A History of Copper Falls (p1)

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…

9 comments

  1. Mike,
    Adits were a cheap way to get to a lode if the topography allowed it. The Copper Falls area was a good example of this with several mines using both shafts and adits. The 6000 foot adit, if I’m not mistaken, connected the mine with the mill. This was a shortcut that saved several hundred feet of hoisting and eliminated the need to run a tram down to the mill, rock was hoisted to adit level and then trammed to the mill which, at the time, most likely included a battery of breakers to reduce the rock to stamp mill size. Adits were also a good way to reduce the cost of keeping the mine dry. Since most water entered the CC mines entered via the surface, the water could be intercepted and diverted out the adit, saving the cost of bailing or pumping. The adit now used for the Quincy Mine tours was originally cut for drainage. Every gallon out the adit was one that didn’t cost money to bail or pump.

  2. That 6000′ adit sounds like a good way to bankrupt a mine. Do you have any idea why it was dug or where it went? Is it mentioned in Clarke’s book or do you have any references?
    Thanks.

  3. I have been in there a couple of times, the most recent sometime this last fall. I heard rumors that the way I used to get in had been sealed up, I haven’t gone back to check, but I guess I wouldn’t be surprised.

  4. Rev. Aldinger, there is a LOT of funky stuff going on up on Petherick hill… lots of mysterious depressions and the occasional collapse (like the one from a few posts ago). I believe that the adits are all sealed up. One has a nice steel door and is very close to the Cut-Off road. Another is the cemented-up one featured a few days ago. The realllllly long one that exited by the old mill is closed up except for a drainage pipe. I have heard it said that the various entrances into Copper Falls have been thoroughly closed up over the last 10 years or so.

  5. I have been in there and will say getting in was one of the most scary experiences of my life.

  6. Rev. C.E. Aldinger

    An adit over a mile into the hill? What a whopper for the time…. digging 6000ft with hand/black powder methods must have been a serious case of dedication to copper dreams.
    Out of all of the adits in the area (lost count reading the posts), how many can still be found/accessed? Tech used one to dismantle/extract that bit of history back when but, what is left open in the 21st century? Looking at the info in this post and Pt 2, that was some amazing amount of digging going on, a wonder that there haven’t been more stope collapses/subsidences in the intervening 100+ years…..

  7. That drift is really freakin’ short. Can you imagine that poor trammer not only pushing rock all day, but having to be hunched over to do it?

    • Afraid I punked yea Jay, since that photo of the adit is not from when the mine was in operation. It’s actually a photo of a Sigma
      Ro fraternity member helping to remove that underground hoist from the mine back it the 60′s I believe. The adit shown isn’t a production adit, which would have been taller, but was a drainage tunnel used by the frat to get the hoist out. It was close and convenient, but not built for moving material. That’s why it was short roof wise.

      The production adit for the mine utilized cars pulled by mules, so it would have to be tall enough to comfortable hold a mule. Those guys had it a bit better then you see here.

  8. LOVE these posts on how the whole Copper Empire started….it would be really fun to see “wagon trails”, short line RRs, etc imposed on current topo maps. It would be even more fun….and obviously dangerous as he__…to be able to explore these old shafts and adits. Thanks Mike!!

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