Fayette Historic Town Site
Historic Town Site is a 19th Century, well preserved, company
town, that manufactured charcoal pig iron and lime from 1867 to 1891.
In the mid
1800's, there was enormous cost in shipping iron ore from Michigan's
Upper Peninsula to the foundries in the lower Great Lakes due to
inefficient shipping. To resolve the issue, The Jackson Iron Company,
led by company agent Fayette Brown, chose Lake Michigan's Garden
Peninsula at Snail Shell Harbor to establish a blast furnace close to
mining, where the ore could be smelted into pig iron before being
shipped to steel manufacturers.
Located on the
southern side of the Upper Peninsula on Big Bay de Noc,
Fayette was at its peak the most
productive iron smelting operation in the area. Shortly after the Civil
War, the company town grew up around two very large blast furnaces,
charcoal kilns, a lime kiln, and a large dock.
Rooms on the
upper level of the furnace complex housed the machinery which powered
the foundry's hot blast. Boilers supplied the steam to blowing engines
which forced air through the host blast ovens and into the furnaces. The
furnace stacks were enlarged and modified over time. They used hardwood
from the forest for fuel, and quarried limestone from the bluffs in the
harbor to purify the iron ore. Colliers (charcoal makers) made the fuel
for the large furnaces and by the mid 1880's there were over eighty
charcoal kilns in the area used by the company.
In 1882 the company announced it would build a lime kiln to manufacture
lime used in mortar for masonry, chinking for log houses and plaster for
interior walls. The excess was sold to Escanaba.
Fayette Historic Town Site in Michigan's Fayette
Historic State Park preserves an industrial 1800's town with several
original buildings and structures. Photo by Dave Alexander, 2014. Prints
and downloads available
residents lived in Fayette, most of them immigrants from Canada and
northern Europe. During its peak in population, half were children. The
laborers and skilled tradesman produced over 225,000 tons of pig iron
during its 24 years of activity, with employee's splitting up just over
$5,000 in payroll each month from the Jackson Iron Company.
linked Fayette with neighboring communities. Two livery
businesses rented horses and buggies, while stage lines carried
passengers to Garden, Manistique and Escanaba. The overland route to
Escanaba took two days by stage, but only three hours by boat across Big
Bay de Noc. In the winter, when the lake froze, residents could ride a
stage sled across to Escanaba.
In 1870 a
three story warehouse was built next to a wood-frame store. Although
Fayette shoppers were treated to "clearing sales", mail order businesses
and other competitors offered lower prices. One resident is quoted as
saying "No matter how fairly it is managed, the company store is
generally considered a "pluck me". In 1886 the wood store was replaced,
but the entire building was destroyed by fire in the 1900's, with only
the stone walls remaining today.
central business district separated the have from have nots'. Tradesmen
and Supervisors along with their families lived in comfortable frame
houses, while simple log homes were taken along the hill, road and
shoreline by the unskilled laboring class on the other side of town.
right next to the unskilled laborers homes, was an industrial dump site, where glass like
slag, or cinder, mixed with iron can still be found. The Jackson Iron
Company used the furnace waste product as a road base and fill material.
The beach also served local residents as the landfill, as Fayette was
not known for being a "tidy" town.
The remains of the company store and warehouse in
Fayette Historic Townsite. Photo by Kathy Weiser-Alexander, 2014. Prints and
The towns success would be short lived though, as the company exhausted
the area's hardwoods. Then, Jackson Iron Company closed its Fayette
smelting operations in 1891 when the iron market declined. Although some
residents stayed and farmed, many left Fayette.
Now in a State
Historic Park, visitors can take a walking tour among 20 original
structures, including eleven buildings with museum displays and plenty
of scenic views of this harbor town of yesteryear. We found this
historic site to be well worth the price of admission for a leisurely tour
of Michigan history.
Fayette Historic Townsite.
© Dave Alexander,
Legends of America, updated April, 2017.