Champion MineMines

Gone But Not Forgotten

After the discovery of the great southern copper lode – the Baltic – companies rushed into the once remote and undeveloped region to cash in on the newly discovered riches. One of those pioneers wast the Champion, first established in 1899 before becoming part of the Copper Range empire a few years later. A total of four shafts were sunk on the lode, each receiving its own set of auxiliary structures. The mine’s main surface plant sat to the far southern end of the property, clustered around the “E” Shaft. In addition to the usual compliment of shops and warehouses, this sprawling surface plant also included  a large wood framed building that at first glance looked to be a small school building (seen to the right of the photo above).

Turns out this two and a half story hipped roof structure served as the mine’s main office building. While the great C&H built their version out of beautifully laid stone and brick, the Champion elected to follow a more frugal path. The building was originally built around 1900. As the mine prospered and its needs increased the building was expanded with a pair of additions – a small one story room to the north and a larger two story wing added to the back.

Inside, the building’s compliment of rooms were arranged around a large central vault located in the center of the building. Two stories in height the massive structure featured a single entrance on each floor. It was used to store the company’s files and records. Access to the vault on the first floor was via the building’s clerk office, which also served as the mine’s pay office. The pay office took up the first floor’s south side, while its north side was occupied by the main offices of the president (complete with fireplace) and his secretary. Later as the mine grew, the presidents office was moved to a small addition built on the building’s north side, with his old office (and the fireplace) reverting to another secretary office.

In addition to the vault, the building’s second floor was primarily occupied by a large drafting room and a pair of engineer offices placed in the two-story addition on the back of the building. In the basement was the building’s main blueprint making room, and would later become home to the bathrooms once the building was fitted out with plumbing.

The building would serve the mine for the next three-quarters of a century, its role later expanding to serve the entire Copper Range company. I’m not sure when it was finally abandoned, but I would assume it was shortly after the neighboring mine itself was finally closed in the 1970s. When I finally got around to taking some pictures of the aging structure around 2006 its years of abandonment was readily apparent. Though boarded up and relatively secured, years of neglect had left the roof in horrible shape, sagging and full of holes. Because of this the building’s interior had been inundated by water, and was rotting and falling apart. The building was on its last legs. It wouldn’t be long before the inevitable finally happened.

This is how the old pay office looks today. Like too many Copper Country structures it has fallen to the wrecking ball, though in this case it was probably just an excavator that served as the executioner. Now only that massive two-story central vault remains, the rest of the wooden superstructure now lying scattered about at its base. With the building down we can see that the vault was built out of brick,  its outer wall covered by a layer of peeling plaster. The brick was used to not only secure the documents and records inside, but also protected the contents from fire. Up top we can see the remains of the building’s third floor, which would have spanned across the vault’s top.

From the south more of the old vault can be seen, bringing into view even more interesting features. Most notable from here is the two vault entrances, one on the second floor and another down on the first floor. From here it looks as if one of the vault’s original iron doors is still intact on the first floor, while the one up on the second is missing. You can also see that the vault wasn’t uniform in size, its first floor being slightly wider then its second. Finally there’s the glimpses of several iron beams protruding out of the structures mid point. Most likely these were used to support the vaults center floor.

When the Copper Range company vacated the building it left behind the contents of the vault, piles and piles of records from the company’s nearly century of operation. Unfortunately the vault had not served its intend purpose, its contents having been exposed to water, rats, and other vermin for many years. Luckily before the building was demolished, the Keweenaw National Historic Park entered the building with the owners permission and removed as much of the documents and records as it could. The records were thoroughly cleaned and dried, and are now safe and sound within the park’s own vaults.

While the old mine office may now be gone, you can still take a tour inside thanks to Bruce and Phyllis Groeneveld. Turns out Phyllis worked in this very same building for several years. On Kevin Musser’s excellent Copper Range site she shares a detailed account of the building, the people that worked there, and what it was like to work there. Including with here memoir is a great floor plan of the old building, along with a few more pictures of the structure before its demolition. Check it out HERE.


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  1. I always liked this building. It’s too bad I never got ahold of Steven King to do the movie, “A Champion Mine and the Tommy Knockers “. I imagined he could spend the entire film with the eerie / ominous theme of the dangerous being the background of the everyday life in a mining location and in the very end the (eerie / ominous) “knokers” show their true colors and save the day. My hope was that a weird plan like this would get several things at Painsdale and others restored for a movie. Seen in a picture underground “Knokers were here-not me no more”. I have lived long enough to see too much of the CC gone. Make it stop.

    1. Scene #1, Christmas eve. The Champion’s underground and surface plant have a day off. 8:30 pm L.L. Hubbard is locking up the company office. Pauses to take in the quite that never is at a mine location. There are sounds of a tram car and team of Jackers from D location. Shrugs shoulders and makes way home in the falling snow. Cut.

  2. I was going to ask what shape it was still in and if it was salvageable, but then I scrolled down :-( I would love to get one of these old mine or railroad buildings and make it a home one day. Thanks for the post.

    1. My sentiments also Vic. Last saw this during the 2012 Winter Carnival. Wished I could have won the lottery and saved it.

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