A century ago the east end of the Copper Range rail yard was a center of activity, home to not only to the railroad’s passenger depot but its freight depot as well. While the Copper Range may have been a railroad, its parent company operated several area copper mines as well. Thus the railroad’s freight docks were often filled with piles of copper ingots from those mines, ready for shipment out to the area within the hulls of large lake freighters. Above is a typical scene that could be witnessed almost any day during the Copper Range’s era of operation. Of course today the scene looks a bit different.
While the passenger depot still stands, the freight depot and its associated buildings do not. Instead of lines upon lines of railroad tracks the view is filled instead with a road and large parking lot. What does remain, however, is the old freight dock itself. Those things are a bit harder to erase from the landscape, especially when their built of concrete.
Today the old freight dock is used by the city of Houghton as a tie up for large boats coming down the canal. Passenger ships, Coast Guard tenders, and even the occasional ore boat have been seen tied up here. I’m not sure how much of the dock is original to the Copper Range days or how much was a later addition, but by its general condition (take a gander at that bowed out section, yikes) I would guess a lot of it is pretty original. Most likely the use of concrete here was due to the presence of that freight depot, which sat atop this section of dock.
Running alongside the dock are a line of these large iron posts, used to tie up ships. My guess is that these were added later, since the concrete around them seems to be different then the surrounding material. I also don’t notice any of them in any old photos of the old freight dock, just the smaller cleats seen up along the edge.
Originally the old freight depot stretched westward along shore, far past the area found near the passenger depot. While the east end was home to the actual freight depot and associated warehouses, this western end was nothing more then a long open air dock where rows upon rows of copper ingots would sit awaiting shipment. With no buildings to support the docks here were not built so rigidly as it was back east – no concrete to be found here.
That’s probably why very little remains of that section of dock. That length of lakeshore is today littered instead by fishing piers and picnic areas.
The only remnant we could find from the old dock was some short concrete walls like this one lining the shore. I don’t even know if this if this is from the old dock or just some modern artifact from something more recent that once could be found here.
Heading back the opposite direction towards the bridge we find even less to testify to the waterfronts industrial past. At the end of that old freight dock turned boat slip we find just this small boat ramp and associated dock (above). Beyond it stands a small building that I believe is part of the Hancock/Houghton water system, and then a wing of the bridge’s lower rail level. For many decades this small area of shore was home to yet another dock, this one a coal dock serving the neighboring Power Plant. Here boats would unload coal for use in the Power Plant’s boilers, transferred from here over to a small coal pile found next to the bridge.
Here’s that power plant as it appears today, a large part of which amazingly still stands. We’ve featured this unique building on CCE before, so today we only give it a quick passing glance. The structure seen above is only part of the old complex, a building that originally housed the electricity producing turbines themselves. A century ago it would have been accompanied by another squat structure sitting next door to the left, right atop the area where the road and parking lot can be found today. That building would have been the destination of all that coal offloaded at the neighboring dock – the boiler house.
A portion of the boiler house can be seen here at the existing strucure’s east end, in the form of this squat foundation wall half buried in the hillside. Coal offloaded from the dock would have travelled across an overhead tramway to a spot just behind this wall, and dumped into waiting coal piles. Today that space is home to the current bridge’s approach and abutment. The lift bridge seen toady is only the latest in a long line of structures built between Houghton and Hancock. This most recent version was built about a block to the west from where the early incarnations were located, plowing over land that had originally served other purposes including this coal storage area. By the time the bridge arrived, however, the coal piles had already long been moved.
These bridges – both old and new – also serve to mark a transition along the Houghton waterfront. Up until now the waterfront has been dominated primarily by one entity – the Copper Range railroad. Once the bridge is crossed, that dominate force is gone. It’s replaced not by another large industry or company, but instead by something a big smaller and less intrusive. Now we enter the limits of the city’s main commercial district, and the structures found on shore here would serve those commercial entities. We transition from rail yards to warehouses. Welcome to Houghton’s warehouse district.
To Be Continued…