The Lost Temple of Tezcuco

The Acolhua people were one of the three “city-states” to once control the Valley of Mexico – the highland plateau in central Mexico where current day Mexico City is located. The Acolhuan people were advanced both cultural and technologically, living in piece with their neighbors to form what we know today as the Aztec Empire. The Acolhuan state was located on the eastern shore of a great lake which once dominated the plateau – its capital named after the large body of fresh water at its doorstep: Texcoco. The city was the second largest in the region, behind only the Aztec capital itself. The city was thought to be home to over 24,000 people, and cover an area of nearly 5 square kilometers at its peak. Unfortunately upon the arrival of the Spanish in 1521 the Aztec empire was defeated and disbanded, the old city of Texcoco destroyed and the great lake at its feet drained.

Fast forward several more centuries and another remote region of the new world found itself innundated by non-native visitors,  this time it was American’s looking for mineral riches in the rugged hills of Michigan’s western upper peninsula. With unintended irony these new arrivals would appropriate terminology associated with the great native peoples of the new world, using them to name their newly minted mines, steam engines, towns, and roads. When it came time to name the streets of the region’s newest mining camp – Hancock -it was the old Aztec city of Texcoco that served as namesake for one of the village’s cross streets – phoenetically altered  to become Tezcuco.

Tezcuco Street was one of the four north-south streets found in Hancock’s original platt, found one block west of the neighboring Quincy Stamp Mill. It was a steep avenue, cutting its way down the hillside straight down to the Portage shore where several warehouses and docks were erected. Before the arrival of the Portage bridge and the railroad its supported, travelers arriving to Hancock would do so at those docks, beginning their journey into the Copper Country by first making the climb up Tezcuco Street. Thus for a time Tezcuco Street became the village’s most important avenue, attracting a plethora of businesses catering to travelers including over a half dozen saloons and a half dozen hotels and boarding houses.

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Here’s Tezcuco Street as it appeared in 1900, looking north from Hancock Street up towards Quincy Street at the top left of the picture. By this time the bridge and railroad had arrived, and the village’s Main Street had migrated up to Quincy, though Tezcuco continued to be just as lively as it ever was. While up on Quincy Street the buildings were being built of stone and brick, the older business blocks seen along Tezcuco were instead built primarily out of wood. Because of this these old buildings would not survive the ensuing decades as well as its Quincy Street bretheren,  their increased age and wood-frame construction ushering in their demise.  By the time the modern age had arrived, almost all of the buildings along Tezcuco had vanished from the landscape.

At least that’s what I thought. Thanks to fellow copper country explorer Tom Roberts I now know there was at least one of the old buildings still standing into the late 70s at least. That’s because he took its picture – several times in fact.

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It was 1978 that Tom took several pictures of this rickety old wood-framed building standing tall at the corner of Tezcuco and Hancock Streets.  Though gone today, the building would have sat within the current parking lot of Gartner’s Gallery. Tom labels the picture as “Watson’s Electric Phonographs Building” and in another as the “Old Building Near the Red Owl”. The Red Owl was a regional chain grocery store headquartered out of Minnesota, one of which was once located within the adjacent Gartner’s Gallery building. As for the Phonographs’s reference I can only assume that its the last tenant of the building – which by the looks of the building had vacated years ago.

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The building had a rather unique design, featuring a chaffered corner that sported doors on all three floors. What looks to be a small balcony hangs off the second floor door, while a rail-less porch adorns the second floor opening – complete with an old stair way connecting it to the sidewalk below. Down on the main floor a pair of doors face the corner – accompanied by several large plate-glass store windows.

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Looking back away from the corner facade we find the main floor to be built out of brick – its piers interspaced by more large plate-glass windows. Yet another door can be found near the building’s back side, this one facing Hancock Street. Up top the brick gives way to more wood clapboarding and a rather generous amount of windows. This many windows would seem to suggest that the building houses apartments up on its upper floors, with stores taking up residence down along the street level.

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Out back Tom provides yet another angle of the old building, this one showing its back side addition and its false front. A pair of rather old chimneys along with a small dormer can also be seen protruding out of the roof. Even more windows and doors can be found along this side of the building as well – far to many for a simple Phonograph shop. Turns out those windows are an essential part of the old building’s identity – as its original role was that of a hotel – the Milwaukee Hotel to be exact.

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  • The Milwaukee House 1900 
  • The Milwaukee House 1979 

The Milwaukee Hotel (or Milwaukee House as it was known in its early years) was one of three major hotels to call Tezcuco home, joining the likes of the Hancock House up at the corner of Quincy and the more famous Lake View Hotel just across the street. It was built originally around 1890, but would receive many updates and expansions over the years. Above you can see it in all its glory, a rather distinguished structure even though it was only built of wood. The hotel itself occupied the top two stories of the building, entered via the doorway just to the top of the stairs. While the Lake View across the street featured a grand veranda on its upper floor for guests to enjoy their “lake views”, the Milwaukee House instead featured a pair of rooms with their own balconies – surely offered at much higher rates then the rest.

Downstairs was yet another saloon, this one sporting what at first glance seems to be a rather ambiguous name of “Saloon 8”. Turns out this particular saloon is in fact the 8th to be found on Tezcuco Street at the time so perhaps the name isn’t so ambiguous after all. if not slightly lacking in imagination. Both saloon and the hotel were run by a pair of businessmen  – Nicholas Evert and Nicholas Dollinger – who by any indication of their saloon’s name probably became partners just because they shared the same first name.

