Guest Post: The Wolverine Mill (p1)

The following guest post is contributed by Ian Tomashik, a sophomore at Dearborn High School outside of Detroit. Ian is a frequent Copper Country explorer with family ties to the region (his grandfather continues to live Mohawk). One of Ian’s frequent explorations took him to the little known ruins of the Wolverine Mill in Gay. Normally this old mill is overshadowed – both figuratively and literally – by its more famous neighbor to the north. But today Ian brings the old mill to light by taking us on a short tour.

The modern Wolverine Mill was opened in 1902 along the shores of Lake Superior near the burgeoning town of Gay. Built in the 1890’s to replace the mine’s original wood mill back at the mine site, this new structure was a smaller cousin of the Mohawk’s Mill – which was being built next door around the same time. True to the close partnership between the two John Stanton-operated mines, the mills shared a pump house and a superintendent, were built simultaneously, and closed within years of each other. The Wolverine would shut down 7 years before the Mohawk, in 1925.

I had already been to the Wolverine Mine site by the time I decided to explore its mill last year, and seeing the whole system come together really helped fuel my enthusiasm for the site. Perhaps my excitement is why I rushed the exploration of the mill a bit, or maybe it was my little brother begging me to leave – he’s not a fan of Copper Country exploring himself – but either way, despite regretfully missing some details, I still gained an enjoyable experience and a little insight out of the trip.

Continuing southwest from the top floor of the Mohawk Mill’s ruins is where you’ll find the Wolverine ruins in the form of an overgrown pad of concrete. The stamp level – the top level – is the only near-intact story of the structure, and it was the first that I discovered during my exploration of the site. The floor is highly overgrown and nearly featureless, save for two concrete pads – what I presumed to be the foundations for the mill’s two Nordberg stamps.

Here’s a wider look, with one of those concrete pads sitting off on the left.

Before moving on I took a quick note of the stamp floor’s main features: the concrete pads; a pit to the eastern (top) wall of the mill, half-filled with poor rock, where the steel rock bins once sat; and two large, rectangular indentations in the face of the floor where it dropped down to the second level.

Interestingly enough, Sanborn maps label those rock bins as being “plank bins”, 44 feet in height.

Before I continued down the mill’s floors something to the southern edge of the mill caught my eye. Dropping down from the concrete foundation I saw it – the base of a smokestack. It was hexagonal in shape and built of sandstone; typical of other stack bases I have seen.

This 8 foot base supported a steel stack 115 feet in height – the same stack the neighboring Mohawk Mill would have until being replaced by the current concrete version.

Here’s another look, this time through the flue opening.

Continuing past the stack base I spotted a trench in the ground running parallel to the southern wall of the mill. At first I thought this was one of the pits in which the boilers once sat, but after examining maps on my return home I found that this pit sat outside the walls of the boiler house. Since the coal piles sat behind the mill, I concluded that this was possibly an underground conveyor used to carry coal into the boiler house.

I concur on your observation, though Sanborn maps don’t label such a tench. But the location makes sense for one.

Stretching into the woods perpendicular to the mill itself was a line of concrete footings – the base of an overhead trestle that brought ore cars up to the level of the rock bins. Even though I knew their ultimate end was a trestle abutment, I followed them anyway, finally arriving to my expected destination – a collapsed line of rocks signifying the abutment.

After following the line of supports away from the stamp floor I turned and headed back, again passing the trench – which continued to run under the trestle – and the smokestack base. I now regret not stopping to explore the lake side of that base, as I now know that the boiler house sat there, but at the time I was not thinking, and I passed it by. Oh well, I guess I have an excuse for a return trip there.

Returning to the mill, I continued my trip down its floors, arriving at the third level – the one below the stamp level – which was completely featureless. Weeds grew out of cracks in the cement, but there were no footings or iron mountings and no points of interest whatsoever. This, however, is where the collapse began. From the third floor down it looked as if the entire side of the mill that adjoined the Mohawk had succumbed to a landslide. It was this that I used to descent further.

According to Sanborn maps, this level housed a machine shop on the second floor.

If a whole half of the mill had suffered a landslide, it must have been caused by an earthquake on the second level. Here the other end of the floor was also buried by dirt and debris so that only a short section of the center was left intact. Here could be found two out-of-place concrete blocks and a heavily damaged wall, which included a good-sized crack through the center. Again, since no specific details were identifiable, I descended to the first level – the wash floor.

To Be Continued..

3 comments

  1. Shirley Timberman

    Glad to see a guest post too! I’m looking forward to seeing more.

  2. Dearborn HS, eh?

    good stuff

  3. Very nice! I was just wondering about this — we hear a lot about the Mohawk mill, and how both mills were built together, but I’d never seen the Wolverine ruins, or anything about them. Looking forward to the rest…