If you travel far enough into the rugged wilderness of Ontonagon County between the town of Ontonagon and Porcupine Mountains State Park you’ll come across a rather surreal site. Sitting miles from anywhere along a lonely stretch of road sits a suburban utopia of well manicured lawns and quant little ranch houses laid out along curving roads that casually move to and fro through the landscape. It’s almost as if you’ve stepped back into time, visiting a surreal 1950′s landscape straight out of Pleasentville (minus the black and white of course). Congratulations, you’ve discovered the old mining town of White Pine.
The White Pine Mine itself dates back to the late 1800′s, though its current configuration was born only a half century ago. Established in 1954 by the Copper Range Company, the White Pine Mine was a project partially financed by the government to help procure copper supplies during the Korean War. The mine worked a unique deposit that required a great deal of milling and processing to procure, requiring the erection of a massive milling and smelting facility.
Along with the mine Copper Range erected itself yet another company town. This time, however, the company took a slightly different approach. The sterilized conformity of turn of the century community planning was replaced by the free-flowing suburban attitudes of the 1950′s. Salt boxes and two story gabled homes were replaced by ranches and split levels, set back from the road on good sized lots platted along curving streets. The homes were spread out around a centralized town square that was home a grocery store, church, meeting hall, and school.
The project was a success, and the mine prospered and grew. Before long the small company town had expanded substantially, becoming a modern community of several thousand people. The town received its own mall and recreational center, gas station, and several more schools. Yet like all company towns, the community was cursed with the ever present specter of the the mine’s closure. In 1994 the inevitable finally happened, as the mine closed for good due to rising costs and environmental concerns. The town of White Pine was given its death notice.
Fast forward 18 years and the old mining town has amazingly continued to hold on to life, primarily as a bedroom community of retirees, snow birds, and workers from the neighboring state park. But the lack of a major industry has managed to take its toll, as the exciting opportunities offered by the communities entrance sign are all mostly absent today. Yet we were intrigued as we passed by and decided to drop by and take a look at the old town and see how things are going.
The first thing you notice upon entering White Pine is this small gas station right alongside the main road. The old station is closed today, and by the lack of pumps and the large dirt covered area that the tanks have been removed as well. Too bad the old price sign wasn’t still intact, it would be neat to see .99 cent gas once again.
Across the street sits a massive building adorned with large yellow tiles spelling out “Mineral River Plaza”. This would be White Pine’s very own mall, which is rather amazing to me considering the towns location far and away from anything.
Here’s a look inside that mall, in what looks like a shot taken during construction. Not large by any stretch of the imagination, but impressive none-the-less considering its location. I wonder what stores could be found here? Local flair or actual well none outlets?
From the desolate and overgrown nature of its parking lot, it looked as if the mall had been closed for some time. At least we knew it had a laundry once.
Just down the road from the mall you find yourself in the town center home to a large parking lot and several monuments. These monuments include a large totem poll and this massive piece of copper. Unfortunately it wasn’t accompanied by any type of sign or plaque, so I have no idea what it represents.
Nearby sits yet another piece of copper, but this one was not in its raw form. This was a large piece of refined and smelted copper, reportedly the first to roll of the assembly line at the newly built smelter. The plaque commemorates the completion of the smelter and the great future awaiting the town. (the bleeding copper from the ingot is a nice artistic touch, though I’m sure not intentional)
Across the street was one of the town’s schools, and the only one still in use by the look of things. This part of the building housed a pool, if the 80s era digital pictographs along its outer wall are any indication. It looks as if a large loading door has been torn out of the facade, so I doubt the pool is in use any more.
Nearby we find a building that was not quite in such good shape. I have no idea as to its original purpose, but it may have been another school.
The largest structure in town seems to be this old apartment complex, which consists of two large two story wings set perpendicular to each other.
Here’s a front shot of the second building in the complex. I love the siding choice, gives it an even more ruined look today. It doesn’t look to have been occupied in quite some time.
From there we took a drive around to check out the 50′s suburbia presented to us. Amazing the town had quite a few people out and about, and more then a few sitting on their porches watching our every move. Before long we felt rather awkward and decided to cut our tour short. While much of White Pine’s amenities are no longer available, it would appear that the town is still very much alive and kicking in the residential department.