I spent a good part of many childhood summers on Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula. I stayed with my grandparents, attended hockey camp at Michigan Technological University until mid afternoon, and played golf with my grandfather during the early evenings. When we wern't on the golf course, grandpa would take me for a drive here or there and tell me about this mine or that ruin. I didn't realize it then, but these times represented the planting of the seeds of my now deep rooted passion for the Keweenaw Peninsula.
I first returned to the area, after more years than I can remember, on Christmas Day 1996. I returned again in July of 1997, and it was on this trip when I truely discovered how much I loved the Copper Country! My last trip to the Copper Country was in September of 1997 and my feelings were confirmed. My grandparents are both gone now, however, their spirit and passion for the place they called home, burns as bright as any lighthouse lamp on Lake Superior.
Michigan's Keweenaw Peninsula
The Keweenaw Peninsula played a very important role in the development of this great nation of ours. To look at the communities today and judge by current economic standards, you really wouldn't know it at all. There is one thing that hasn't changed though.... the Keweenaw Peninsula still offers a one of a kind beauty and history that can not be found anywhere else in these United States!
Quincy, still standing as a silent sentinel for a copper industry that has long been asleep, looms high above, looking down on the communities of Houghton and Hancock. The current metal structure replaced the old wooden one in 1908, since then, Quincy has towered high, a standing testament to the boom days of the copper mining industry. An ethnically diverse population of mostly immigrants, provided the spirit and labor on which monumental contributions to our nations industrial and social advancements were made. Immigrants from England, Finland, French-Canadians, the Irish, Italians, Swedes, and many other nationalities, all found themselves, in many cases, side by side, deep within the mineshafts, gouged through red rock, rich with an ore called copper.
There's this wonderful place, vibrantly rich with history that would make today's most savvy investor shudder and drool with envy.
The cliff Mine was the peninsula's first truely successful mining venture, we're talking about serious dollars, even by today's standards! More important however, is the story about the people who paid the price, the families, men, women, and children. Mid 19th century living conditions provided little in the way of convenience and even less in comfort. With all that we're accustomed to in the 20th century, there is still little that can be done to combat the harsh winters on the Keweenaw Peninsula which boasts on the average of 200 inches of snowfall annually! Imagine life without electricity, heating oil, telephone, automobile, television, or a microwave, and all in the dead of winter! Well in 1844, there was a population who infact sustained and made an substantial impact on the future of the copper mining industry on the Keweenaw Peninsula.... these were a strong and courageous group of hard working people!
I kind of discovered the wonders of the Cliff Mine and cemetery by accident, you know, one of those non discript brown signs with white lettering and an arrow pointing is some direction that's away from the road you're traveling. Anyway, the first sign caught my attention and I believe my car saw the second, and before I knew it, I was parked on the roadside turnoff reading the sign pictured above. The sign tells of the success of the mine and all of the money that it made for its stockholders, but what grabbed my total and undivided attention, was the bit about the Cliff Cemetery. The people had situated their cemetery at the base of the cliff, the mines namesake. Make no mistake about it folks, these are mountains, ok, maybe their not the Rockies or Mt. McKinley, however, they're formidable, shear in places, and for certain, old, wise, and beautiful. I had no sooner read the sign and was off in search of this Cliff Cemetery!
The point from where I snapped this picture was probably 100 yards off of the Cliff Road. The turn off and parking area are one in the same, marked again by on of those non discript brown signs with white lettering and an arrow. As I ventures down the old dirt, (rocky) two track, the first thing to catch my eye was wild flowers. Everywhere, as far as I could see, there were wild flowers. Thank goodness my visit was during July and not January! The journey onward and upward required the fording of a stream/river and the navigation of a deertrail with deep cuts caused by the rushing waters of spring melt off and rains. As I ascended the trail, more areas of wild flowers were discovered. Their sweet fragrance brought immediate meaning to the saying that one should...."take time to stop and smell the flowers!" It was enough to stop me in the midst of the humming and buzzing of what seemed to have been a million bees! The trail continued to wind on and upward, the patches of flowers giving way to a canopy of coniferous. Pine, hemlock, cedar, then maple and birch. the rock of the forest floor, covered with needles and leaves from autumns past, was as soft as a fine carpet. Large boulders everywhere, seemingly lodged between two trees, when actually it was the boulders spot first. The beauty was almost distracting... then before me, across the trail, laid an old fence! I was there, I had found it! Careful to step over, I entered the 145 plus year old Cliff Cemetery.
