figuratively) with all the baggage that comes with it. You’ll see what I mean as we flip through a few of Paul’s pics…

This one is of the Ahmeek 3/4, a shaft that could be considered the saving grace of C&H considering it did a majority of the company’s copper production towards the empire’s close. At first glance I thought there was a fire atop one of the rock piles, but most likely that black smoke is from the boiler house’s stack which just happens to line up perfectly with the rock pile’s top. Either way that’s a lot of smoke, and I hate to be the people living down wind of it. (Mohawk I’m talking to you)

Accompanying this photo was this little tidbit from Paul: “In the ’50’s all you had to do was drive in, sign the guest book and walk around. The last time we toured it, was about 1963 we had to stop at the office in Calumet and sign waivers. Finally there were no tours officially allowed. Sometimes a sympathetic employee would allow me to weasel in a short look.” Its an interesting look into a different time. Today no mine would think of allowing people to simply wander around their surface plant, imagine the lawsuits!

Now we move southward to the Centennial No.2. (check out our tour of the site as it looks today HERE) Today the poor rock pile is long gone and the hill was once used as a landfill, but there are a few ruins scattered about to remind you of its more industrious past. While the landscape in the pic is rather green and lush, the billowing clouds of black smoke easily detract from the serenity.

Moving still southward we find ourselves along the pristine shore of Torch Lake and the C&H Smelter. Due to the lack of smoke billowing out of the smelter’s boiler stacks it would appear that the plant was not operating when the photo was taken. (those stacks were torn down in the late 1990’s) The electrolytic plant seen in front of those stacks still stands today however, as the home of the copper recycler PCI. To the right (seen more clearly in the big picture) is C&H’s massive coal dock. While there’s no smoke in the photo, there remains other scars from the smelter’s presence most dominant of all is the massive piles of slag on which Paul’s grandfather is apparently taking the photo.

Here’s my personal favorite of the group. I have a certain fascination with the Ahmeek Mill, partially due to living under the shadow of its ruined hulk while I was living down in Tamarack City. I love pics of it when it was in its full glory, as this one beautifully exemplifies. I also love to see the old dredgers while they were in use and not beach up against the shore. But I’m not such a fan of the destruction those same icons were wreaking on their environment. Most telling is the pile of trash that Paul’s gramp seems to have been standing on to take this shot – a pile of trash sitting right alongside the lake. The juxtaposition of all that destruction with the small marina to the right (at the current location of the Hubbell Park I believe) speaks volumes about the effect this industrial landscape had on its surroundings.

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  1. Awesome! (Sorry Gordy, you’re on drugs.) Those are extremely cool photos. I agree with one thing in particular… as cool as it would have been to see these things when the mines were active, the Keweenaw sure is a lot nicer place to live in nowadays.

  2. At first I thought you guys were on drugs, since everything was working fine on my end. But when dc chimed in and said he saw everything just fine as well I knew what was going on. Both him and I use macs, and because of that we use a webkit based browser. Unlike IE (which I assume the rest of you are using), the webkit browsers are somewhat forgiving when it comes to coding. Needless to say I left out a single character in each of the remaining three pics, which kept them from being displayed on non-webkit based browsers.

    I put that character back in so it should all be working now. hopefully.

  3. Thanks guys for my morning laugh….and thanks Paul for some perspective shots of the Keweenaw (more please??). Everyone “assumes” that The Keweenaw has always been the pristine paradise it is today. Most of us here know better…..clear cutting….industrial waste….smoke….not a very pretty picture, but that was the reality (although largely south of Central for the most part).

    Keep up all the GREAT work Mike! I so enjoy all of the posts….

  4. I’m and IE/Firefox user, and can confirm that all the pics are now working.

    As Mike said, I’m one of those who looks at the old ruins and often gets this romantic picture in my mind of how wonderful it must have been to be living back in the heyday of the CC. Seeing pics like this reminds us that not only was it hard work for the men and women back in the day, but that the environment often suffered as men sought the red metal.

