We interrupt your previously schedule tour of the Victoria Mine for the following special presentation. The Keweenaw Heritage Center will be having its 2011 opening night reception this Thursday at 7pm, featuring yours truly as the guest speaker. I will be giving a talk on architectural heritage, featuring some of Calumet’s less known historical figures and their contributions to the village’s landscape. In preparation, I’m providing an exclusive inside look at the Heritage Center, which resides in the former St. Anne’s Church on Fifth Street in Calumet. We’ll return to our regular schedule programming next week….
St. Anne’s Catholic Church was built at the turn of the last century, erected to serve the region’s French Canadian population. For over 60 years this sandstone beauty would continue to serve that population, but as local mines closed and the surrounding population dwindled so too did the church’s congregation. There was scarcely a congregation at all by the time the Marquette Diocese elected to merge Calumet’s numerous ethic parishes into one church at old St. Joseph’s, forever since known as St. Paul’s. With the merger came St. Anne’s deconsecration, and the old church was left to the fickle fortunes of the local real estate market. Unfortunately that meant the building had to undergo the humiliation of becoming a low rent flea market. For several decades the building was used and abused, until the threat of the removal of its stained glass windows prompted the community to action. In 1994, after nearly 30 years of neglect, the building was bought by the township and efforts were begun to return the church to a more respectful condition.
Today St. Anne’s serves a new role, not as a house of faith but as a community event and exhibit space known as the Heritage Center. After a million dollars and thousands of volunteer hours, the old church has been painstakingly stabilized and renovated. It’s soaring nave now serves as an exhibition hall, where yearly historic exhibits are displayed and various performances and lectures are held. The completely trashed basement was converted into a meeting hall complete with modern restrooms and kitchen. But even with its secular role and more modern trappings, the old building continues to exude an aura of respect and dignity deserving of its more religious upbringing. You understand that the very moment you walk through its doors…
Though missing many of its more pious embellishments, the soaring main hall that opened up in front of me still managed to invoke a great sense of awe and wonderment. That feeling was greatly influenced by the assortment of massive stained glass windows that lined both sides of the space, filtering the soft morning light across the sprawling wood floor ahead of me. The curved ceiling reaches up above me head to the heavens, nearly five stories high. As a church this grand space would have been filled with lines of pews, pews that had been sold off decades ago. As a flea market, this noble space would have been filed with piles of dirty and broken junk.
Here’s what that view would have looked like a century ago, back when the building was still a functioning church. Unfortunately the space underwent a slightly different paint job at some point later in its history, as the stenciling seen along the ceiling today looks nothing like what is seen in this photo.
The intricacies of the curved roof are far lass impressive today, as it sports a much more subdued approach. But even with such downgraded embellishments, such a high ceiling rising above my head still added a great deal of grandiose flare to the entire space.
Running along the bottom of that curved ceiling were a series of arched cut-outs featuring the halo-ed likenesses of several saints. I have no idea who this particular one is of.
Below those cut-outs is a narrow band of ornamentation that included these rather devilish looking bosses, reportedly presenting angels. The red highlights seen on both the angel and the adjacent floral embellishments are either remnants of an old paint job (red though?) or some type of aging inherent in the material being used. Either way it looked a bit creepy.
Last but not least we have these spinals adorning the obtuse arched corbels that drop down along the outside walls. Once again you can make out more of that odd red highlighting. My money is on an old paint job.
The nave’s outside walls are lined with a dozen large stained glass windows, each set within a soaring pointed arched opening. Below the windows is several feet of wainscoting that was originally stained a dark mahogany. At some point in the church’s history it was painted over, most likely to lighten the surrounding space.
Up at the front of the nave stands the apse, a soaring semicircular space that would have housed the church’s high alter. That high alter was removed long ago, and this entire space was blocked off with a wall in order to serve as a living space for the proprietor of the flea market who lived here for several years. Thankfully that old wall has been removed, and the intricate details within are once again accessible for viewing.
Surrounding the apse is an intricately stenciled archway that resembles something you’d expect to find in some mid eastern country. But more impressive is the paint job that sits just past that archway, the paint job found along the apse’s domed top.
Here’s a close up of a stenciling found along the arched opening to the apse, one of many scattered throughout the church’s walls and ceiling.
To Be Continued…
The Keweenaw Heritage Center opening night reception is Thursday, June 23 at 7pm. The Heritage Center is inside the former St. Anne’s church, at the corner of Scott and Fifth Streets in historic downtown Calumet. Hope to see some of you there!