Michigan Iron History Museum
The museum is in the rugged, wooded hills at the place on the Carp River where an iron forge was built in 1848. That was just four years after Burt discovered iron not far from Teal Lake. The whole area was a wilderness at the time, well beyond the boundaries of settlement.
It took an acre of hardwoods to make five tons of iron. Little remains of the long-abandoned forge. Some parts of it have been discovered through archaeological research. Today a pleasant nature trail leads from the museum past the 19th-century forge site. The delightful setting, fragrant with pine and meadow grasses in summer, makes this a nice place to linger. It's a handy rest and exercise stop for travelers heading across the Upper Peninsula.
An excellent, insightful tape-slide show, "Life on Michigan's Iron Ranges, " shows how hard the mostly immigrant work force labored — for 60-hour work weeks — and how much work the women did to support their families: gardening, cooking, taking in boarders and their wash. Upper Peninsula mining began before farmers and normal town developers had settled the area.
So mining companies had to be community-builders, too. It was in mining companies' interests that mining settlements quickly grow out of the raw boomtown stage where miners were single men, saloons were the centers of social life and brothels flourished. Companies successfully developed stability within their work force through low-cost housing rentals and various subsidies to churches and community centers. Corporate paternalism has been a big part of the history of many communities on the iron ranges. Many of the Upper Peninsula's most impressive public buildings were paid for with company money.
The museum does a good job of showing just how important the U.P.'s iron has been. Almost half of the nation's iron from 1850 to 1900 was mined in Michigan . Other states mined iron, too. In 1860 ore was also being mined in Pennsylvania (which produced three times as much iron as Michigan), New Jersey (the nation's #2 producer), Connecticut, Maryland, New Hampshire, New York, and Ohio.
However, Marquette Range iron tested high for strength and purity. In the 150 years since 1833, the California gold rush produced less than a billion dollars of minerals. Michigan forests produced almost $4.5 billion of timber. The Keweenaw copper range generated about twice that amount. But these are dwarfed by the riches from iron, worth some $48 billion.
Fundraising has built a new 4,000-square-foot museum expansion. It has a gallery for temporary exhibits including artifacts from the permanent collection. Permanent exhibits must wait for a new round of fund-raising. There's a bigger museum shop — an increasingly important revenue source for state museums — and more office space. (This location is the headquarters for all U.P. sections of the Michigan state historical museum system.)
Expand your understanding of mining and miners' lives—
and see some great mineral specimens — by visiting in
Ishpeming Cliffs Shaft Mining Museum and Da Yoopers Tourist
Cliffs Shaft Mining Museum
Mining retirees and aficionados have created a museum space in the light-filled space of the former Cleveland Cliffs Iron "dry" building. Here miners donned their helmets before going down into the mine and cleaned up afterwards. It is right next to the two obelisk shaft houses that mark Ishpeming's skyline.
The centerpiece is the CLIFFS SHAFT MINING MUSEUM , a grassroots organization made up of enthusiastic former miners, mine managers, and other volunteers, eager to share their history with others. They are still in the process of gathering many thought-provoking artifacts. For 2006 they have moved a huge production truck from CCI's open pit mine to the museum site.
In meticulously creating the large model of the Cliffs Shaft Mine as it was in 1960 , modelmaker Mark Dryer even diecast his own cars. A working forge might be demonstrated. Some weekends a volunteer shows a rock saw in action. Many exhibits change each year, depending on area events and on the interests of museum members. A huge truck used in the open pit is the latest addition to the museum's growing collection.
The underground tour goes into the access tunnel to the shaft, where the cage took miners deep underground. Most tour guides have actually worked in this mine, so they can field questions from first-hand experience. A number of them are in their 70s and 80s, so they speak from long experience. If you're lucky enough to get former mine inspector and mining historian Leo LaFond as your guide, you're in for a wealth of interesting information, such as the sinking of parts of Negaunee from undermining.
