The land on which the city of Hancock currently stands was once all owned by a young Quincy Mining Company, who first came to the Portage valley around 1846. The mine’s early attempt to find copper were not entirely successful and its original pursuits along the hillside near the campus of present day Finlandia University ultimately finding only limited amounts of copper. The company would instead move its operations up the hill, finally finding some limited promise around 1854 with the discovery of the Quincy Lode. The Quincy Lode would unfortunately be unable to deliver on that initial promise, but luckily just a few years later a lode that would deliver – and then some – was finally discovered. That lode would be the Pewabic, and upon its discovery along Quincy property the mine was ready to put down roots and finally call its hilltop perch home. In 1859 the company would further solidify its plans with the platting of an accompanying townsite down at the hill’s base to provide housing and commercial services to its anticipated growing workforce. That community would become known as Hancock.
The original platt of Hancock was not large, and its size was rather hampered by the active mine company lands that surrounded it. To the west Quincy’s original workings were under the ownership of a new mine – the Hancock – who were operating a small stamp mill, a pair of shafts, and a connecting tramway. Meanwhile to the east Quincy itself had set aside a large portion of land for the construction of its own stamp mill. Separating this mine-owned land from the neighboring village was a north-south avenue known as “Reservation” due to its role as the unofficial border between the village and the land “reserved” for mine use. In addition to the road, the reserved land was also separated from the town by a very physical border – a wide and deep ravine which cut its way into the steep hillside. It was land that would not be very easy to build homes or commercial buildings on, but ended up being perfect for running a gravity-powered tramway connecting the the Mine’s Portage shore mill and its shafts atop the hill.That stamp mill and tramway would serve Quincy for thirty years, during which time the growing community next door was bursting from its seams as its population surpassed 6,000 people. To make room for this expanded population the Quincy Mine platted several additions to the town’s original platt including over a hundred lots of land situated along the ravine’s east side – a community which would become known as East Hancock. Yet the ravine still remained off limits, the presence of the mine’s mill and tram road holding off any possible development. Thus to connect the two sides of town a pair of wood-framed trestles were erected across the tram road and ravine – one at Quincy Street and another along Front Street. This cross streets also became important avenues to reach the newly built Portage Lake Bridge, which connected the town directly to its neighbor to the south – Houghton.
Change would come, however, when the mine’s old mill caught the attention of the Federal government after its tailings had begun to creep into the neighboring shipping channel. The company was ordered to close its mill and relocate it to a location where it would not threaten navigable waters. Quincy complied, building a brand new mill a dozen miles to the east along Torch Lake in 1890. Soon thereafter the old mill and its tramway would be dismantled and removed from the landscape. With the mill and tram road gone the great ravine in which they were located was finally opened up to development. At least in theory. The rugged ravine was not so easily tamed, and the amount of work required to make it palatable to development just wasn’t something Quincy was willing to tackle. Instead the ravine was turned over to a private developer, the Dakota Heights Land Company – which was tasked with the time consuming and expensive job of filling and grading it to match the rest of the surrounding landscape.
Filling the ravine was an arduous task that would take almost a decade to fully complete. The Dakota Heights Land Company built a series of terraced concrete bulkheads at the ravine’s base, near where the old stamp mill once was located. This created a “dam” which would hold back the fill material being dumped into the canyon. To do that the company jets of water supplied by the Quincy Pump House up to “wash” earth from the hill’s top down into the ravine, assisted by a series of wooden launders placed along the ravine’s length.
That process can be glimpsed above, a photo taken near the end of the process around 1906. Though the ravine is largely filled, there wooden bridge along Front Street still lies exposed a dozen or so feet above the new ground level. To the right can be seen the wooden launder used by the Dakota Heights Company to bring the dirt and water mix down from the hill top. This image was taken around 1906, not too long after the process had begun. It would be another few years before it was finished. Even so by this point some of that development had already happened, as a collection of buildings can be seen now occupying former ravine land along the peripheral.One of the first structures to arrive was this quaint little sandstone beauty sitting down at the ravine’s base. After the Quincy removed its old mill complex, the mine erected this little building to serve as its new pump house. Inside could be found a collection of boilers along with a steam powered water pump. The pump was used to draw water from the Portage up the hill to the mine site. When it was built – around 1890 – the ravine had yet to be sold off to the Dakota Heights Land Company. You can see the ravine off to the right, along with the wooden trestle carrying Front Street across the gap. Also seen here is another early arrival to the ravine, the turreted home of the patriarch of the Ruppe retail empire Peter Ruppe.
Up at the top of the ravine we find another one of its original structures – the Suomalainen Evangelical Lutheran Church. More commonly known as the Finnish Lutheran Church, this house of worship was original built in 1889. At least its foundation dates from that time, as the building would suffer a fire and need to be rebuilt into the current brick form seen today. To the right of the church can be see the filled-in upper portions of the ravine – now home to Terrace Park.
Next to the block was yet another house of worship, this one belonging to the Portage Lake Baptist Church. Built in 1894, the sandstone building can be seen sitting at the east end of the Front Street Bridge in the postcard above. The church would become abandoned decades later, its steeple and upper stories removed and the remaining structure renovated to serve a new purpose as an auto garage. It remains to this day, now home to a BP Gas Station.