Today unfortunately the old hotel no longer graces Tezcuco Street, as just like the old Aztec town the street was named after the old hotel has been removed from the landscape. I don’t know when the old building was demolished, but it wasn’t standing upon my arrival in the 1990s. Today the space is just an empty portion of a parking lot, one a concrete wall serving as any clue to the presence of anything else ever at the site. In fact we may never have known the place even existed at all, if it wasn’t for the incredible foresight of Tom Roberts who photograph the aging building in its final years.  At least now we were able to tell its story.

Discuss…

  1. Cool, I always wondered what that building was when we went by it while shopping at the Red Owl. It was somehow exceptionally creepy. Thanks for the history.

  2. Edward Steichen the world famous photographer grew up in this area and his sister later married Carl Sandburg in Milwaukee. I wrote into Pasty.com in 2004

    “Nice to see that Carl Sandburg wrote in about the picture. His wife was from Hancock and I never realized that the inspiration for his poem (The Fog came in on little cat feet) might have come from the Canal. Mrs. Sandburg’s brother was one of the world’s greatest photographers.. Edward Steichen..whose father moved to the CC to find work around the turn of the century. Steichen mentions in his autobiography that when he was a boy in Hancock, he “ran with a gang of ‘toughs’ on Tezcucco street”

  3. Kathleen Lundman

    I enjoyed seeing the pics and reading about the history of this old building. I DO remember it, but I don’t know when it came down. I left when I was about 20, so that would be in the last 1960’s. I sort of remember it having a bar downstairs on that corner of the building, but never went in there as far as I know! My mother’s family was Ongie and they ran a deli, restaurant, and ice cream parlor on Quincy St. – it was right across from Gartner’s and used to be Kathy’s Flowers for many years. My Grandfather Oscar Ongie was quite a colorful character and held a variety of jobs to take care of the 4 kids that he and his wife Gertie (Hocking) had. Gertie died young when the girls were in High School so they had a lot of hardships in their lives. Oscar’s father, Charlie Ongie aka Angers, came from Quebec, Canada and first settled in Rockland and worked in the mine in Ontanogon. He and his wife Mary Skelton had 6 children and then she passed away. So Charlie hired a housekeeper, Mary Pinard who was only 18 at the time. He married her at that age and they had the remainder of the total 24 children! Poor woman! He was 36 when they married, so he really was twice her age! Charlie and Mary Pinard lived on Tezcuco for awhile and somewhere along their life they also ran a boarding house. Perhaps it was on that street! Anyway, I am telling you all of this in case you do any research and any of those names come up. Please do contact me if you have any questions or info that you think I might like to hear. I forgot to tell you that Gertie Hocking’s family ran a bar and two brothers were the owners of that business. I do have a few pics in a nice scrapbook that I did of the family history so that the next generations will have it! I failed to tell you about the Lundman name. That’s my maiden name and my dad’s parents were Swedes who came over on a boat in 1909 for a better life. They settled in Dollar Bay and Grandpa John worked in the Atlas Dynamite Plant aka Atlas Powder in the next town over, called Senter. There were and still are lots of Swedes and Finns located in Dollar Bay. My Grandpa built his home next door to his brother’s house and they both worked at the plant along with a few of the boys of his brother’s family. Check out the book called the Atlas Powder, Senter, Michigan 1910 – 1960. I picked it up at Copperworld up in Calumet and I learned so much about Dollar Bay and it’s people! I called Bill Haller, the author and he moved to the U.P. because of the Geology of the area. Last time we spoke he said that he was doing(teaching) some classes at Tech. I think you two have a lot in common!!! Thanks for doing what you are doing and good luck with it all. There’s so much history up there (I’m in Colorado) and I am proud to be a Yooper, of course!

  4. What a wonder-filled story. It has helped me understand what life was like in (early) Hancock. For more insights into the unique characters who lived in Dollar Bay, google the interviews with Jack Foley, (Foley Wire), available on the Finlandia U.’s website. I was blessed to have spent my childhood in that very special town.

  5. At the top of Tezcuco Street, where it meets White Street, there is a retaining wall made of stone with steps formed into it. There, a short path through the woods leads up to Reservation Street. This trail has been used by hillside residents for many decades as a shortcut to and from downtown Hancock. The trail, known as “The Drunkards Path” had been a popular place to continue drinking through the night, after Hancock’s taverns had closed. Gathering around a group of large rocks, the drunks would spend the night in a merry stupor awaiting the re-opening of the bars.

  6. Mike’s description of “businesses catering to travelers” is spot on. It was a hopping place. If you look at the block in the ca. 1900 image, in addition to saloons, hotels, and boarding houses, there were restaurants, meat markets, a barber shop, Chinese laundry, and likely a brothel or two. All within the shadow of the First Congregational Church, which stood near the corner the photo was taken from. (Today it’s the site of Vollwerth’s.) The walk was known as Puffing Hill, because by the time you embarked at what is now Porvoo Park and trudged up to Quincy Street, if you made it that far, you’d be puffing.

    The Milwaukee House itself dates to the mid-1880s. It’s not mentioned in 1881 or 1883 directories, but appears at this location, operated by Charles Bleise, in 1887. The Michigan Tech Archives has a nice photo of the building from a bit before these that Mike has acquired. If you wish to view it in a slightly less deteriorated state, see MS050-001-002-003 in the Copper Country Historical Images (formerly Keweenaw Digital Archives).

  7. This series from Tom’s picks is awesome

  8. Kathy Stopel Luea

    As a young teen living in Hancock, during the 60’s, I remember going inside of that building with some friends, and buying some used 45 records at a discount price. I really don’t remember this place being open as a business, but rather as a warehouse. We were told, these records were from old jukeboxes that had been replaced by new records. I was only inside once, but passed this building all the time.

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