From the basketball court of the Tamarack City Park the remains of the Ahmeek Mill loom ominously on the horizon half shrouded in a scattering of trees and brush. A waist level wall of concrete keeps those ruins safely out of reach, the remains of the mill’s complementing pump house. Beyond that a pile of debris and an old boiler stack base marks the location of the mill’s attached boiler house – also no longer part of this world.
If we attempt to superimpose the original building’s in the scene we find an incredible sight to behold. To imagine the playground and mill to occupy the same space at the same time, the mill would soar 80 feet up into the air – the height of a seven story building. Next door the turbine building would be almost as equally as impressive, its four story girth taking up a majority of the view. Next door the two story pump house would be the most diminutive, but its brick and concrete construction would also make it the most regal of the structures on display.
While those closer structures are relatively easy to photograph – thanks to their proximity to the park – the rest of the mill is a bit more challenging.
The mill ruins are clearly marked as private, and as a general rule I won’t enter clearly marked ruins or property. The mill remains would have to be documented from a far less intimate perspective then has been the norm here on CCE. Luckily that turned out not to be as much of a problem as I original thought.
Turns out the ruins are incredibly easy to photograph – thanks to an amazing lack of foliage or trees blocking the view. This is by design, as the old ruins have recently underwent a major government-funded cleaning that has swept the site of most of its debris and foliage. The result is an incredibly clean ruin-scape, more akin to something one would find at a national park. Considering the proximity of these ruins to the general public, this type of sterilization makes perfect sense.
It also makes it incredibly easy to discern how the old mill was laid out – with all the ruins in plain view of each other. Here we find a second line of pedestals running in parallel to those monster pedestals featured earlier up the hill. These are unique to the Ahmeek Mill, a feature found at no other stamp mill in the region. This is directly due to the mill’s condensed layout, a feature required by its constrictive accommodations within the village.
A typical stamp mill would utilize a natural occurring hill or ridge on which to erect its footprint, utilizing gravity to pull the copper through the various stages of milling (stamps, jigs, and wash tables). This greatly reduces construction costs, as the foundation would be very little more then just a simple concrete slab. This method would also require a great deal of space – as the various levels would have to spread their way over the hill to make room for all the necessary stages and equipment. This large footprint was not a possibility at the Ahmeek Mill’s constricted city block of space. So a novel approach would have to be utilized.
That novel approach was rather simple – height. Instead of utilizing a natural hillside the Ahmeek Mill simply raised the first stage of the process – the stamps – as high as they could up off the ground. This required massive concrete pillars which propped the stamps over 50 feet up off the ground. From there gravity could still be used, as the copper dropped vertically down to lake level where any left-overs could be sluiced away. Without the hill, however, the mill did not have to spread out across the landscape. Instead the last stages of milling were simply tucked underneath the the rest – building the mill more like a layer cake then a sheet cake. It was a novel approach that created a building of only half the footprint of a more conventional mill.
While saving space, this double-decker design required engineers to add a few extra pieces of infrastructure not normally present in a typical stamp mill. The most noticeable of these additions was that second series of concrete pedestals cutting across the building’s footprint. While not nearly as massive or tall as those pillars supporting the mill’s stamps – these are still rather husky and stand a good two stories tall.
The most interesting feature of these pedestals are the small doorways cut into their bases. These openings – like the pedestals themselves – are arranged in line with each other to create a rather mind-bending effect when one peers deeply into the abyss. The purpose of these openings were probably two-fold, first to allow ease of movement through the complex and second to provide egress into the pedestals’ interior for maintenance.
Of course none of this answers the most pressing question – why are these pillars here at all? For the answer to that you have to crane your necks to take a look up at their tops.
Up top we find a collection of concrete pedestals protruding up from the pillars’ tops – something we’ve seen before on CCE but usually at ground level. These are foundations for pieces of milling equipment, machines of such size and weight that they had to be supported by their own foundations. This would normally not be a problem, but when the machines in question sit two stories up into the air – a special type of foundation was in order. A really tall one.
Here’s a look at that foundation in action, supporting the machine which once graced its top when the mill was still in one piece. This is a ball mill, a machine which used a rotating drum full of ball bearings to help grind up copper-bearing rock. You can see peaks of the foundation pillar below its drum. This shot is taken up on the mill’s upper level, the floor seen here supported by iron truss work that most likely utilized the concrete pillars for support.
These machines not original to the mill, as no mention of their existence is made in any literature of the time. Most likely these were installed in the mill by C&H after its acquisition of the property. C&H was quite the proponent of these types of machines, and had them working in their own mills for many years. They are more famously used to rework recovered stamp sands from Torch Lake, capturing copper that older mill technology had failed to catch. In a modern mill like Ahmeek these would have been installed to insure that once missing copper would be captured before ending up in the lake.
There are eight of these foundations still standing at the Ahmeek Mill, which suggests the mill had eight such ball mills in its repertoire at one time. This is also the same number as stamps, and I would assume that after leaving the stamps the rock would enter a complementing ball mill before moving on to the more traditional jigs.
From the jigs the muddy copper solution would be pulled by gravity down to the lowest level of the mill – the wash floor. This was the final stage of the milling process, where the last particles of copper were captured before the remaining waste rock was dumped into the neighboring lake. In the photo above this wash floor is marked by the literal floor of concrete found at those ball mill pillars’ feet.
As originally built the Ahmeek Mill boasted a total of 45 Wilfley Tables and a dozen Evans Round Tables. Those figures are from the 4 stamp configuration of the complex, I would only assume they doubled when the four extra stamps were added. Those machines would have all resided here – atop this sloped concrete floor. The slope would insure that gravity would help move the product through the process from one end of the mill to the other.
Dominating that floor is this interesting item – a shallow “bowl” protruding up from the wash floor’s surface. This would be another modern addition to the complex, most likely added by C&H during its tenure. I say this mostly because there’s a ton more of these to be found at C&H’s own mill ruins down the shore. I’m not exactly sure what type of machine they belong to. They could be from a type of circular wash table known as a Buddle. They also could be part of a Chilean Mill, a type of regrinding machine. They also could be part of a floatation tank, which used chemicals and agitation to separate fine particles of copper.
Here’s a closer look at the pillar standing up in the bowl’s center. It is built of concrete and features an iron cap that looks like its been through quite the ordeal. I would assume that whatever purpose this machine had, it involved rotating something around this central pivot point.
Looking back from the wash floor we can see all the layers of our Ahmeek Mill layer cake at once. At the highest point is the stamps themselves, which would have sat atop the tall pedestal soaring high in the far background. From there the copper rock would make its way into jigs and ball mills sitting along the next level of the mill – the level marked by the top of the concrete pedestal seen in the foreground. After making its way through those machines the copper rock would then fall down into the final layer of the mill – the wash floor down at ground level. Finally the finished copper would leave the mill via railcar while the waste rock would be washed out of the building along launders into the neighboring lake.
Before leaving the Ahmeek Mill ruins behind, I thought one last look at how its remains sit in relation to Tamarack City and its public park were in order. For the most part the park resides atop land occupied by C&H’s additions to the complex – the new boiler house and power plant. The turbine cradle and foundation wall to the pump house mark the park’s northern boundary, after which point the mill’s ruins themselves sprawl out across the rest of the block.
Though the site is clearly marked against trespassing, the ruins are easily viewed from almost any angle from the neighboring public spaces. For anyone interesting in Copper Country ruins but don’t want to hike through the woods to find them – this is the next best thing. And thanks to the community of Tamarack City you can take it all in while eating a picnic lunch and playing on the playground.