Keweenaw National Historical Park
Upper Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula was the site of one of the most
abundant deposits of pure, elemental copper in the world. The copper
range here forms a narrow spine around which tens of thousands of people
came to coax copper from out of the ground. In the 19th century,
Americans and immigrants flocked here to fulfill the American Dream and
improve their own lives. They developed a complex system of mining,
processing, smelting, and transporting copper, which stimulated
America’s Industrial Revolution. The thousands of people from around the
world who sought success and the large corporate mining companies eager
to make a profit together transformed the Keweenaw Peninsula, forever
changing its landscape and cultural makeup.
Today, Keweenaw National Historical Park, at its Calumet and Quincy
units, preserves and interprets the varied elements of the copper mining
industry and tells the stories of the diverse people who settled the
area and worked the mines. The many preserved buildings, streets, and
mines, located in the Calumet National Historic Landmark District and
the Quincy Mining Company National Historic Landmark District within the
park, provide visitors with a snapshot in time of how the newly
industrialized America looked and felt. Dozens of cultural sites
throughout the Keweenaw Peninsula (inside and outside of official park
boundaries), including those of 19 official Keweenaw Heritage Site
partners, also help tell the stories associated with the Keweenaw's
Quincy Mine Hoist Building, Kathy Weiser, 2014
Image available for photo prints & editorial downloads
Indians began mining and using copper in the Keweenaw Peninsula over
7,000 years ago, as is evident from the prehistoric mining sites
throughout the area. Native peoples used the copper to construct tools
and make items to trade. When European priests and explorers reached the
Keweenaw Peninsula in the 1600s, they learned of the copper from the
Ojibwa tribe. The early European explorers attempted to mine the copper
but were unsuccessful. By the 1840s, people started having success
extracting the copper from the earth, prompting one of the first mineral
mining rushes in the United States -- one that predated the California
gold rush by six years.
For a time, the Keweenaw Peninsula saw a massive rush of individual
fortune seekers. After this initial rush, other entrepreneurs arrived to
direct a more systematic extraction of the copper. A more lasting copper
industry evolved with the establishment of the major mining companies,
the Quincy Mining Company and later, the Calumet & Hecla (C&H) Company.
By 1849, this area provided 96% of the entire United States copper
production; from 1845 to 1887 it was the largest copper producing region
in the United States. By the late 1880s, the Keweenaw Peninsula lost its
dominant position as the leading copper producing region to mines
located further west; but for over a hundred years, the copper mining
industry had a direct effect on the lives and landscape of the people
and communities in this area.
Between 1843 and 1920, miners and immigrants from all over the world,
including Canada, Great Britain, Germany, Italy, Finland, Croatia,
China, and Lebanon, among others, flocked to the area to work in the
mines and the industries that supported their operation. These workers
provided a large labor force and contributed to the evolution of a
varied and diverse cultural landscape throughout the peninsula. While
many of the first generation immigrants came to work in the mines, the
second and third generation Americans found ways to enter other
occupations. Some opened, managed, or worked in groceries, hotels,
restaurants, and sawmills, while others taught school, farmed, or logged
forests. Others began commercial fishing operations in Lake Superior,
which surrounds the Keweenaw.
Immigrants established ethnic benevolent societies and churches.
Visitors can still see some of them today like St. Anne’s Catholic
Church (originally built for a thriving French-Canadian population), the
Community Church of Calumet (originally serving a Scottish Presbyterian
congregation), St. John the Baptist Church (originally for Calumet’s
Croatian Community), and the Norwegian Lutheran Church. These
institutions helped new arrivals make their way in the community and
find jobs and places to live. Churches and benevolent societies played a
crucial role in immigrants’ lives by attending to their spiritual needs
and provided them places to speak their native tongue comfortably,
listen to their traditional music, and eat their traditional food.
Established immigrants built hotels or apartment buildings like the
Coppo Block and the Holman Block, which visitors can walk by today in
downtown Calumet. At one time, at least 38 different ethnic groups lived
in the area. The workers and their families varied in their dress,
politics, religions, foods, and languages, but they shared a common
interest in their goals and intense desire for better lives.
