Over 10 billion pounds of copper has made it’s way out of the Copper Country over the last century, an amount with an estimated street value of nearly 2 billion dollars (in turn of the century dollars). Yet for having produced such incredible wealth, the Keweenaw has very little to show for it. That’s because almost all that money was either invested back into the mines – which are now gone – or was sent east to line the pockets of Boston managers and investors. Very little remained here to be invested back into the area. You can see the evidence of this by just looking at what remains here in terms of public buildings and amenities; the infrastructure that the mining industry has bestowed on the region.
Let’s look at a few examples of the mining industry’s legacy as illustrated by three of the region’s most celebrated and impressive structures. We start with the Calumet Opera House, a pubic structure built with a massive village surplus thanks to C&H’s paternalistic ways. At the turn of the century that building cost an impressive $70,000 to erect. Across the way, our most opulent and impressive home – the Laurium Manor – cost $85,000 fully furnished. And one of the most expensive buildings ever built here – the soaring St. Joseph’s (now St. Paul’s) church – came in at an outstanding $100,000 at the turn of the century. As impressive as these figures seem to be, they are nothing when compared to the types of figures you find when taking a look at a city with real wealth.
A few weeks back my family took a trip to Chicago, a city that I admire both historically and architecturally. The city was born just twenty years before the Keweenaw’s copper would be discovered, but the great Chicago fire of 1871 essentially wiped the city off the map and it was reborn anew. Thus as Chicago rose from its ashes, the great Calumet metropolis was also rising up from the northern wilderness. From then on the two would be linked together in various ways, most famously through the Columbian Exhibition as discussed last week. But what’s most interesting about these two cities are their juxtaposition, especially when you consider the amount of wealth each could claim for itself. This fact became all to clear during my visit, when by pure chance I found myself exploring one of Chicago’s most magnificent structures.
This is the Chicago Cultural Center, originally built in 1897 to house the city’s central library. It was erected around the same time as Calumet’s own great buildings were going up, including the Calumet Opera House, St. Joseph’s church, and the Hoatson House. But while those buildings cost around $100,000 each, this grand building seen above came in at over 2 million dollars. That’s right. Two Million with an “M”. In 1897.
There’s a good reason why this was the case. All you have to do is walk through the front doors and you’re immediately assaulted with architectural nirvana. (keep in mind that these pictures were shot with my rather cruddy point and shoot camera and not the SLR I normally use here on CCE, so they’re not quite as great as they should be. But they’ll do the trick).
You enter at the base of a grand staircase, and by grand I really mean grand. The staircase makes its way up three floors before opening up to the view above. Everything you see is covered in ceramic tiles, intricately placed in beautiful mosaics and patterns. The picture really doesn’t do it justice, as the place is incredibly amazing to see in person.
Besides the tiling, the walls are also painstakingly hand painted with intricately flowing strokes and flowering motifs.
The tile work includes several names of famous authors as well as short epitaphs like this one for Benjamin Franklin.
Up above the ceiling features a sea of deep coffers, each showcasing egg molding and painted floral motifs of their own. The brass chandeliers are just the icing on the cake. But the real attraction here is what sits above all these marble and tile work of the grand staircase. That would be what’s considered to be the world’s largest Tiffany Dome.
This massive stained glass dome is 38 feet in diameter, covers a thousand square feet of area, and features over 30,000 pieces of glass. Once again this picture doesn’t do it justice, as when you’re standing below it the entire thing is just incredible to behold.
Below the dome is the Preston Bradley Hall, a large public space available for weddings and other public gatherings. The entire building is free and open to the public, though it no longer houses the central library. We were allowed to wander at will up and down the halls, gawking at all the beauty that it holds. Simply amazing, and if you ever find yourself in Chicago I definitely recommend a visit. It’s conveniently located right across the street from Millennium Park.
I bring this up because while inside this magnificent structure I was reminded of how the Keweenaw was denied such incredible structures. While the region could claim the majority of the country’s (and the world’s) copper production for some time you really couldn’t tell by looking at it today. While the Calumet Opera House is held up as a prime example of the region’s metropolitan identity, it pales in comparison to the Chicago Cultural Center. In fact the Keweenaw never even had its own public library, save for the rather small and insignificant Carnegie built one in Houghton (requiring donations from outside the area to complete no less). It’s all just a rather obvious example of for all the wealth the mines of the Keweenaw produced, the area had very little to show for it.