Copper Country Trail National Byway, first designated as a Michigan State Heritage Route in 1994, joined the America’s Byways collection in 2005. Defined by its historic significance, Copper Country Trail National Byway highlights the triumphs and tragedies associated with copper mining. The 47-mile stretch of US-41 from Houghton to Copper Harbor follows the copper lode that lies deep underground and is the basis of our exciting and turbulent history.
1841 was a pivotal year for the Copper Country. That’s when Douglass Houghton, Michigan’s first state geologist, filed surveys and reports demonstrating an abundance of copper in the region.
The Calumet and Hecla Mining Company (C&H) and the Quincy Mining Company came to dominate the Michigan copper industry. From 1867-1882, the companies represented the greatest longevity, production and technical innovation in the world. During this time, C&H alone accounted for more than half of the nation’s copper. As late as 1882, C&H accounted for 63 percent of the total U.S. copper production. At their height, the mining companies constructed public buildings and housing for their employees and lavish residences for themselves that reflected the Copper Country’s growing prosperity.
As the Copper Country rose to international fame during this time immigrants poured in from all over the world. Ethnic groups included Cornish, Italian, Finnish, German, French Canadian, Irish and many more. These new Copper Country residents built the facilities that eased life in a new world. Bars, government buildings, fraternity halls, stores, were built. Because of this, enduring communities were built throughout the Keweenaw that can still be seen today.
As the nation shifted from the roaring 1920s to the depressed 1930s, so did mining activity in the Copper Country. The decline of copper mining caused an out-migration over the following decades and C & H closed down their last mine in 1968; it was the last native copper mine in the Keweenaw.
Courtesy of Victor & Patricia Hillebrand
Many communities line the Copper Country Trail, all with their own unique cultural heritage. The towns south of Houghton grew up along the copper lode, as did several towns north of Calumet. As you explore the Copper Country, make sure to stop at these communities along the Byway, as well as those on spur routes. Every community has their own unique restaurants, shops, natural features, and festivals that make it stand out from all the rest. Visit their website for more information.