    And I don’t even have much of an excuse, having grown up on a farm that raised sugar beets. Beets (at the time) were harvested starting in October, after it got cold enough for them to be piled in huge piles at the factory grounds without rotting. Once the campaign started, the entire town stank of sugar factory. To this day I can remember that smell, and am often reminded of it when I pass through one of those towns with a sugar factory in the fall or winter when they’re operating..

  5. The other smell that I can remember distinctly from my childhood when we were heading to the Copper Country – was the smell of the Celotex plant in L’Anse. I don’t miss that….

  6. One thing to note on these pictures… Take a good look at the floating cable towers for the dredge in the last picture.. Is that where the floating tower at Sig Rho’s came from??? That could be an interesting remenate sitting down in Chassel!

    On a side note, a big Hello to Paul! We haven’t spoken in a while, over on!

  7. Yes Joe, that is one of those dredge power floats. When I first saw that photo of it, I said it should be at the Museum.
    I think I found it when Mike had covered some debris he found on the sand while looking over the Quincy Mill site, seems like eons ago.

    Nice old photos Paul, I notice little smoke showing in those last couple of photos, like the Ahmeek Mill and no rail cars sitting on the trestle. I wonder if this was during the July 2 week shutdown or copper prices were down and C&H shutdown. But then it could be a strike also come to think of it.

  8. I really like the dredge beached in Torch Lake today. How many of you guys have actually been aboard and inside of it? Is the one shown here the same one?

    The only period I romanticize much over are the 1850s and back in time from there. Not an easy time but the Indian mysteries and gods were all intact and copper mining had a less industrial aspect to it — timber, stone, and lots of manpower and not much else.

    The Lake Superior wilderness had yet to be pushed back very far and was still considered an ultima thule although people no longer believed the lake held smoking volcanos or had islands of solid copper.

  9. Gordy,
    Wow, now I remember that discussion, I must have had short term memory loss… I need to get more sleep at night I think!

  10. Great photos, and besides being well done and interesting they are something a lot of old mine photos aren’t, they’re in color!

  11. Thanks for the compliments! There will be more when harvest is over and I have more time. My Grandfather’s Summer vacations were always the 2 weeks around July 4th. That could explain the idle mills. That was when the foundry he worked for shut down; he was their chief welder and was skilled at repairing faults in castings. He started his working life as a delivery boy for Vertin’s while in High School. Once he graduated, he started at C&H dipping copper in the smelter. He stayed there until his father took the whole family to Kenosha, WI in 1920. From that point on my grandfather worked as an ironworker, pipefitter, and lastly a steelworker – anything that involved welding. He was about as pro-union as one could be except about the 1913 strike, he was definitely pro-company and thought the strikers were fools (his words). He always wanted to go back to the Copper Country. Despite the hard work in nasty environments, and smoking, he lived to be 81.
    One has to remember that the Victorian culture saw coal smoke over a community as a good thing. This was prosperity. As far as mining districts go, the Copper Country was pretty benign, thank native copper for that. Up until the last few decades, the coal smoke was probably the worst pollutant. Ammonia leaching had the potential but they were quite good at recovering and recycling the chemical. It wasn’t until nearly the end that one heard war stories about what was knowingly dumped in places like Torch Lake.

  12. I see on the PP144 map of the Ahmeek 3/4 .The #3 shaft headed west by northwest and the #4 shaft headed northwest by north.Looks like a rabit ear antenna on the map.

  13. ROC
    Ahmeek 3&4 was a unique surface plant. The reason for that was because it was limited by the Mohawk Mining Co. property. The two shafts started at an 80 degree dip and at diverging angles. Once they reached the Kearsarge lode they flattened out to the dip of the lode. This way they could exploit their holdings on the lode while Mohawk mined the lode through conventional inclined shafts along the strike of the lode until they were limited a depth by the Ahmeek and Seneca property lines. The Allouez Co. used the same technique on the Kearsarge lode as did Seneca with its #1 shaft. The Tamarack Mining Co. used vertical shafts to open their holdings on the Calumet Conglomerate at depth. Michigan mining laws were (are?) based on mineral rights to whatever is under your property which made mining the various lodes relatively simple from a legal standpoint. This was much easier than some of the Western States where the Apex rules were used. Basically, the Apex rule was whoever owned the outcrop or highest portion of a lode owned the whole lode. This resulted in much litigation and rich lawyers. It has been said that more money was made in the Nevada courts than was made mining the Comstock district.

