Houghton 99 miles, Yeah! Excitement grows as our destinations Atlantic Mine and The Keweenaw Peninsula are close at hand! Ten miles west of Marquette is the city of Negaunee (derived from the Ojibwa word nigani which means foremost or leading) founded in 1845 with the discovery of iron ore. U.S. 41 passes just north of downtown where I don’t miss the view of a Negaunee mine shaft house in operation its massive rope sheavers high atop first spinning forward than backward lowering miners in and out of the mine as well as the iron ore bearing rock. What is it like in there? Negaunee is also the place to go in January for the Heikki Lunta Winterfest. What is the Heikki Lunta Winterfest you ask? It just so happens that in the winter of 1970 a lack of snow on the Upper Peninsula threatens a snowmobile race so for fun a god is created, a Finnish snow god to be exact, and it works, record snowfall! The name of this god Heikki Lunta translates in English to “Hank Snow!” A couple of miles from Negaunee is the town of Ishpeming also on the Marquette iron range and in Ojibwa means on top, from above, or heaven I believe the latter more as the surrounding landscape of pine, birch, and maple to the south and good old “Gichigami” to the northeast paint a pretty natural picture for the imagination. Off in the distance to the south of the highway stands the “T-shaped” Ishpeming mineshaft house which stands out against the landscape because of the unusual design. From this vantage point there is nothing to show operations as all the workings, the rope sheavers, are concealed within the building.
The terrain is now hilly and heavier forested as we come upon Lake Michigamme with campground and a rest area we pass by, as the Au Train stop is enough to hold us unless a real emergency occurs and to the north the highest point in Michigan at 1,979 feet, the Huron Mountains. The mountains here are rugged and steep, rolling just like those west of the Mississippi without the altitude but this is ok as the state of Michigan, the Midwest (once known as the West), has a beauty all its own! Near the town of Alberta we turn due north staying on U.S. 41 heading for L’anse and Baraga. Alberta was founded by Henry Ford in 1936 on the banks of the Plumbago Creek constructing a sawmill to produce lumber for his automobile empire in Detroit. Today, all the buildings are still standing and used as a museum, research, and educational purposes.
At L’Anse Lake Superior comes back to us as the shimmering Keweenaw Bay transfix my young mind and again propelling me back in time. L’Anse is French for the cove as it is located on the southern part of the bay and founded in 1871 for the location of stamp mills for the nearby copper mines. The financial panic of 1873 caused a severe blow to this so the town tried dabbling in iron ore and lumber but ended up in the tourist and recreation business. Baraga is the last “big” town we will see for 30 miles, I was baptized here, and is named after Father Frederic Baraga the “snowshoe priest” who walked to many churches in the area during the year, due to lack of adequate transportation, using snowshoes in the winter. A short drive up US 41 is a sign indicating The Hanka Farm just three miles west which is an authentic Finnish farm (complete with sauna, Finns love sauna) no longer lived on but now a museum to life after Finnish immigrants moved from working in copper mines to working their own land. The town of Assinins founded by our “snowshoe priest” and named for an Assiniboine chief he befriended and converted, comes and goes and the only recognition are my thoughts of a town named Assassins.
Heading up the western side of the bay we now come in contact with Portage Entry where steam, freight ships once plied a many with the copper boom heading down the Portage Canal to the city of Houghton to unload shipments of coal and take out large shipments of copper ingots. Houghton is named after Michigan’s first state geologist, Douglas Houghton who drowned nearby while surveying, and is known as “The Gateway to the Keweenaw.” The Keweenaw is very present on the north side of the canal as it rises 440’ high with Mount Ripley and on top the remnants of a once great copper empire, the #2 Shaft/rockhouse of the Quincy copper mine. As we approach the intersection of U.S. 41 and U.S. 26 downtown Dad veers off onto 26 for U.S. 41 goes across Portage Canal via the Houghton/Hancock lift bridge into Hancock and up the middle of the Keweenaw. As Houghton is left behind I strain for a glance at the one-story brick Copper Range Railroad roundhouse near the canal shoreline; the roundhouse is where locomotives are housed for scheduled maintenance and was once an intricate part of the copper industry now no longer used, just gathering weeds in its retirement years. Nearby and also on the canal stood three steel-framed towers rising 183’ above the water which unloaded coal laden freighters depositing the cargo into massive wood and steel bins. These bins held up to 16,000 tons of coal and stood over the Copper Range Railroad tracks where empty trains backed in, loaded up, and headed for the mines. However, by the late 1960’s no longer in use, as the only thing keeping the copper industry active is reclamation of stamp sand that had been dumped along Portage Canal shores but still contained much valuable copper, the dock and all three towers are torn down.
A short five-minute drive on U.S. Route 26, Dad turns left onto Ericson Drive past a triangular-shaped city park used so often in the past now a war memorial commemorates residents (Dad and his brothers Raymond and Robert are included) who serviced and sacrificed for their country in both World Wars. Now down pine tree-lined Atlantic Avenue homes here once housed miners and their families when the Atlantic Mine was actively extracting copper from the earth starting in 1872 but all operations ceased a way back in 1913 due to “air blasts” and labor unrest. Air blasts occur underground in the mine when rock from above comes loose crashes to the ground “compressing” the air causing the “blast” and earthquakes, whereas labor unrest took place above ground causing a different type of air blast and earthquake that changed how workers are treated in these mines. The last street on the left, Allouez Street, second two-story, grey shingle siding house on the right, Dad pulls into the grass driveway, a remnant of when this was an actual working farm. Grandmother Pyykkonen (this is true Finnish spelling as my last changed at birth) and Aunt Florence welcome the weary travelers as we head inside to relax and prepare for two weeks in Shangri-La.
Check earlier posts of “Forward to the Hinterland” to catch up or to just relive the adventure.