Central Mine - Copper Ghost Preserved
Miners stand near Central Mine No. 2 around
1895. Photo courtesy
Copper Range Railroad.
One of the best stops for mining ghost towns in Keweenaw County is Central
Mine, also known simply as Central. Once home to over 1,200 residents,
it is the site of one of the counties most successful mines, and today
stands as an historic district that features several original buildings
and mining ruins.
In 1854, Central Mining Company purchased over 300 acres of land from
Northwestern Mining Company of Detroit, who had been operating in the
Eagle Harbor area of the Keweenaw Peninsula. An ancient Native
American mining pit had been discovered on the land, and it was well
known that many of these ancient mines led to rich veins of copper.
Mine fissure was discovered in the summer of 1855 after a shaft was sunk
along the side of the pit. The discovery was not only of rock rich in
the metal, but also large masses of almost pure native copper. Over 40 tons
of pure mass copper was removed in the first forty feet. The mine
produced over 83 thousand pounds of copper that year and was the only
mine in the history of Michigan Copper Country to show a profit in
the first year of operation.
Early on, the
workers of the mine, mostly immigrants from the England peninsula of
Cornwall known as "Cousin Jacks",
lived away from the operation at another mining camp, however by 1856
homes were being built and the town of Central began taking shape. Three
years later the Central Mining Company employed almost 100 men and had
four shafts. That number jumped to 268 by 1867 as the town and mine
continued to grow. The population of Central had grown to 950 in
1870, despite the harsh conditions on what was now known as Copper
And harsh it
was. The winters on the Peninsula are brutal, and each year the miners
and their families found themselves cut off from supplies that were
shipped from the lower Great Lakes region. Residents would pour sawdust
in the windows as they boarded them up to keep the cold at bay, and as
soon as Lake Superior iced over no more food and supplies would arrive
until Spring. More hardship would come in 1860 when in November
the wharf at nearby Eagle Harbor burned, destroying their winter
supplies. To make matters worse, replacement supplies had to be thrown
from a ship caught in a storm to keep it from sinking.
Nicholls, former miner and later teacher and principle of the Central
School, would go on to write about life in Central, describing the
typical home as "generally very neat and modest", with the only
luxury being a wood rocking chair with a chicken feather stuffed
cushion, usually reserved for company. Nicholls also described the towns
social activities as being "few and unpretentious; invariably
arranged among themselves and for themselves". He would also
write that "Life there was easy, natural, and uneventful".
always been the case though, as on April 22, 1872 tragedy would strike
Central Mine when a cable broke while 13 men were riding a skip car down
the number 2 shaft. Ten of them were killed, a devastating event for the
small community. Today there is a memorial and marker noting the loss,
and the event would be memorialized in newspapers through a poem
published shortly after entitled "Sad
News from Central Mine", which read in part;
Sad news from
across the ocean we hear,
Sad news from the Central Mine,
Sad news for the wives and children dear,
Of death in that distant clime.
'Twas ten o'clock on an April night,
When a change of men took place,
And thirteen miners in the skip— "all right;"
Down the shaft were lowered apace.
Ten men were on the top of the skip
And three seem'd sage within,
When the wire-rope broke with a sudden snap,
And it fell with an awful din.
During it's peak
in the mid 1880's, the town of Central had around 1,200 residents. The
Central School had over 350 students and the town sported several
blacksmiths, a hotel, general store, boarding houses, meat market, shoe
maker, tailor and more. However, like all mining, the population would
fluctuate with the price of copper, as the Central Mining company would open
and close the operation.
Central Mine was
the most productive of all the fissure deposit mines, producing nearly 52
million pounds of copper before playing out. After 44 years of operation,
the Central Mining Company closed the operation July 29, 1898, and the town
of Central became a ghost town. In 1907, former residents began holding
reunions which continue annually to this day with the towns decedents .
owned by the Keweenaw County Historical Society, Central features 13 houses
and a church, along with mining ruins that visitors are welcome to tour,
complete with a visitors information center with audio displays and maps.
During our visit in September of 2014 this historic site was free of charge,
and well worth the time spent for a look at life at a Michigan Copper mining
To reach the
Central Mine, travel five miles northeast of Phoenix, MI, just north of the
intersection of US 41 and the Central-Gratiot Lake Road. The visitors center
and homes are open from mid-June to early October.
Central Mine Shaft No. 2 was the scene of tragedy on April 22, 1872. The shaft was over 3,100 feet
deep at the time of the accident, which involved a skip car whose cable
broke during decent killing several miners. Photo Kathy Weiser-Alexander, September 2014.
Ruins of the Powder House at
Central Mine, Michigan. Photo by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, September, 2014.
Available for photo prints and downloads
© Dave Alexander,
Legends Of America, October 2014.
Keweenaw County Historical Society and on-site information.