After years of exploration and digging the Keweenaw was shaping up to be a massive disappointment for miners and investors alike. Although copper was being found, it wasn’t in large enough quantities to be profitable and most mines quickly exhausted their start-up capital without making a dime. In 1845 the district turned a corner, with the discovery of a highly rich copper vein within the massive cliffs along the Eagle River. One of the first mines to take advantage was the Cliff, which went on to become one of the most successful mines in the Keweenaw. With its success came the need for a convenient port, and fast. With the nearest natural harbor more than six miles away, a temporary solution was in order. That solution would be the town of Eagle River.
Though not ideal, Eagle River’s location at the mouth of the Eagle River made it the best candidate for a shipping port. With the river dredged and long docks lining its banks, boats would unload their supplies and take on cargo within the river’s mouth. In 1857 a lighthouse was constructed nearby, and the town quickly blossomed. Warehouses, hotels, and saloons were built up along the river’s sandy banks. On the weekends miners from all across the regions would come to town to spend their week’s earnings. Fights were common, and the regions first jail had to be built in response. Soon the town would supplant Copper Harbor as the peninsula’s center of commerce, and in return was established as the Keweenaw County seat in 1861.
Yet nine years later the village’s fortunes would change dramatically as its chief economic stimulator – the Cliff Mine – closed its doors. With the mine closed, the dock and warehouse at the mouth of the river were abandoned, and the village’s role as a port would end. With the docks rotting away and the river filling with silt there was no longer any need for a lighthouse and it too was abandoned. Only the presence of the county courthouse and a fuse factory kept the old village on the map until the advent of the automobile and auto touring gave it new life as a tourist destination. Today even the fuse factory is gone, leaving only its sand beach and county offices to draw visitors and residents.