Houghton

In its infancy, the copper empire was concentrated along the northern end of the Keweenaw peninsula. At that time the mines were being fed by the scattering of small ports along the peninsula’s western shore, namely Copper Harbor, Eagle Harbor, and Eagle River. But by the middle of the nineteenth century, prospectors began to move south and found themselves discovering rich copper lodes along the west arm of Portage Lake. As these Portage Lake mines began to sprout, a conveniently located port became necessary to bring in supplies and ship out the copper. That port would become the city of Houghton.

Unlike most other towns in the Keweenaw, Houghton grew independently from any mine companies direct influence. One of the first Europeans to settle the area was a businessmen by the name of Ransom Shelden, who moved his general merchandise business to the shores of the Portage Lake in 1852. Five years later Shelden helped incorporate the city of Houghton, who’s population had begun to take off thanks to the opening of the Isle Royale Mine. With the completion of improvements to the Portage River in 1860, large ships could finally make their way up the river to the wharfs along Houghton’s waterfront. Soon after that, Houghton would become the new county seat for the newly formed Houghton County. With these developments the city’s role as the regions center of commerce had been assured.

By the turn of the century Houghton would become the largest city in the region, a distinction it continues to hold today. The city’s main thoroughfare – Shelden Ave – would become a showcase for some of the area’s most opulent and grandest architecture including the twin-towered Douglass House, the sandstone faced Shelden-Dee block, and the impressive Masonic Temple. Some of the finest institutions of learning would be erected in the city such as the Carnegie funded library, and the Michigan College of Mines – known today as Michigan Tech. The centerpiece of it all would be the copper capped county courthouse, looking out over the valley atop its perch above the city.

In Honor of Verna

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It almost seems like an afterthought – a last minute addition crammed into the landscape wherever it could fit. For most its passed by without even notice, a small largely unmarked sliver of green space tucked up against the highway. Only a small hardly noticeable sign marks its existence – …

From a Previous Life

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Standing tall at the west end of Houghton’s main thoroughfare is a particularly handsome three story sandstone building etched with the words “smart zone” across its top. The building is an incubator space for the MTEC (Michigan Tech Enterprise Center) Smartzone. It’s a building used to help new high-tech businesses …

Down by the Docks (p8)

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The Carroll Foundry rests atop land partially created from the tailings of the Grand Portage Mill, which sat just to the west of it at the end of town. To the east of the foundry was located another mill, this one the Shelden-Columbian. Like its neighbor this mill also deposited …

Down by the Docks (p7)

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The Houghton waterfront of today looks far different then it did a century ago, as today the majority of the lakeshore is now home to green spaces – public parks, marinas, and trails. Traditionally, however,  the waterfront was primarily the realm of industry with coal docks, wharfs, rail yards, and …

Another Houghton Depot

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When the Marquette, Houghton and Ontonagon Railroad arrived to Houghton around 1883 the line’s terminus was at the eastern outskirts of the city, several blocks distant from downtown. This small wood-framed structure sat along the line at the MH&O’s main rail yard at the base of the hill along College …

Down by the Docks (p6) – The Warehouse District

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The first railroad to find its way to Houghton was the Marquette, Houghton and Ontonagon Railroad, which in 1883 built an extension of its line into the city from its former terminus in L’Anse. Unfortunately this was as far as rail traffic could go, as at that time the bridge …

Down by the Docks (p5)

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Before the arrival of the first swing bridge over the canal, the waterfront area along the 100 block of Houghton’s Shelden Ave was nothing more then a back alley. At that point almost all of the land seen above didn’t even exist, as the original shoreline sat several dozen feet …

A Ramp to Nowhere

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The Copper Range depot was built at the far eastern end of its rail yards, just a short distance from Houghton’s downtown and the bridge to Hancock. While close the depot had a geographic  disadvantage – it was located at the bottom of a steep hillside that bordered the city’s …

