It was the towering peak rising up over the highlands south of the Portage – known today as Whealkate Mountain – that first attracted attention to the Keweenaw’s southern range. Prospectors theorized the mountain’s existence was due to a copper rich interior immune to the glacier action witch ground down the surrounding landscape. The first mine to test this theory would be the Wheal Kate, which opened a shaft along the mountain’s slopes around 1851. It turned out that the mountain was not made of copper after all, and the mine was quickly abandoned. No other attempt would be made along the southern range for over a generation.
It wasn’t until the discovery of the Baltic Lode in 1897 that the region once again attracted attention from mine prospectors. Quickly several mines opened along the newly discovered lode’s length, and the Wheal Kate Mining company was given a second lease on life. With the newly opened Baltic Mine nearby, the old mining company began to sell off its considerable land holdings, platting out the small town of South Range in the process.
Unlike every other community along the southern range, South Range was uniquely independent of any mine company influence. In response the town developed a vibrant commercial district including meeting halls, banks, general stores and several saloons. Helping matters further was the presence of the Copper Range Railroad, along which a small warehouse district developed. Quickly the little town became the most populous in the region, and handily won the role of commercial center of the southern range.