The Copper Falls mine was one of the regions pioneers, established when the government was still issuing land leases out of Porters Island. At this early stage the Keweenaw was still a rather remote and inaccessible land, and copper prospectors were limited by the rugged geography inherent of the peninsula. Luckily the grand bluff on which the mine would lay claim was conveniently located near a natural harbor – known today as Eagle Harbor. The harbor’s first tenant was the Eagle Harbor Mining Company, which worked a small fissure vein nearby. The company would work to improve the harbor and establish a small commercial village on is west shore.
As was the case at the time, the discovery of copper by the Eagle Harbor prompted others to rush to the area in search of more copper riches. One of those groups were fortunate enough to stumble across several large pieces of copper at the base of a small waterfall. An exploratory adit was driven into the stream bed and soon a promising vein of copper was discovered. The stream would become known as Owl Creek, and the discovered fissure known as the Copper Falls vein, named after the waterfall in which it was discovered. The year was 1845 and the Copper Falls mine had been born.
Old Copper Falls
The newly formed company – known then as the Copper Falls Company, acquired Government lease No.9, a tract of landing spanning over 4,000 acres north of the greenstone on a 700 foot summit of land which would be later known as Petherick Hill. The company got straight to work extending it’s adit and sinking a total of four shafts into the newly discovered copper vein. An area of land was cleared nearby, and several boarding houses were erected. This new mining location was connected with nearby Eagle Harbor by a two mile long wagon road, also built by the mine.
By 1849 the mine had expanded its efforts and sunk a fifth shaft on the newly discovered Child vein, just a short distance to the east from the Copper Falls fissure. By now the mine had been reorganized as the Copper Falls Mining Company and had managed to buy up its government lease. But as was the case for most fissure veins of the period, the newly minted Copper Falls mine could not turn a profit and quickly blew through its investors money. With the money exhausted, the struggling mine was forced to close down in 1850.
The New Copper Falls
The mine would be saved, however, by the involvement of a local hero of sorts, a man by the name of Sam Hill. Mr. Hill was a surveyor and civil engineer, and had recently worked on a geological survey of the Lake Superior region with Douglass Houghton; he was also involved with the Quincy Mine and had platted out the neighboring town of Hancock. With Hill’s help a thorough geological examination of the Copper Falls property was conducted, and the many copper bearing veins and lodes were mapped.
Turned out that the Copper Falls lands were home to over a half dozen fissure veins, as well as an extension of the same Ashbed lode mined by the Atlantic and Phoenix mines. The most promising of these veins would become home to the new Copper Falls mine, reorganized in 1851 with Hill as president. This new vein would become known as the Copper Falls, with the original Copper Falls vein henceforth referred to as the “Old Copper Falls” vein. Unfortunately the new Copper Falls vein sat a good distance south of the old mine, requiring the erection of a whole new town site and the extension of the old wagon road from Eagle Harbor about a half mile up the hill. This new townsite can still be found today, marked by a rustic Keweenaw County sign alongside the road.
The “New” Copper Falls mine was undertaken on a grand scale, marked by the sinking of no less then 7 shafts and a 2350 foot adit driven into the base of the hill. Nearby another promising vein – the hill – would be worked in the same fashion. It too would be pierced with seven shafts, along with another massive adit driven into the base of the hill; this one over 6000 feet in length! By 1853 the new mine had matured and included it’s own 24 head stamp mill (located down at the base of the hill, near the Copper Falls adit) along with over 25 dwellings, two boarding houses, office, sawmill, and fully outfitted shops.
With the future looking bright, the company undertook a major infrastructure improvement project. A new 4.5 mile graded road was cleared to the harbor, a road that would later become part of M26 and now known as the Eagle Harbor Cut-Off road. The mine’s mill was expanded and its capacity doubled. And finally a series of new adits were driven into both the Copper Falls and Hill veins, in order to more adequately drain the mine.
As optimistic as the company might have been the, the truth was that the Copper Falls mine wasn’t making any money. While copper was being recovered, it was hardly enough to cover the massive expenses occurred by working two fissures at once with over a dozen shafts and adits. The company was betting it’s success on an economy of scale, thinking that by working several fissures simultaneously and sharing the same processing plant the cost of doing business would decrease while copper output increased. Unfortunately the veins on which the mine had bet it’s future on turned out to be marginal producers, and those large scale advantages were neutered.
Salvation would soon be at hand, thanks to a little fissure vein known as the Owl Creek….
To Be Continued…