Mining was a dirty job to say the least. The underground was nothing short of a cesspool of dirt, mud, and grease accented by rats, bats, urine and feces. Worse yet it was hot, especially in the deeper portions of the mine. A day’s worth of sweat created clothes and bodies that naturally attracted all types of muck – leaving workers covered in a thick layer of grime by the time their day was done. These were facts not lost on mine companies, who made an attempt to remedy the situation by installing company-provided wash and change rooms along their surface plants in which workers could clean off this filth at the end of their shifts. These wash or change houses were more colloquially known as “Dry Houses” – a name earned due to the building’s use as a place for miner’s to leave their wet work clothes to dry overnight.
Dry Houses were often very utilitarian structures, consisting of nothing more then a large open space lined on either side by windows. The buildings were generally built of cheaper materials such as wood or steel but some mines dressed theirs in the same rubble stone as the rest of their surface structure.
Inside the large open space would be fine rows upon rows of lockers – one locker assigned to each worker. The lockers would house the worker’s clean “home” clothes while they were working along with a few personal items that did not belong underground. Joining the lockers would be some type of drying rack – often lines of pipes through which steam would be piped to provide heat to dry clothes hung over them.
Finally a large wash basin would be present – usually centrally located within the locker room or set aside in its own dedicated room. This large wash basin had running hot water and was used to wash up at the end of a long dirty day.
To the left can be seen such a dry house, this particular one belonging to the Allouez Mine. Found to the right is the wash bin, while to the left stands several lines of lockers. Here the dry racks run up above the lockers, over which more then a few work clothes can be seen hanging. I’m not sure if these particular racks were heated with steam, but it looks as if that was the case. In contrast to the underground these dry houses were very bright and clean, with plenty of windows to cast light against the white-washed interior walls. Up above an open ceiling providing the illusion of space (and a space in which steam and heat could be captured) while concrete or tile floors allowed quick clean up of any dripping water or spills.
Dry Houses were a staple of mine surface plants and in the early years one would join each individual shaft – along with a shaft house, engine house, and boiler house. Though an early mine as well, Quincy took a different approach to its surface plant and instead erected just a single dry house – a large stone structure built across the road from the No.5 shaft around 1860.
Here’s the Quincy Dry House as she appeared around 1905. By this time the building had received a large addition to its south end – marked by a noted difference in size and color of the rock walls. Up top sits a wood roof complete with a brick smokestack at its far end. Meanwhile along the walls are a line of small windows along with a small wood shack. This was the main entrance for the building through which workers would pass as they made their way to and from work across the street.
A century later finds that same entrance still standing, though it has been upgraded with something a bit more robust at some point in its life. In place of wood walls now stand concrete, the space within serving as an airlock of sorts to keep the cold Keweenaw winter air from entering the building. That concrete construction would also go far in saving this part of the dry house’s life, allowing it to fair far better then the rest of the building’s less permanent rock and mortar walls.
Those older poor rock walls can be seen here – largely collapsed and missing from the scene. Meanwhile the concrete entrance continues to stand tall, while in the background the old No.2 shaft house stands guard over it all. Not all of the building’s walls are in this bad of shape however, as if one continues down northward towards that soaring shaft the integrity of building’s walls greatly improve.
In fact not only do the integrity of those walls improve as you move northward, so too does the evidence of the building’s incredible craftsmanship. Here at the building’s northern corner one can clearly see that craftsmanship in the impressive pieces of masonry forming the building’s quoins along with the intricately laid pieces of rock that make up the rest of the wall. Meanwhile large pieces of striped sandstone can be found set into the bottoms of the building’s window openings.
Peaking through those large window openings reveal another impressive site – a row of lockers huddled up against the outside wall. These lockers would of joined dozens more lining the walls of the building’s interior. Those other lockers are long gone however, most likely removed for scrap or by scavengers. Joining the lockers around their bases are a scattering of doors which have since been either knocked off or torn off from their original homes.
Here’s a closer look at some of those doors – perforated to allow air flow. Up top is a small ID plate which no doubt provided a locker number – most likely assigned to a specific employee.
