When Captain Vivian built his store along the newly formed Village of Calumet’s eastern end, the village was still only a child. But with Vivian’s success came a wave of imitators who arrived to Hecla Street to build their own American Dream in a brave new world outside C&H’s influence. Within a decade what was once a vacant stretch of road had blossomed into a commercial powerhouse capable of rivaling even the juggernaut next door known as Red Jacket – with a line of grand buildings and impressive architecture that was the envy of much of the region. Yet a century of time proved too much for the old village, and as the mines closed and the region contracted the renamed Village of Laurium found itself a victim of its own quick success. By the dawning of the atomic age, all of Laurium’s great institutions had closed their doors and only vacant buildings and crumbling streets remained. Laurium’s once impressive commercial district had forsaken it.
While much of Laurium’s distant prosperity may be lost, a careful examination of the buildings and structures that do remain along the village’s commercial center provide a few glimpses of her glory days. You just have to know where to look. We start our tour back at the point where it all began, the corner of Hecla and 4th Streets where Captain Vivian built his merchantile store. The first neighbors to arrive set up shop across 4th Street, occupying the other two corners of the intersection. The first was a Grocer occupying the space now home to a gas station. Across the street a saloon constructed a small two story wood-framed building graced by a series of oriel windows along its 4th Street facade.
Later that saloon would grow to become the Palace Restaurant and Hotel, one of the village’s three main hotels. The saloon would fall victim to fire later in its life, and in its place would be built the diminutive structure seen above. Based on its architectural style I would guess the building was built in the 60’s, and by evidence of the night deposit box and drive through window still gracing the building I would guess it was once a bank. Its most recent incarnation has been that of the 911 switchboard office, a role it served only briefly when the Keweenaw actually had its own 911 service. Today it sits empty.
One of the only buildings to have actually existed along this desolate length of road before Vivian’s grand entrance was a small wood-framed home on the corner opposite the Palace. That house was replaced by the one you see here around 1888, though this version was built atop the foundation of its predecessor. The building originally served as a residential duplex, but later the 4th street unit was converted into a barbershop.
Interestingly that side of the building would continue to serve as a barber shop for most of the building’s life. Still hanging out front is a rotted barber pole. Though the condition of the pole would seem to suggest otherwise, the building was still a barber as recently as the 90’s as I remember.
Continuing north along Hecla Street from that old Barber shop you come across what looks to be a modern motel. Though originally a motel, the building has since been converted into apartments – a rather popular trend in the Copper Country as of late. Before the arrival of the motel the spot was home to the Laurium Meat Market, residing within a rather modest one and a half story gabled roof building.
The Laurium Meat Market was operated by a Mr. William Reynolds, who in addition to his meat business also served as Vice President of the First National Bank down the street and village president for several years. Business was good enough to help him afford a 3000 square foot home down the street at the corner of Pewabic and 4th Streets – a home that continues to stand to this day.
Next door to the old Laurium Meat Market location are these conjoined buildings that currently serve as the Irish Times restaurant. Though both buildings appear to be nothing more then rather modest one story structures today, both were once a bit more impressive. To the left is the remains of the old Ruppe Block, while to the right is the extremely renovated first floor of the old Richetta Block.
The Ruppe Block was a two story masonry building built around 1902. It was primarily built of brick but features sandstone highlights, such as the series of pilasters still seen along the front facade of the building that remains. The upper floor was removed at some point during the 1970s, possibly after a fire. A “modern” facade was added to the first floor around the same time, resulting in the rather awful mansard roof and faux stone facade.
Joining the old Ruppe Block stands the Irish Times Restaurant, which at first glance appears to be nothing more then a modern 60’s era brick building. The facade, however, is deceiving. The bricks seen here were a modern addition added to an older structure to cover the scars from a devastating fire. To see the building’s true identity you need to look to its exposed eastern facade.
Here you can see a long uninterrupted wall of sandstone, which dates the building far before the 1960’s. Turns out this is the first floor of the old Richette Block, a massive three story sandstone beauty built in 1900. The building would end up being destroyed by fire in 1947, resulting in the removal of the upper two stories. All that remained was the scarred first floor, which would be covered by the brick facade seen today. It was converted into a restaurant soon after.
Here’s the Richetta Block in its prime, which featured a centralized arched entranceway to the upper floors flanked by a pair of storefronts on either side. The Richetta family hailed from Italy and by the turn of the century had built themselves a rather impressive empire consisting of a Saloon, Livery, Undertaking business, Insurance Business, and Blacksmith shop. In fact the Richetta Family owned a good portion of Laurium’s commercial district, including a total of three buildings here on the 300 block.
We’ll take a look at what remains of the rest of that empire next…