Hidden in Plain Site

There was a time when the Copper Country was criss crossed with railways, transportation corridors that moved freight, people, and most importantly copper all across the peninsula. The Keweenaw’s rugged nature meant that those railways often crossed over several gorges that required the use of a trestle – dozens of which could be found scattered throughout the region. As the mines closed and the railroads that depended on those industries for freight began to fold those trestles became the first to become victim of the economic hardship to follow as they were scrapped and sold for parts. Today – more then a century since the first railways began to be built – the majority of those old crossings are now only memories. Yet one has managed to survive.

Its survival no doubt had something to do with its location, as it is almost perfectly camouflaged into its surroundings thanks to the massive iron bulk of the Redridge Dam surrounding it. From afar it looks to be just part of the dam itself, a topper of sorts running along the dam’s crest. But in reality it has nothing to do with the dam, save for the fact that it sits atop the massive impoundment’s concrete foundation – a cost cutting decision made a century ago that probably helped save the trestle from destruction.

A closer look reveals the truth, as the trestle superstructure is in fact separate from the dam. When the dam was built it was done so along with the new Baltic Mill which was built across the river from the Atlantic property. In addition to sharing the dam and resultant reservoir, the two mills also shared the same railroad – the Atlantic and Lake Superior. The new Baltic Mill’s location across the river meant that A&LS had to cross the Salmon Trout gorge, and the most logical location for that crossing was at the dam itself. That’s because the trestle could share the dam’s massive concrete foundation, saving money and time for a mining company that had just spent a large amount of money on a new dam and mill.

The trestle that resulted was a monster, 464 feet in length and standing over 75 feet above the riverbed. It was the biggest trestle to be built along the Atlantic and Lake Superior line, and together with the dam that adjoined it represented a colosal technological undertaking for the Atlantic Mine.

The Atlantic first built its railroad to bring copper rock from its mine up north to its mill along the Portage Canal – a distance of just three miles. When the mine was forced to erect its new mill along Lake Superior that distance increased to nine miles. In addition to serving its own mill, the Atlantic further expanded its railroad to service the newly discovered Baltic Mine as well, required spur lines to both the mine and the Baltic’s mill.

The main A&LS line approached Redridge along the current path of the Covered Road, before heading down along shore to its mill. With the arrival of the Baltic Mill, a new spur line was constructed branching off towards the newly built mill. This spur line crossed the gorge across the trestle before splitting up into two – one line heading to the Baltic’s upper rock bins and another down to the mill’s coal trestle and mineral house.

The Atlantic’s railroad would serve both mills for just a short time before the Copper Range bought up both properties and began serving them with its own railroad. When this was done Copper Range built a connecting line from the trestle south-west to the Copper Range mainline, allowing service of both mills without utilizing the old A&LS mainline. By 1911 the Atlantic Mine had become unworkable due to subsidence, and the old mine and mill were abandoned. The Copper Range would continue to service the Baltic, but from its main line instead. The old Atlantic and Lake Superior Railroad would become abandoned, and the trestle atop the dam would be utilized only by trains turing around at the Wye. When the Baltic closed during the Depression, the mill would close as well. It would never reopen, and the trestle, wye, and connecting spurs to the mills would be abandoned for good.

A century later and the old trestle continues to stand, though today its been heavily shrouded by trees and the dam’s superstructure. Considering how early it was abandoned, its amazing that it hadn’t been scrapped during the war. Considering the liability and general pain in the neck the entire dam had become to Copper Range by the 1940’s, its double amazing that Copper Range didn’t tear the thing out itself. But here it stands, untouched.

Equally as amazing is the fact that up until at least 2007 (when these photos were taken) the trestle still had a few old ties and even a couple rails still intact along its roadbed. In fact I remember the majority of the rails still being in place when I first explored the dam back in college during the mid 1990s.

If you visit the old Redridge dam site you can quite easily view the old trestle from its western approach. The trestle itself is blocked by a large iron fence, but you can easily see it stretching off in the distance ahead of you. A similar fence sits on the other side as well, built to keep foolish college kids from walking out atop the high bridge. Back when I was at college the fence was broken and you could still crawl out on the tracks if you wanted to. Today the fence has been repaired and reinforced, probably since the township began opening up the area for recreation.

The fact that this view is available at all is something special, considering that no where else in the Copper Country can such a view of a trestle be seen. Every other major trestle that once graced the peninsula’s gorges and valleys have since been removed, leaving only this one example as a reminder of the great transportation corridors that once blanked the Copper Country. While its a shame that the railroad system had been dismantled, its good to know that at least one example still remains for future generations to look out upon and picture a world once dominated by trains, massive dams, and the sprawling mines that built them.

Discuss…

  1. Great as usual Mike! When is that aerial view from? It must be old because the water is backed right up to the steel dam. It’s cool to see where the road used to cross the river closer to the dam. It looks like it kind of passed right through that parking loop that’s by the road now.

  2. Another interesting thing in the aerial photo, there’s no visible river bed between the dam and the river. The whole river seems to be diverted through the spillway. I would’ve assumed that some water flowed through the original river bed (where the river is currently running) but here it seems to be completely diverted and overgrown.

  3. great post. As a model railroader I hope to see a model of this some day. Trestle on the dam is quite interesting.

    you mentioned that all the trestles are gone but the 3 copper range firesteel river examples remain as snowmobile trails….

    • Technically part of the Copper Country for sure, though I still tend to think in terms of the Keweenaw only when it comes to these posts, even though I featured those very same trestles on the site a few years back – HERE. But you’re right, I’ll rephrase my wording. (that’s what I get for trying to be overly dramatic)

  4. Mike (lsigrandson)

    When I was growing up in the Copper Country, I had great grandparents that lived in Redridge. We used to visit them quite frequently and I spent alot of time down by the dam. I also remember my great grandfather (who was a retired watchman at the Champion Mill in Freda) used to take a daily walk down to the dam to check on the water level. I still remember seeing most of the ties and the rail still up on the trestle, but I also remember being told to stay off of it by my parents. Of course, that advice went by the wayside when I was a teen and I remember crossing over the top several times with friends. Some of the ties were loose which made for an interesting trip and looking down was not an option! It’s amazing how much time has changed the landscape, but the dam and trestle will forever be a part of my childhood. Great series Mike, it brings back alot of memories.

  5. I remember both the dam & a trestle that was southwest of Redridge that we use to locate a path leading steeply downhill to a beautiful beach back in the very early 1970’s. It was one of my favorite spots to go back in the day and as we made our way down the treacherous trail, I could see foundations to old buildings hiding in the woods. I so wanted to explore them but since I was 7-8 months pregnant with my first child, it was frowned upon by my ex and our friends. I used to drive everyone crazy because I’d sit in the shallower water of that bay on the sandstone bottom of Lake Superior……friends used to beg me to get out for fear that I’d freeze my unborn son…..but that fat pregnant woman so enjoyed the cold waters of the Lake. If I ever get back up there again, I intend to explore regardless of my advances age!!

  6. Joe, I would guess 1951, Earth Explorer has many different photos of the area. They have a 1955 photo which shows the wood dam doing the work, so the cuts must have been made in the steel dam.

  7. hmmm, don’t know why I would guess, the photo shows 1951, duh.

  8. Here’s a bit more, been busy ransacking databases and having fun with my software….

    http://thecoppercountrymaps.blogspot.com/2014/03/redridge-steel-dambeacon-hill.html

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