The tour incorporates some dramatic stories, especially the details of the Barnes-Hecker mine disaster west of Ishpeming, when water entered the mine and 26 men lost their lives - the worst single disaster in Michigan mining history. The Cliffs Shaft tour would be of great interest to people who already knew something about mining - enough to ask good questions and put into perspective the many comments, mining details, and terms like "hydrostatic pressure" tossed off by the very knowledgeable tour guide.
The museum opened in 2002, and it's still a work in progress, but there's already a lot to look at, in addition to taking a tunnel tour (not an underground shaft) of this famous mine. Signage about worker safety has been left in place from when the famous Cliffs Shaft mine closed in 1967, ending 99 years of production.
THE ISHPEMING ROCK & MINERAL CLUB along with the museum have filled many display cases in the main exhibit area with specimens of a quality to impress any rockhound . Surrounded by mining relics and rock piles, kids who grew up in the area developed a natural interest in rocks and minerals as they roamed around their neighborhoods in mining locations. So Ishpeming has serious collectors who have never been near a college geology course. The club's literature publicizes collecting expeditions open to all. To be informed of their numerous collecting trips, join for $10 a person and get on e-mail list.
The ISHPEMING HISTORICAL SOCIETY shares a room with the MARQUETTE COUNTY GENEALOGICAL SOCIETY . For anyone interested in Ishpeming history, it's certainly an interesting place to poke around. Sometimes the room is staffed. Visitors who are only interested in local history and genealogy can be admitted free by telling the desk volunteer that that is the purpose of their visit
Today it is "the best preserved, most complete example of an underground mining site. . . in the Upper Peninsula," wrote mining historian and professor William Mulligan, a former area resident, in his interesting paper for a mining history symposium "It was the largest and longest-operating underground, direct-shipping, hard ore mine in the . . . United States. . . . Its hard, specular hematite ore [had so many desirable qualities] that for many years it was the bench mark against which ore prices were set."
The "lens" of ore here, one mile by two miles, went
under all of Ishpeming. Fortunately the rock structure was so
hard that no cave-ins occurred in Ishpeming, as they did in
Negaunee. A lot of ore is still there, but the mine was abandoned
because as the mine went deeper, operating costs increased for
many aspects of mining. It cost more to lift ore to the surface,
pump out water, and move miners.
Iron made Marquette County the richest and most populous county in the Upper Peninsula. Its 65,000 residents far outnumber any of the other 14 U.P. counties. This is a land of striking dark two-billion-year-old rock outcroppings, among the most ancient surfaces on the globe. The rugged-sized hills here are eroded vestiges of towering mountains, once far higher than the Rockies. Today's terrain is mostly forested, interlaced with rivers and streams that have long been the delight of trout fishermen . Some two dozen waterfalls scattered throughout the county are publicized by the Marquette Country Visitors' Bureau with a special waterfall map. The region's northern shore along Lake Superior miles of beaches. Between Munising and Marquette many beautiful sand beaches are right off M-28. In Marquette itself, several free public beaches are between the lighthouse and Presque Isle Park.
The middle-19th-century towns that sprang up in this region grew from iron mining and were located in a line along the Marquette Range of iron ore deposits , from Negaunee and Ishpeming west to Michigamme and Republic. (Mines around Gwinn, southwest of Marquette, came later.) Eventually some 200 mines were dug, stretching westward to create such towns as Ishpeming, Negaunee, Republic, Champion, and Michigamme. Up into the 1890s, this 45-mile-long band was the richest known source of iron in the world.
Marquette itself was not near a mine. It became the ore's shipping port and the financial and commercial center . Local natural resources and later banking formed many fortunes of national significance. Iron money built Marquette's imposing 19th-century homes and downtown buildings of red sandstone that make it stand out as one of the most handsome Midwestern towns. Iron created the red color of the Jacobsville sandstone formation, also called "brownstone." Quarries in Marquette, L'Anse, and Jacobsville near Hancock shipped the stone as far away as East Coast cities.
