Tens of thousands of immigrants from Finland, Cornwall and other European countries “went West” to Michigan’s northernmost peninsula to seek their fortunes in the mines, forests and towns. Most of that fortune stuffed the bank accounts of mine owners and lumber barons.
But one-industry towns are risky. Rising production costs, a failed miners’ strike in 1913, followed by the Great Depression caused jobs and people to vanish. Now, these phantom towns and industrial relics are vivid reminders of how fleeting natural resources … and prosperity … can be. While a large share of the population left the region, much of their legacy remains to be rediscovered and experienced.
Not sure where to start? Here are what the locals recommend …
The Keweenaw National Historic Park (KNHP) preserves and shares the story of the Keweenaw’s copper booms and busts through 21 Heritage Sites. Each helps tell of the rise, domination and decline of this area’s copper mining industry. Embodying stories of hardship, ingenuity, struggle and success, each site allows you to explore the role mining played in people’s lives here and afar. Be sure to visit the KNHP Visitors’ Center in Calumet, MI to learn about upcoming exhibits, programs and to help plan your visit.
There’s no better way to understand what life was like for the miners who toiled to produce the copper ore than to participate in a tour of one of the Keweenaw’s historic copper mines. During the copper boom of the late 1800s, mines sprung to life across the region. But many operated only a short time due to a challenging competitive environment, technological shifts, and the constantly changing price of copper.
Luckily, visitors can still experience life below ground by visiting the historic Quincy Mine near Hancock, MI or take a self-guided tour of the Delaware Mine near Mohawk, MI.
The Quincy Mine offers both surface and underground tours so that visitors can experience the life of copper miners in the late 1800s.
Remnants of vanished mining communities exist throughout the Keweenaw landscape. As mines closed, entire communities migrated to other parts of the Keweenaw and the country. Much of the stone architecture remains along the region’s trail systems and within the regrown forests of the Keweenaw. Many of these sites are accessible to the public interested in visiting the ruins and hoping to find native copper among the mounds of discarded mine rock piles. Click here for tips on exploring our Ghost Towns.
Whether you are interested in 19th-century immigration, mining, boom-and-bust towns or tracing your own family history in the Upper Peninsula, this Houghton site offers photos to newspapers on microfilm dating back to the 1850s. The Michigan Tech University Archives and Historical Collections provides a treasure trove of historical documents and images for visitors interested in conducting research on the Keweenaw’s storied past. Click here to search the archives.
While the village of Laurium is not a ghost town, it is the site of large homes that rose up from the hey-day of copper mining and lumbering. The most opulent is the Laurium Manor, a 45-room mansion built in 1908 for Calumet & Arizona Mining Co. owners Thomas H. & Cornelia Hoatson. Today it is a bed-and-breakfast inn that in addition to being available for overnight stays offers daily self-guided tours between Memorial Weekend and late October. Visiting the Laurium Manor Inn is an excellent way to see the disparity of wealth during the height of copper boom-and-bust years. Click here for more information about tours of the Laurium Manor.
Visitors can opt for a tour of the opulent Laurium Manor, which belonged to a local copper baron during the early 1900s.
Built in 1844 and abandoned just two years late, Fort Wilkins was once an active U.S. Army post constructed to keep the peace in Michigan’s Copper Country. The fort was briefly regarrisoned in the late 1860’s. Today, Fort Wilkins State Park is a well-preserved example of mid-19th century army life on the northern frontier. Through exhibits, audiovisual programs and living history interpretation, visitors may explore the daily routine of military service, experience the hardships of frontier isolation and discover the lifeways of another era. The park also includes the Copper Harbor Lighthouse Complex with a restored 1848 lightkeeper’s dwelling, 1866 lighthouse, and interpretive trails.
Several additional attractions are nearby. The Estivant Pines (a stand of virgin white pines), and The Delaware Mine (an old copper mine with guided tours), are located near the park. Brockway Mountain Drive offers scenic views of Lake Superior, inland lakes and panoramic views of the Keewenaw Penninsula. Waterfalls, day trips to Isle Royale, shipwrecks, museums, shops and restaurants are all nearby.
With about 4,000 specimens on display and frequently changing exhibits, the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum located on the campus of Michigan Tech showcases amazing minerals from the Great Lakes Region and around the world. Visitors can access the world’s largest public display of minerals from the Great Lakes region, one of the best fluorescent mineral exhibits in the U.S., and a world-record 17-ton native copper slab (not open in winter)! The museum is the “official Mineralogical Museum of Michigan” and a Heritage Site of the Keweenaw National Historical Park.
The Keweenaw’s history draws visitors from across the globe. Discover over forty historical attractions that tell the story of the Copper Country’s incredible past.