Also visible in the image is the beginnings of the process to fill the ravine. Down at its bottom can be seen a flow of mud making its way along where the tramway once travelled. Though the artist painted the ravine walls with green, most likely it was just dirt and debris at this time. In addition to the muddy flow being dumped into it, the ravine was also being filled the old fashioned away along its edges with a good deal of dirt dumped from neighboring streets. These areas on the fringes became build-able far earlier then the ravine’s center, and as such began seeing new development as early at 1902.
That first building would be this beauty – the massive bulk of the Kerredge Theater. The Kerredge’s operated a successful hardware business downtown, and elected to use a portion of their wealth to provide the city they loved with a premiere theater to rival all others in the region. The shot above is looking northwards from the Front Street trestle, and gives a good overview of the ravine as it looks after the turn of the century. To the left is the Ruppe House yard, bordered by a stone retaining wall. To the right is the ravine itself, still deep enough to warrant the need of the Quincy Street trestle seen just off image. Up behind the theater can be seen the old tramway road – now just a dirt road coming down the hill. In front of the theater is a large area that had been recently filled with dirt and rock in anticipation of further development.
The arrival of the Kerredge would usher in a rush of new development to the old ravine’s edges, the city’s growth not wanting to wait for the ravine to be fully filled. This would be the ravine’s golden age, one that would unfortunately be cut short by the arrival of the Great Depression just two decades away.
First up would be a duo of new buildings erected at the corner of Front and neighboring Reservation Streets at the ravine’s base. On the left is the Exley Block, a three story brick and sandstone commercial block (four stories on its backside) which I believe was originally built for Paul Exley, a local carriage dealer. The building featured a pair of storefronts on its front floor, one housing the offices of the Houghton County Gas and Coke Company for many years.
Next door we find the Elk’s Temple, a building erected in 1906 for lodge 381 of the Benevolent and Protective Order of Elks. The lodge’s main meeting hall was located up on the structure’s second floor, along with a dining room, library, billiard room and kitchen. Downstairs a trio of storefronts were rented out to local businesses to provide income to the lodge. The corner storefront was originally home to a saloon operated by Henry Carlson, while the neighboring two storefronts were home to Michels Overall Manufacturing Company – a business which I assume made overalls. Down back in the basement level was the Starrett Print Shop.
Also in 1906 the old ravine would receive its largest and most impressive new resident – the massive five story brick and sandstone behemoth seen bursting from the frame in the archive image above. This is the Hotel Scott, Hancock’s premiere first-class hotel built for one of the city’s most prominent citizens – A.J. Scott. Mr. Scott was one of the village’s first presidents, and was also its first mayor after the village had been promoted to city status in 1903. He would finance several buildings in Hancock including the now absent Scott Block and this incredible building. The hotel would be well served by the theater found at its side, as well as the high perch it held along the ravine’s western edge.
The presence of both the Kerredge Theater and the Hotel Scott would attract one more prestigious building to the ravine’s Quincy Street expanse – the dignified brick house of worship seen above. This is the First Congregational Church, a building built in 1921 to replace the congregation’s original church along Hancock Street which would be destroyed by fire in 1917. It was a rather remarkable structure, looking like no other church found within the city’s limits. Gone were the traditional bell tower and peaked roof, its facade instead graced with more colonial attributes most notable of which is the oversized pediment rising high above the main entrance.
By the dawn of the Depression the ravine had finally been fully erased from the landscape, its scar now covered by build-able land. In the aerial image above you can still make out the ravine’s boundaries, however, defined by a collection of streets which line its original perimeter. To the west lies Reservation Street while to the east sits Dunstan Street. At the ravine’s southern end is the old road bridge supporting Front Street – now buried and finally erased from the landscape as well. Also can be glimpsed here is the terraced concrete walls that formed the ravine’s southern “wall” designed to hold back the fill dumped into it.
Also seen in the image above is the collection of buildings that had called the ravine home by this time. Unfortunately by the time the ravine had been fully filled the Copper Empire had already reached its peak and was well into its decline. In fact the Quincy Mine itself had already closed down its surface plant atop the hill. Without a mine at its doorstep Hancock no longer needed the new building space provided by the filled ravine. After this image was taken only a few additional buildings were ever erected on the site, most notable of which is a large multi store brick building on the south side of Quincy Street which would house a Chrysler Dealership for many decades, and a one-story concrete block building on Front Street housing an A&P Grocery Store. But even with these additions the old Quincy Ravine would only ever be occupied by just 14 structures.
Fast forward to modern times and the situation is even worse, escalated by a series of fires and demolitions that have taken their toll upon the landscape. The Elk’s Temple, Exley Building, and the Kerredge Theater would all be destroyed by fire while the Congregational church would become abandoned and later demolished. That A&P Grocery would have its roof collapse from a heavy snowfall and be demolished as well. The Portage Lake Baptist remains, but in a heavily altered state. The Elk’s Temple was later rebuilt, but at a far more limited and smaller scope. All said and done only a half dozen of those original 14 buildings remain standing along the old ravine to this day. In the end the old ravine land the Dakota Heights Land company so painstakingly made habitable all those years ago is today largely home to just empty space and parking lots.
Information for this series was partially obtained from the book “Images of America – Hancock” by John S. Haeussler – local Hancock historian extraordinaire, fellow copper country enthusiast and good friend to CCE.