  14. I recall that the “apex” laws out west even allowed an apex owner to use other mine’s shafts to access the continuation of “his” lode! They were quite the rules.

    I’ve certainly never heard of any “wild west” type mining activities in the Copper Country. There were a few fake mines meant to suck up investor money, but that’s all that I know of.

  15. Thanks Paul
    What if the mine above them happened to be full of water,seems like they would have to be carefull not to break into the upper workings.

  16. ROC,
    I haven’t heard or read any stories about any major water disasters in the Copper Country. The map of the Kearsarge Lode in RED METAL does show walls left along the boundaries between mines. By time C&H consolidated the operations on the Lode in 1923, only Mohawk and Wolverine were left out. They were done during the depression and operations on the rest of the lode were well below those 2 properties. There wouldn’t have been much incentive to get near those walls other than to punch trough to remove the risk – I don’t know if that was done. In the Calumet area, the three lodes are interconnected. That is why C&H pumped out of Tamarack 5 to dewater the Osceola lode. The engineers were good and some remarkable feats of underground surveying occurred like Quincy 7 and C&H’s 81st haulage level. The boundaries were well known. One notable goof occurred in the 1960’s when C&H raised a ventilation shaft for the Kingston Mine right through the Copper City Road.
    Other districts weren’t so good (or lucky) Some iron miners in Minnesota drilled up through the bottom of one of the 10,000 lakes and some hapless anthracite miners drilled into the bottom of the Schuykill River, both with fatal results.

  17. I remember the collapse of the road. My dad took use down there to see it.
    I think I read when C&H was working the Isle Royale shafts, they went and drained some adjoining mine just because of the risk of the flooding in case they poked through.
    I also remember reading when the Centenniel #6 project was going on they were concerned about hitting the conglomerate workings, that may have been C&H’s work or it may have been Homestakes exploration.

    I think the surveying that went into tying the Ahmeek #4 drift to the Seneca #2 shaft had to be a super feat, first tunnel out , then be in the right spot down under, then a raise up 300 some odd feet to tie into the shaft coming down from above and be inches off if that much. One of the C&H News and Views covers it, all the measurements made and all the problems they had doing it.

  18. What did the engineers use for tools?Transit,plumb bob,tape measure and a scatch pad for calculations.Then they would have to transfer that information to the men doing the drilling.A lot of that done by candle light.The Quincy #7 shaft is amazing and I read they started that from the top down,the bottom up and from the middle.What a project.I see down in the Delaware Mine tour where the drifts come together they missed by quite a bit.Seems like one was quite a bit higher.

  19. The Seneca/Ahmeek survey was with you listed, but they had the luxury of battery operated light. They listed some of the problem with moisture making measuring tapes longer, natural air currents through the Seneca mines, other things I forget, I’ll have to look which issue it was.

  20. At Centennial, they left a 200 foot pillar between the old C&H workings and the Centennial development. They also did all diamond drilling through stand pipes, so the water flow could be valved off if they hit it.

    My company has a mine project, that was an existing old UG mine out west with a similar problem. It was all one continuous mine, but a roof fall has created the potential for a differential head, meaning they will have to pump form both sides of the mine to dewater rather than one! As you can guess its a bit of a pain in the rear when you are talking pumping out of 100 year old shafts while sinking a new one, and trying to keep the water level the same on both sides, all the while staying a head of the new shaft.

    That’s interesting, when we were surveying, the hard way underground, we always used metal tapes. Now if they were using wood blocks dead headed into the back for control points, moisture and swell could move you control points slightly. Not a big deal locally but when you are traversing thousands of feet, the error gets compounded. Now we just hilti drill spads into the rib, set prisms and take shots with a total station. Grade control is done by laser as is shaft plumbing. However we still use plum bobs to check the laser center line on the shafts.

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