Scrapbook Fridays: Best Days Behind Her Edition

Yet again today’s scrapbook comes to us courtesy local CC enthusiast and photographer Paul Meier, whose last contribution took us on a tour of the C&H Railroad at the twilight of its existence. Today he turns his attention to the surface plant of the mine itself, a collection of buildings which once served the great Calumet Conglomerate lode at the height of the company’s prime. Unfortunately by the time Paul had arrived to the scene (between 1965 – 1967), the old mine workers had been idle for some time.  While some of the old shops were still in use to support the shadow of a company that remained, most of the old mine buildings were simply rotting away as they awaited their fate. The best days of C&H were well behind her, and in just another half decade all the buildings captured by Paul’s camera would be empty and forgotten.

We begin our tour with the big grand daddy of them all – perhaps the most iconic structure to grace the C&H surface plant.


This was the Superior Engine House, a massive brick and stone structure which housed one of the largest steam engines ever to grace the Copper Country. For most of C&H’s existence, the monster steam engine inside powered an industrial juggernaut of a size and scope unparalleled within the Empire. Unfortunately by the time this picture was taken, that engine had been dismantled and gone for over a generation. Here the giant building poses empty and silent for Paul’s camera, awaiting its inevitable date with the wrecking ball.

Today this scene has been replaced by Calumet’s new elementary school. The field in the foreground is now home to a sprawling playground, and instead of silence this scene is now filled with the laughter of children.


Powering the Superior engine was steam, and providing that steam was the neighboring masonry structure seen above. This is the Superior Boiler House, a building we’ve featured in depth here on CCE previously. Though the engine had been idle and absent for decades by the time Paul had captured this scene, a line of coal cars (complete with coal no less!) remained sitting outside awaiting a turn at the boilers that would never come. Across the street can be seen the corner of the adjacent engine house – still connected to the boiler house by an overhead steam line.


Here’s a current view of the same boiler house, now home to a welding shop. The coal cars may be gone, but the same door in which they were waiting to enter remains. So too does the massive brick stack rising high above it. The road is also still there, though today it dead ends at the back of the new Elementary School (which sits off screen to the left).


Nearby Paul’s camera spots another pair of impressive stone structures. On the left is a dry house, while the long building next door was the mine’s old drill shop where the mine’s supply of drill bits were sharpened.


Fast forward a half century and we find both buildings still standing and relatively intact. The only real change is in their roofs, new metal coverings that were added to the buildings after their original tops were blown off in a storm. That overgrown field seen in the old photo is also gone, replaced by a parking lot and playground – both belonging to the neighboring elementary school. (Learn more about these buildings by checking out the CCE articles about both the drill house and the dry house )


Next we spy a squat little stone structure with a rather hearty looking iron door. This is the mine’s only surviving powder house still to be found along the old surface plant. The building dates back to the mine’s earliest incarnations, and its placement so close to the rest of the surface plant insured it was converted to less dangerous purposes early in its career.  Here it sits surrounded by a field, the stack of the Superior Boiler House standing tall in the background.


Today that field is a parking lot serving the neighboring school, but the old explosives building remains. While it sports a brand new metal roof, its impressive metal door remains.  We take a closer look at that impressive door in an earlier post, be sure to  check it out back in the CCE archives.


Here we have a look at yet another beautiful old stone building (there seems to be quite a bit of them lying around). This particular model is known as the Gear House, an old structure that served a variety of purposes during its long career including one that dealt with gears. Paul caught the building living out its retirement years as a glorified warehouse.


Here’s the current view of the same building, looking remarkably well considering its age. Today it serves as a garage and shop for the Calumet school system, wonderfully restored to almost all of its original splendor. As usual we’ve featured this building before on CCE before as well.


Moving on down the line we get to these pair of buildings, both looking a bit worse for wear. On the left is the mine’s old man engine house, a building whose steam engine powered the mine’s old powered ladder-ways which brought men in and out of the mine. To its right is the mine’s original locomotive house, by this time having been replaced by the  larger and newer model found just off camera to the left. Most likely both of these buildings were serving more pedestrian storage roles  by this time.


Here’s both buildings as they appear today, still amazingly intact. Of the two the old man engine house is the most impressive, looking not a day over 25. Not so impressive is the old locomotive house, which can barely be seen hiding out within the trees in the background. You can check out its current state in the CCE archives HERE.


