Oak Street 600

the old H&C and new Mineral Range depot on Oak

Oak Street’s rise to prominence was due mainly to the presence of the Mineral Range railroad’s passenger depot on the street’s eastern end. But the truth was that the Mineral Range was not the only rail line serving Red Jacket, nor was it the only passenger depot in town. The erection of that 4th street depot was in response to the arrival of a new railroad to town; a direct competitor to the Mineral Range started by the neighboring Osceola and Tamarack mines; a railroad known as the Hancock and Calumet (H&C). The H&C had it’s own depot at the opposite end of Oak, near their own rail yards along 9th Street. The presence of this depot was a threat to the Mineral Range’s passenger business. Worried about lost passenger revenue the railroad took the extraordinary measure of erecting an extension to its existing line – which actually ended on Depot Street outside of Laurium – up and around the C&H mine to Oak where it built itself a new depot. The war of the railroads were on.

Fortunately the war was short lived, as the Mineral Range was able to quickly take a controlling interest in its rival, squashing the competition and closing down the H&C depot in the process. From that point on the only way in and out of Calumet on rail would be on the Mineral Range from the 4th street depot. That is up until 1897. Thanks to a conflict with the neighboring C&H mine, the Mineral Range had to abandon its east end trackage and 4th street depot, moving its passenger service over to the west end of town and back into the old H&C depot on 9th. This move would alter the commercial dynamic of the village yet again but once again Oak Street would be the beneficiary.

The depot’s move would push Oak Street’s commercial district westward, prompting new businesses and old ones looking for a better location to move onto the road’s relatively empty western blocks. These blocks were once far removed from the village’s hustle and bustle, but now with the depot at their backs they were able to flourish.

The 600 block is bordered by 6th street to the east and 7th on the west. In the beginning the block’s only commercial residents were a saloon and an old-school boarding house known as the German-American House at the corner of 6th. After the railroad depot’s move just two blocks to the west, the 600 block suddenly found itself flush with businesses of all types. The expansion of Oak had begun.

One of the first brick business block to call the 600 block home was a rather plain and unobtrusive two story structure on the north-west corner of 6th; a building known as the Lisa Block (seen on the far right on the image above, with the large advertisement printed on its side). The building was named not after a women, but an Italian immigrant by the name of James Lisa. After apprenticing in Italy to become a baker, Mr. Lisa choose to come to America in search of fabled new world opportunity when he was only 18. He spent his first year working in area mines before deciding to pursue less dangerous work topside. He then moved to Chicago and spent three years learning the retail trade. Upon returning to the Copper Country he started his own confectionary store on 5th street around 1880. Business was good, and by the turn of the century Mr. Lisa was able to finance his own business block, a building he chose to erect on the up and coming corner of Oak and 6th streets.

streetcar line in front if Ryan Block and Lisa Block (left)

Mr. Lisa’s decision to place his new business block on the corner of Oak and 6th was incredibly advantageous, considering the subsequent arrival of another transportation system to the intersection – the streetcar. It was just a year after the completion of the Lisa Block that the Houghton County Traction Company arrived to Red Jacket. The interurban railroad entered the village on Pine Street, and made it’s way down 6th street as far as Scott street. At Oak the line turned westward and made its way to the newly established Mineral Range depot at 9th. This connection allowed recently arrived passengers to make their way to almost any point throughout the Copper Country with ease.

The arrival of the streetcar was an incredible spur to the economic development of Oak Street, especially the 6th street intersection. Business lucky enough to reside here – Vertin’s, the Michigan House, and Lisa’s newly erected business block – would find themselves at the literal intersection of Red Jacket’s transportation corridors. All people coming to and from the village had to pass though this intersection, a number that easily surpassed thousands a day.

Since the streetcar’s arrival, the Lisa Block saw a steady flow of businesses including a dry goods store, saloon, and of course Lisa’s confection shop. As for Lisa himself, the man would go on to become a major local figure, becoming member of the local I.O.O.F, serving on the village board and providing generously to the local Italian community. Today his building continues to stand, having been more recently home to an appliance store for several decades. During that time it has, unfortunately, endured a “modern” facelift long its first floor.

Moving across Oak to its southern side, we transition from one of the 600’s earliest business block to one of its last – the Calumet State Bank building. This massive creme brick building was built in 1906 to house the newly formed Calumet State Bank, an institution established by local businessmen Thomas Hoatson (who would go on to build one of the area’s largest and most opulent mansions – now known as the Laurium Manor). In a time pre-dating federal oversight banks relied on an image of power and stability to attract account holders, an impression this building easily presented to those passing by. It’s gracefully curved facade was unique to the village at the time, and continues to impress onlookers still today.

Besides the bank and its associated offices, the three story structure offered a generous supply of office space on its upper floors rented out to various local businesses. The building also features a pair of Oak Street facing store fronts, one of which was occupied by the Keweenaw Copper Company and Keweenaw Central railroad.

Moving past the Keweenaw Copper offices, we cross the alley and move further west along Oak. The sheer size of the Calumet State Bank building leaves room for only two other buildings. By zooming in on the archive photo above we can get a better look at the first of those:

The first building found after the bank is a two and a half story wood framed structure that dates back to around 1890. The building housed a very rough and tumble boarding house for most of its life, featuring a saloon on the first floor. Later a second storefront was squeezed into the far corner, where a barber set up shop. The building burned down – or was torn down – at some point during the 1920’s.

As for that second building in the photo – the St. Germain block – we’ll have to hold off until tomorrow to take a better look at that beauty…

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