As we continue our fresh look at CCE’s earliest posts we stumble across our first exploration of one of the Keweenaw’s most impressive and popular ruins. That is of course the Redridge Dam, a steel monstrosity rising up across the Salmon-Trout River gorge in Redridge. Its an incredible piece of engineering, though it no longer hold back any significant amount of water. At the twilight time of winter with the leaves down we bushwhacked our way along the dam’s base to see what we could find, and ended up discovering those components that defined what the mighty structure was actually for – providing water to the nearby stamp mills. We were able to capture some rare photos of both the intake lines and the old pipelines which carried the water to the mills, photos we have not yet been able to duplicate any time since. Thus without the ability to transform them into HD, we present instead an updated version of the post we originally put out into the world in March of 2007. Enjoy…
The Redridge Steel Dam was built not to supply power, but to supply water. The Atlantic and Baltic stamp mills that relied on the dam required over 25 million gallons of water each day to operate. The reservoir created by the dam held over 600 million gallons of water, enough water to feed the two mills for a month. Getting that water to the mills, some 2000 feet downstream, required the use of a combination of wooden launders and a steel pipeline.
After a series of almost disastrous over-topping incidents, the dam was intentionally compromised by cutting a series of large holes in the superstructure. This significantly lowered the water level behind the dam uncovering the intake pipes that once fed those launders and pipeline. Walking along the dam’s upstream face we stumbled across one of those pipes, half buried in brush and debris.
There were three 24″ intake valves, this one being the east intake which fed the Atlantic mill. The intake is covered by a steel debris guard, and sunken down in a wooden crib. While the grate’s purpose is obvious, the wooden crib is not so clear. Our guess is that it might have been used to trap silt before it could move through the pipes, keeping the opening clear. Moving up from the grate is a control linkage which allowed a person from atop the dam open and close the valve. While the valve control wheel still sits up near the to top of the dam, the linkage has been broken and bent a few feet up from the intake. The intake, linkage, and the entire area we were standing on would have all been underwater while the dam was in use. By the pot marks we could see across the dam’s surface it looked as if the water line would have sat a good 12 feet above our heads.
Moving around to the downstream side of the dam, we found the opposite side of the intake pipe. Here a 2′ diameter pipe exited the dam’s concrete foundation, incased in a concrete “container”. The container was open at its top, and peering inside revealed something you would find in any manhole along a sewer. Water from the reservoir (upper left in the picture) entered the container, then continued on to the pipe to the right. It looked like another silt/dirt trap, where heavier particles in the water would sink to the bottom allowing clear water to pass on through.
The method used to feed the Baltic mill was more modern and impressive then that used for the Atlantic mill. Two intake pipes fed a single steel-riveted pipeline 3 feet in diameter. The pipeline was carried downhill for over 2200 feet before it reached the Baltic Mill on Lake Superiors shore.
On the way to the Baltic mill, the pipeline had to cross the dam’s waste weir and gorge feeding the river downstream. Here we found on of the concrete pillars that once supported the pipeline over these obstacles. Amazingly as we continued on past the pedestal we found something we didn’t think we would – remains of the pipeline itself. There was only one pipeline feeding the mill, our guess being that the second pipe seen alongside is most likely a loose section of pipe removed from either that pedestal over the waste weir or to make room for the new road. The large metal flange on the end of the buried pipe would indicate a connecting or expansion joint along the pipeline.
Further along the way we came across more of the pipeline, emerging from the underground to skirt the edge of a steep ravine. Most likely the pipeline didn’t originally sit on the ground, but was supported above it on concrete foundations. Over the years dirt and debris eroding down the hill piled up against one side of the pipe – half burying it. In some spots it managed to bury it completely. Before the pipeline runs under a modern road, we find a section with a series of holes cut into it. Why the holes were cut into it is a mystery, perhaps to drain water that may have collected inside? After this point the pipeline disappears, completely buried by dirt and debris. Yet that’s OK, since after this point the old mills that these pipes once fed have long since been removed from the landscape. At least the pipes remain.