Now Paul begins to explore parts of the old surface plant that are still in operation, at least partially. To the right is the pattern shop, a building that still stands and has been featured in these pages before. On the left is the back end of the mine’s foundry – a convoluted mess of a building  that fabricated metal parts and machinery for the mine as well as outside customers.


Paul takes us in for a closer look, weaving his way through the scattered old industrial remnants surrounding the building. The foundry itself is the brick structure seen to the left, while next door stands a large traveling crane whose purpose is unknown to me. Whatever that purpose may have been, it doesn’t seem to have seen use in some time considering the largely overgrown and abandoned look of the place. From this view in fact one would get the impression that the foundry wasn’t in operation at all.


Walk around to the opposite side of the building  and it becomes clear that the building is very much still in use. This shot is from the vantage point of Red Jacket Road, just after it makes its turn northward into downtown Calumet. A pair of churches from Temple Square can be seen off to the right, buildings of worship that both remain standing today. The foundry, however, was not so lucky and today is completely absent from this scene. In its place is nothing but a large parking lot used by the neighboring Coppertown museum (which resides in a building just barely visible behind the trees to the far left).


Before heading back into the old surface plant, Paul takes a moment to turn around and grab a shot down bustling Fifth Street. The view today would be far different, as most of the buildings seen above are currently vacant. The stand outs would be the first two buildings on the left, home to Copper World.


Turning his attention back to the surface plant Paul snaps a shot of  the mine’s old Machine Shop, a massive building that – yep you guessed it – has been featured here on CCE before. Paul offers us a glimpse through the front door, showcasing an operational forge. Like the foundry, C&H continued to utilize this structure well after its conglomerate mine had closed – serving the other mines in the region still under C&H’s control.


Here’s roughly the same view today. Though still standing, the sprawling building has since been boarded up and is used primarily for storage.


Heading back away from the road and further into the heart of the industrial corridor, Paul takes a shot of this ramshackle structure. This is repair shed, used to repair and maintain the railroads rolling stock. Peeking out from behind it is the mine’s Russel Snow Plow – a piece of rolling stock that continues to sit within the old surface plant site still today.  The rickety building, however is long gone and has since been replaced with nothing but an open field sitting across the street from Pat’s Foods.  In fact if Paul was taking the picture today he would be standing in the middle of 6th Street Extension.


Before calling it a day Paul includes one last building on his tour. This is the mine’s carpentry shop, where anything made out of wood was fabricated, repaired, and maintained. As far as that pyramid shaped structure in the foreground, I believe that was a structure used to burn sawdust but I’m not exactly sure. Today, however, all of this is long gone and has since been replaced by the AmericInn hotel.



Paul concludes his tour with one last parting shot looking out across the rails and industrial structures to the soaring steeples of Calumet’s churches just behind. This is a portrait of a town in decline, its cultural institutions standing tall while all around them the industry which created them crumbles to dust. Today those buildings and rails are gone, but those church steeples remain. There is some life after industrial death after all.

My thanks to Paul Meier for once again giving us a glimpse into C&H’s waning days. Be sure to click on his images to see them in larger size. 

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  1. Thanks for the memories Paul! I’ve been looking for a shot of the old carpentry shop for years, and yours is the first I’ve seen. Walked past this shop every day as a boy, on my way from the Gazette office on 6th st to my paper route in Raymbaultown.

  2. Glad you like the photos, when I took them, I never imagined some of it would vanish. Two clarifications: The little brick building housed a man hoist, there is/was a cable slot in the other wall. The old man engine was long gone and there is another duplicate man hoist house farther up in the Calumet branch. These probably were built in the early 20th century – maybe as late as the 81st haulage level project when C&H was rationalizing operations in the Calumet lode. These were used to get men up and down without requiring them to walk to the Red Jacket or 12 South Hecla shafts. They also reduced the time rock hoists were tied up with man trips.
    The Superior Boiler House may have been down in the summer but it was still coal fired in the cooler months providing heat for the surface plant and the schools. The gas line that led to the first rape of the Quincy surface plant hadn’t been put in when these photos were taken.
    I regret not spending time down at the mill and smelter. Would love to have photos of the last years there.
    Anyhow, enjoy the scenes of the past.

    1. Once again, thank you so very much for sharing your slice of history. Your collection of photography of the Copper Country is much appreciated and whenever Mike puts up a post with your stuff in it, we all enjoy!

  3. Thanks Paul ( & Mike, Tricia & Family who made this possible) Nice to see a different time frame & slice of history!

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