The stones are for the most part, in wonderful shape. There aren't many markers left, but those who were with means, gave their loved ones a place in history. They (the markers) are tribute to the strength of the people who made their lives and gave their lives. One plot not pictured here, was surrounded by the remains of an old picket fence. Inside this perimeter there are two wooden grave markers. The markers, cut to resemble more expensive stone markers, still bear the hand painted letters telling the stories of the deceased. The area is well preserved, yet it appears as if little to nothing has been done to keep it this way for at least 50 or more years. Mother Nature has had her hand in thing though. There are trees that have been taken down by the local beaver population in the river below. Amazingly, they seem to be trees that were threatening the existence of some of the remaining grave markers As I made my way back down the trail, contentment consumed my mind, yet the beauty of the day told me to explore on. I reached the car, back in the world of today, got in, opened all of the windows and the sunroof, tuned in the local NPR station, and drove off in search if another non discript brown sign with white lettering and an arrow pointing somewhere else for me and the car to follow!
Pictured below is the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse. The present structure, built in 1871, replaced a wooden one that was constructed in 1851.
The lighthouse is now operated and maintained by the Keweenaw County Historical Society. In addition to the lighthouse museum complex, the society also is preserving several other historical structures and locations. More information can be obtained by writing them at:
Keweenaw County Historical Society, HC-1, Box 265L, Eagle Harbor, Michigan 49950
My narrative wouldn't be complete without some mention of the military, and just happens to be that there was a role for the military on the Keweenaw Peninsula.
During the summer of 1844, the U.S. Army established a presence on the peninsula and began construction of Ft. Wilkins. Ft. Wilkins, (named after Secretary of War Wilkins) and its garrison were there to keep "squatters" off of the government lands. Today, visitors will find Ft. Wilkins looking much the way it did during the mid 19th century. Amazingly enough, many of the buildings at the fort are original structures. The State of Michigan has owned the fort and its lands since 1923. The counties of Houghton and Keweenaw purchased the property from the federal government in 1921 for $2000.00 and then they later deeded it to the state, providing it would become a historic landmark or public park.
The park has always been one of my favorite places since childhood. Looking back at many visits to other military outposts, I believe Ft. Wilkins to be one of the best representations of soldier life during the mid 19th century time period. Most of all, as with Michigan's other historical military parks, it is well kept. Since the state has done such a wonderful job, I think it fitting that I let them showcase their own gem, so click now to view more information about the fort. This site contains historical data, photographs, maps, and campground info, along with phone numbers.
For those of you who enjoy a good round of golf, you can find a super nine hole course at the Keweenaw Mountain Lodge. This course offers wonderful play and breathtaking views that can only be found on the peninsula. Besides golf, the Lodge offers superb dining and individual log cabins for your overnight or vacation accommodations.
There is just too much to see and do while you're visiting the Keweenaw Peninsula, and my narrative only represents a small peek at what one can find. To experience more of the Copper Country/ Keweenaw Peninsula on-line...check out my Copper Country Links. I would be remiss if I didn't mention the National Park Service. Besides their site listed below which addresses the history behind the formation of the Keweenaw National Historic Park; they also provide a wealth of other valuable information for the Keweenaw visitor! If time isn't an issue, you can write or phone the Keweenaw Tourism Council. Their address is:
Keweenaw Tourism Council, 326 Sheldon Avenue, P.O. Box 336, Houghton, Michigan 49931. Telephone: (800) 338-7982 or (906) 482- 2388
Keweenaw Peninsula & Upper Peninsula Links
The Copper Range Railroad
The Daily Mining Gazette
Above the Bridge