Visitors can learn
about the social, ethnic, commercial, and company-planned aspects of a
mining community by visiting the Calumet Unit of Keweenaw National
Historical Park. In the historic village of Calumet, known as Red Jacket
until 1929, and throughout the C&H Mining Company's property, visitors can
see what it was like to live and work on the Keweenaw Peninsula in the late
19th and early 20th centuries. Visitors can take the Calumet Walking Tour, a
1.5 hour and 1.5 mile easy terrain walking tour to explore the former C&H
Mining Company’s industrial area and downtown Calumet’s historic business
In its heyday, the
C&H Mining Company produced one-half of the country’s copper. The company,
which Swiss-born Alexander Agassiz led for many years, attained success
through its highly efficient management of both people and natural
resources. The company utilized modern technologies and the management style
known as paternalism to build its reputation as one of the nation’s
best-known business enterprises.
By practicing corporate paternalism, C&H created a mutually dependent
relationship between the company and its workers by offering both benefits
and constraints to its workers and the nearby communities. Like many mining
companies, C&H provided not only jobs but also schools, homes, bathhouses,
hospitals, tennis courts, bowling alleys, a swimming pool, and a library for
its workers. The company also provided land for fraternal organizations,
churches, and other social groups. Many of these corporate-sponsored
community buildings are still standing today, including the C&H Public
Library, many Calumet grade schools, the C&H Bathhouse, the Miscowaubik
Club, and the churches on God’s Little Acre. By 1898, C&H owned nearly 1,000
dwellings and the land on which many other employee-built houses stood.
C&H’s fire department served the mines and surrounding communities, and the
company’s water system pumped water to employee houses.
St. Joseph Church
in Calumet, Michigan, Kathy Weiser, 2014.
for photo prints & editorial downloads
company management saw paternalism as the benign manifestation of a new age
of enlightened capitalism, it allowed the company to control many aspects of
the workers’ lives, including discouraging the organization of labor unions.
In 1913, workers’ frustration with the impersonal style of management, low
wages, long hours, and poor working conditions culminated in a strike that
lasted for nearly a year. C&H never fully recovered from the strike. The
company enjoyed some profits in the early 20th century, but as the depths of
the mines increased, the copper content diminished. In 1968, the mines
closed permanently, but the C&H Mining Company left its mark on the people,
land, and communities of the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Twelve miles from the Calumet Unit, visitors can explore the Quincy Unit of
the park to learn about the processes and technologies of copper mining. The
Quincy Unit, just northeast of the Hancock community and adjacent to the
Portage Lake waterway, preserves the remnant structures and mines of the
Quincy Mining Company, established in 1846. Visitors can take the Quincy
Ruins Walk, a guided 1.5 hour, one-mile walking tour to explore the surface
ruins of the mine.
Quincy and C&H share similar histories. The Quincy Copper Mining Company was
also a leader in copper production in the late 19th century, attracted
workers from various ethnic groups, practiced paternalism with its workers,
and suffered greatly from the strike of 1913. The company eventually closed
its mines for good in 1945. Today, visitors can explore the Quincy No. 2
mine shaft and hoist, which are a Keweenaw Heritage Site owned and operated
by the Quincy Mine Hoist Association. Visitors can also see the world’s
largest steam hoist, explore the mine’s surface area and ruins, and ride a
cog-wheel tram to a mine side entrance. From there, visitors can go
underground to have a firsthand view of the mine and see for themselves the
miners’ working conditions.
Visitors can also explore the 19 Keweenaw Heritage Sites associated with the
park. Places such as the Coppertown Mining Museum in the former C&H Pattern
Shop, the former St. Anne’s Church that is now the Keweenaw Heritage Center,
the Red Jacket Fire Station that is now the Upper Peninsula Firefighters
Memorial Museum, and the Laurium Manor Mansion Tours, all help tell the
stories of copper mining and the birth of an industrialized society.
Keweenaw National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park System, is
located on the Keweenaw Peninsula of Upper Michigan.
National Park Service
Keweenah National Historical Park