The iron was discovered by accident by Euro-Americans. (Native people were well aware of iron deposits but lacked the technology to develop them.) It was 1836 when as Michigan was becoming a state it acquired the western three-fourths of the Upper Peninsula as a consolation prize in the "Toledo War" border dispute with Ohio. But it took the fledgling state years for its surveyors to describe and map the vast northern realm above the Straits of Mackinac. In 1844 surveyor William Burt found nearly pure iron deposits at the surface at Teal Lake , the big lake seen just north of U.S. 41 in Negaunee, eight miles west of Marquette. Burt's magnetic compass fluctuated so suspiciously that he sent his men out to investigate. They returned with iron ore from rock outcrops. The next year native Ojibwa guided prospectors to a place where iron ore was right at the surface, visible in the roots of a fallen tree. In 1847 that site became the Jackson Mine on the south side of Negaunee. It was the first mine of the Marquette Range.
Miners extracted a million tons a year of the highest-quality iron are available anywhere during the 19th century. The Marquette Range was home to the first of the enormously important Lake Superior mines that launched great manufacturing industries and helped create the wealth of Great Lakes cities from Milwaukee to Buffalo. Up to the mid 1870s the Marquette Range had the only important iron mines on Lake Superior. But by the end of the 1870s its rich, inexpensively mined surface deposits were becoming exhausted, and the Upper Peninsula's Menominee and Gogebic Ranges to the west were coming on strong with softer, somewhat less desirable ores.
The booming mines created great wealth. Though much wealth went east to investors in Cleveland, Boston and elsewhere, lots of money stayed in the port city of Marquette and in Ishpeming, center of mining operations. Early on the area's energetic, politically savvy boosters gained Marquette two important additional economic linchpins: the Upper Peninsula's first state prison and its normal school for teacher training, which became today's 9,300-student Northern Michigan University.
Monied Americans, mostly of Yankee origins, came to the region early and were able to make more. The mines attracted an immigrant workforce for underground and surface work. In 1892 92% of all Marquette Range miners were foreign-born. The 1900 census showed Marquette County's foreign-born to come mainly from Great Britain (23%, largely represented by the Cornish and some Irish ); Finland (22%); Canada, especially French-Canadians (20%); and Sweden-Norway (18%). (Norway was not yet independent.) Finnish immigration peaked in 1910, while Italian immigrants became a very large part of the ethnic mix between 1900 and 1920.
For the first and second immigrant generations, ethnic rivalry was typical, intensified by employment practices within the mines. Lumber camps were another important employment source, especially for French-Canadians. Native Americans, mostly Ojibwa, intermarried with Marquette-area pioneers and later arrivals. One of Marquette's richest men, Louis Kaufman, was proud of his Ojibwa ancestry. Today ethnic cultures, accents, homestyle cuisines, and genes have blended into a distinctive regional culture .
In Marquette the Episcopalians and Presbyterians were at the top of the social ladder. The Cornish Methodists were the cream of mining towns' society. The Finns, who over the years have added much to the current flavor of U.P. culture, were initially among the bottom of the heap socially. Though literate, they brought no mining skills. The pious "church Finns" were followed by those with more radical politics, the so-called "hall Finns."
Regional food specialties aren't only pasties , a Cornish introduction. A Marquette-area specialty is cudighi (pronounced "COULD-ih-GI"), a spicy Italian pork sausage patty served on a bun with tomato sauce. Scandinavians developed winter sports and introduced Heikki Luunta (HEY-kee LOON-tuh), the Finnish snow god, now part of the local culture.
The Depression reduced mining employment. So did mechanization. After World War II, the underground mines started closing, replaced by huge open-pit mines using new techniques to extract small percentages of low-grade ore from vast masses of rock. Two of these newer open-pit mines, the Empire and Tilden mines near Palmer south of Negaunee, are still going, and the Tilden mine can be toured in summer by advance reservation. The inactive open pit in Republic , four miles long, can be viewed any time. The Tilden and empire mines employ a well-paid work force of 1,800 - an important component of the local economy. Trains carrying taconite pellets still chug through Marquette to the ore dock near Presque Isle Park It's an impressive spectacle, watching them back their cars out an ore dock extending 1,200 feet into Marquette Bay to deposit their heavy loads in waiting freighters.
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