The Copper Range Depot

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When the Copper Range reached its northern terminus at Houghton it built itself a sprawling lakeside rail yard just west the city. It complimented that yard with a passenger depot, but not just any depot. While along the rest of its tracks the company erected rather modest wood framed one-story …

Down by the Docks (p2) – The M. Van Orden Company

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Most people know it simply as “Chutes and Ladders”, a massive mountain of slides and stairways overlooking the Portage on Houghton’s west side. The park’s official name is Kestner Waterfront Park, a large green space that besides the playground also features a swimming beach, large pavilion and a long fishing …

Down by the Docks (p1)

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A pioneering New Yorker by the name of Ransom Shelden was one of the first white settlers to arrive to the Keweenaw – first taking up residence at the mouth of the Portage River in 1847 – a good decade before the village of Houghton or Hancock even existed.  Yet …

The Legacy of James Dee

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There was much money to be had in in the Copper Country at the end of the nineteenth century, especially for those enterprising souls that could take advantage of a region in its infancy eager to embrace the modern age. One such man was a young Copper Country native by …

St. Ignatius of Loyola

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In a region where Calumet was home to no less then six separate Roman Catholic churches, it seems odd to discover that Houghton could only muster one such house of worship of its own. But that thinking is based on a modern bias, as the roles of Houghton and Calumet …

Grace Methodist Church

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The old wood-framed church that served Grace Methodist Episcopal Church was nothing more then a room with four walls and a roof, hardly a structure representative of the region’s premiere Methodist congregation – known as the “mother church”.  Thus plans for a new masonry structure were begun in 1892, with …

The Churches of Houghton

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The great metropolises of the Copper Country were really limited to just two, each directly fueled by the region’s richest and most powerful mine companies. To the north the great C&H helped grow Red Jacket into the peninsulas most populous community, while along the Portage Valley old Reliable – Quincy …

The Carnegie Library

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Andrew Carnegie’s first experience with the industrial revolution occurred in his youth, back at his home in Scottland. His father – who was in the textile business – had been taken off guard by the mechanization of his industry and as a result was forced out of business by the …

Going Old School

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The Michigan School of Mines was established at the dawn of the Copper Empire’s reign across the Keweenaw, born from the burgeoning demand for trained engineers and mining professionals. In the beginning the young school was limited to holding classes in Houghton’s town hall, but by the turn of the …

Scrapbook Friday: Houghton Views Edition

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By now I’ve come to the realization that fellow reader and Copper Country enthusiast Paul Petosky has almost every single postcard of the Copper Country ever made, and he’s generous enough to share them all with the rest of us. (Thanks yet again Paul!) In fact I’ve received over a …

Houghton County’s Courthouse

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Houghton County was first established in 1845, comprising at the time of almost the entirety of the Keweenaw peninsula. The county’s first seat of government was established at the centralized located port town of Eagle River, which thanks to the neighboring Cliff Mine was on the verge of becoming the …

New Tricks for an Old Dog

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The old Houghton Fire Hall has served many purposes in its life. Originally it was built to house the city’s volunteer fire department – Continental Fire Company No.1. Its second floor became home to the growing cities municipal offices, but those vacated by the 1930’s. The building also has the …

A City Hall of Less Distinction

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With a full time population of over 8,000 people and another 5,000 part time college students, the city of Houghton is by far the Copper Country’s largest population center. It also happens to be the region’s commercial and industrial center, home to not only Houghton County’s government offices but also …

Huron Creek Walls

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The city of Houghton sits along a rocky ridge defined by the Pilgrim River valley to the east and the Huron Creek gorge to the west. While the ridge descends rather steadily towards the Pilgrim River, it drops more precariously at Huron Creek, creating a rather rugged and rocky terrain …

St. Ignatius School

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By the end of the nineteenth century almost every Catholic church in the region had a complimenting parochial school. These schools – controlled and operated by the church – infused religious teachings with a standard grammar school lexicon. Usually limited in scope to primary education (though some larger parishes did …