Also to be found within the building’s remains is this pile of old batteries, most likely used by miners to power their head lamps. I would guess that this large collection represents where miner’s dropped off their used batteries at the end of their shifts, to be charged overnight for use again the next day. This may explain why it looks as if the batteries are all connected together. While the batteries have survived the years, the table on which they were once stored has since rotted away leaving them now piled in a heap on the floor.
Also found scattered about the old building’s floors are these pipes. These I believe are remains of the drying racks which once shared the building’s main interior space along with the lockers. The racks may have been heated with steam to help the drying process along.
Perhaps the item supplying that steam was this iron cylinder sitting atop a pile of rubble at the opposite end of the building. While possible it is more likely the steam came from the mine’s centralized boiler plant located across the road. This particular contraption is probably the remains of a water heater or some type of heat exchanger. Within here water would have been heated by the passage of super heated steam running through pipes found inside. That water would have then be used in the wash basins or showers found within the building.
Past the heat exchanger stands what looked to be an outside wall. Yet this wasn’t the end of the building. Past that wall was another stretch of rock walls sprawl out into the distance, these ones standing slightly larger then the rest. No doubt yet another addition to the dry house added later in its life, this massive addition shows a bit more polish and prestige then its older neighbor. Unlike that half, this section was built during a time of far greater prosperity for the mine. This is most notable when one looks at the door and window headers – now graced with bright red arches of brick.
I’m alway amazed how a century or more of the elements can ravage these ruins yet here these graceful arches of brick still remain intact and glowing as vibrant as ever. It is graceful elements such as these that give the tired ruins a palpable aura of grace and prestige still to this day.
Such is the case when one takes a stroll to the new addition’s far end and witnesses the building in all its towering glory….
Here one finds a soaring wall of masterfully stacked stone rising high into the heavens – a striking man-made obelisk that seems to define all reality by remaining standing tall to this day. It’s an incredibly impressive sight, made even more so by the inclusion of three more of those graceful red-brick arches.
Passing underneath one of those arches grants access to the large open space found inside. Though three stories tall on its south end, the quickly rising hillside within drops the building’s height to just a single story at its north end. And old bricked-up opening marks an original outside door to the old dry house while a larger opening next door appears to be a newer egress point added along with the new addition.
Turning around the rest of the massive building comes into view. A pair of additional door openings can be found to the right and left while the larger opening through which we entered sits centered down at the far end. No lockers or steam pipes to be found here, instead only a seemingly random collection of iron parts and accessories can be found laying about.
According to readers in the know the two items on the left are parts of a heat exchanger, items that make sense to be in a building that utilized one. The upper right is a large valve casing while to the bottom what may have been a vent hood.
That vent hood may have once stood atop the building’s peaked roof, one of several that would have been used to vent moisture and heat out of the building. Its position on the floor is due to the inevitable collapse of that roof – a structure that unlike the rock walls that once supported it was built out of easily rotted or burned away wood timbers. Thus all that remains of that roof today are a series of slightly burnt timber rafters lying broken within the building’s footprint.
The building would serve the Quincy Mine for the rest of its life, closing down along with the rest of the surface plant in the 1930s. The building was kept in good repair for the next decade in the hopes that the mine could operate profitably yet again. Unfortunately such a day never occurred and the mine was abandoned for good in 1945. After that the Quincy company simply washed its hands of its buildings and machinery, allowing it to rot away and be hauled off by scrappers. Eventually the vacated lands were acquired by a non-profit organization – the Quincy Hoist Association – in hopes to preserve what was left and help use the remains to tell the Keweeanwaw’s story.
While the Quincy Hoist Association managed to preserve and stabilize a great many of the old mine’s remains, the dry house sat across the road and unfortunately outside of the organization’s reach. So the old building continued to rot away further still, looking like what can be seen above – taken by HAER photographer Jet Lowe in the 1970s. The building continued to crumble for another decade until it and the lands surrounding it fell under the stewardship of another entity dedicated to telling the Keweenaw’s story – the Keweenaw National Historic Park. Today the ruins have been stabilized and are part of the park’s Quincy Unit, open to public viewing thanks to a nearby parking area added to the site.