By the 1880s it had become apparent that the Calumet and Hecla Mine had become the region’s most dominating company – impressive in both the size and scope of its operations across the peninsula. While its laborers toiled away under the earth and within the mine’s shops and mills, the company’s upper echelon of workers resided within a work environment a bit more civilized – the General Office Building. Located within the center of the mine’s sprawling surface plant – right at the corner of Red Jacket Road and Calumet Ave (now US41) – the building housed the mine’s white color workforce – staff such as its superintendent, managers, engineers, geologists, drafters, and bookkeepers. Additionally the building served as the main payroll office and as such was a weekly destination for the majority of the company’s workforce.
Such a pedestrian purpose contrasts sharply with the impressive masonry structure that C&H erected – a calico-faced beauty that looks more fitting as a seat of government or other grand public use than as a simple office building. It’s a building that grabs your attention almost immediately as you pass, forcing you to slow down or even stop to take a better look. Ironically the rubble rock construction that gives the building its regal appearance was a decision made not to make an impression but instead to keep the building’s cost more manageable. At the time of the building’s construction brick was not a local commodity, and as such would have to be imported in from afar at great cost. Poor rock however – the material which makes up the building’s calico walls – was a waste product of the mine itself and could be found dumped into waste piles all across the surrounding landscape.
When built in 1887 the building was far smaller, consisting only of the north-south wing built back on the lot’s backside. However as C&H grew and prospered in the decades that followed, the mine’s office building needed to grow and expand as well. Before all was said and done the building would more than double in size as a whole new east-west wing was erected and an expanded pay-shed was added to the north facade. The structure was continue to serve the mine for over 80 years until the company called it quits in the late 60’s. After that it would become home to a doctor’s office, a role that greatly altered the building’s interior and layout. Another thirty years would pass until the structure changed hands yet again – this time transitioning into its modern role as the headquarters of the Keweenaw National Historical Park.