It was snowing. I met Dave Clark and he suggested that we go to a place I had never been--the old Boston & Albany Mine, and the Franklin Jr. Mine. Since new stuff is always good, I immediately agreed. We got in his car driving north across the Houghton Lift Bridge again and followed U.S. 41 for a few minutes before coming to the “Boston Location.” It looks more like a bunch of trees today than a town. The reason for the name is that many of the companies who mined Michigan’s copper were based in the old east-coast financial centers--especially Boston. Michigan had just recently become a state when the Michigan Copper Rush began in the 1840s, and its largest city, Detroit, was still very much remote from what was traditionally considered “the United States;” it was not a major industrial American city yet. Detroit was still an island out in the great wilderness known only as “the West,” and though it functioned as a major port, it was still not yet connected to the rest of the world by rails.
We parked on the road near a snowmobile crossing that was yet another former railway crossing, which cut across the road at an extreme angle. We donned the snowshoes and trotted down the old railroad grade after waiting for a snowmobile gang to pass by with a rush and a friendly wave, and pretty soon we were wading in deep snow by the former dam of the Boston Pond. Here was where the Boston Mine Co. had originally placed their old stamp mill (whose scant, fading ruins were completely buried beneath snow somewhere nearby), and had dammed the creek for that purpose. The first ruin we came upon was the remnants of a very old stamp mill:
The Franklin’s early mining efforts along the Albany and Boston property were a convoluted mess of failed starts and resets. In an almost desperate attempt to find suitable copper deposits to keep the company afloat, Franklin jumped back and forth between the two main lodes along the Boston property, as well as a few other smaller lodes and deposits scattered about. In the end the company managed to settle on the utilization of three main shafts, two along the old Albany and Boston Workings and a third at the north end of the Pewabic Lode.
At the beginning the Franklin Jr. concentrated the majority of its efforts along a northern extension of the Pewabic Lode, which happened to run across the old Albany and Boston property. But what at first seemed promising quickly turned out to be anything but. In response the Franklin Jr. turned its attention several hundred feet to the east–back to the Albany and Boston’s original workings atop the Allouez conglomerate. It turned out to be a smart move.
Due to the move, the majority of the Franklin Jr.’s surface plant would be aligned along the conglomerate lode, its two shafts straddling the old village of Boston between them. Those original shafts are marked today by a pair of towering concrete smoke stacks which rise high above the tree tops. These two stacks can be seen clearly from both Boston Road and U.S. 41.
But then the Ice Age came, and for billions of years the action of the glaciers grinded this jagged ancient mountain range down to little nubs, exposing at the surface the incredible volcanically-formed deposits of copper from deep below. Then the primeval forests grew, and eventually over millions of years added more layers of biological sediment. Finally man came, hollowed out the hills with mines, chopped down all the trees, and took them underground to use as supports to brace the tunnels and fire the furnaces of the smelters.
When these mines were all in operation, historical photos show the landscapes to be quite barren of tree cover, and everywhere was nothing but smokestacks; it was an unregulated industrial hell, and the Copper Country actually supported a high population. Today all the people have gone, the mining buildings are rubble, and the forests have returned. But vast worlds of stifling darkness still exist below…sealed up underneath these crumbling ruins.
As it turns out, Boston had abandoned this mine once in 1882, and when it was reclaimed in 1895 by the Franklin Jr. Mining Co., they rebuilt the hoist, but abandoned the original stamp mill in place, preferring to ship their ore down to a modern mill on Portage Lake. They managed to keep this mine open for awhile, but just barely.
I’m not sure where the “Jr.” moniker arose, but for the Franklin it represented a second generation in a mine that had fallen on hard times. By 1895 the Franklin’s Pewabic Lode shafts up on Quincy hill had been producing for nearly half a century–and were beginning to run dry. To make matters worse the Quincy Mine had managed to buy up almost every inch of land surrounding the old Franklin property, a move that had seriously hampered the old mine’s ability to drift and stope. In desperation the Franklin turned northward and bought up the defunct Peninsula properties at Boston (more commonly known as the Albany and Boston). This new acquisition became the Franklin Jr.By 1920 however, the Franklin Jr. was closed. According to Mindat.org, Franklin did more exploration work on the Kearsarge Lode, but results were unsatisfactory, and in 1933, the Franklin Mining Co. was dissolved.
The way into this ruin was a small window which we had to actually crouch down to enter, because of the height of the snow outside:
Dave had actually lost his way due to all the snow. He told me there was a faint trail that generally followed a pipe trench on the forest floor but obviously it was all invisible now, so he made his best guess and led the way through the endless taiga landscape of closely packed stands of fir, spruce, and cedar.
Lawrence Molloy explains that the town of Boston was once the abode of a very famous man--Big Louie Moilanen, the "Tallest Man on Earth." This was a man who even I remembered seeing a picture of in the Guinness Book as the world's tallest man when I was a kid. The mythical Finn was born in 1885 and stood 8'1", grew up on his parents farm in nearby Salo, and began working in the Franklin Jr. Mine as a timber setter, placing the large logs to shore up the tunnel walls, which was usually a three-man job. According to one webpage, Louie reportedly could carry two by himself. He was truly the mining equivalent of legendary lumberjack Paul Bunyan.
Not far away, we found the actual shaft of the Franklin Jr. Conglomerate #2. It is capped, and you cannot see it:
The metal structure in the photo looming from behind the rock pile is the old rock house, whose foundation we just walked through.
This was all there was to explore at this site, and Dave led the mile-or-so hike back to the car. It was snowing. Next we drove to the other side of U.S. 41, where the Franklin Jr. #1 and #3 sat. We parked again on the side of the road and donned snowshoes. First we had to hike a narrow trail through a dense stand of pines.
Soon I realized we were on yet another old railroad right-of-way, because dead ahead was another rock house foundation:
That bracket fungus was the size of my palm and was holding a glob of snow the size of a basketball.
Dave leads the way back.
The Copper Empire, Vol. 1, by Michael Forgrave
A Guide to Michigan's Historic Keweenaw Copper District, by Lawrence Molloy, pg. 43 74