Snowbound, Day 4: "Franklin Jr., and the World's Tallest Man"

January, 2011.

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:

Incidentally, says that the town of Boston was renamed Demmon in 1909, though I have also read elsewhere that it was the nearby town of Salo that was renamed Demmon.

The history behind these two mines has also always been a bit confusing, but if I understand correctly, in a nutshell the Old Franklin Jr. Mine and the Boston Mine worked the same part of the Pewabic Lode just north from Quincy Hill, but the Boston was not successful and eventually gave up their shafts there to move slightly down the road to sink new shafts. The old Boston shafts were eventually bought up and called Franklin Jr. Conglomerate #1 and #2, which subsequently were more successful.

Even Mike Forgrave seems to have been mildly frustrated in keeping track…thankfully he had Dave Clark to help him sort it all out on CopperCountryExplorer, haha:
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.

To make it all even more confusing, their property straddled two different lodes--the Pewabic Lode and the Allouez Lode. Mike continues,
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.

Even more convoluted yet, according to Molloy’s Guide to Michigan’s Historic Keweenaw Copper District, the Franklin Mining Co. absorbed the three shafts of the Rhode Island Mine in 1908 and they became part of the Franklin Junior complex, not to mention that the Peninsular Mine also tried to operate a shaft here. According to Molloy the Rhode Island Mine was started in 1860 and was immediately north of where the Franklin Jr. is now. Their #1 and #2 shafts and rock piles still exist, as does the St. Mary’s Mine, which was immediately to the south of Franklin Jr.

In case you aren’t aware of upper Michigan’s geologic history, let me break it down for a moment. I’m no geologist so bear with me. Bajillions of years ago, there was a “minor” failure in Earth’s crust, wherein an area approximately where the western half of Lake Superior lies, actually caved in. This resulted in a slab of the Earth’s crust on the outer edge of this collapse to tilt up above the water’s surface, exposing itself in cross-section. Having emerged from the depths, this volcanic fault line that we now call the Keweenaw Peninsula was then a towering, mountainous ridge where pure molten copper happened to bubble upward and manifest itself in richer areas referred to as lodes.

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.

Dave has the "newfangled" style of snowshoes; the kind that let you climb hills…and he had a lot more experience in them, so I had a hard time keeping up with him. There were the stone ruins of the old stamp mill we just passed a minute ago, but now Dave led me to the giant concrete foundation of a hoist engine. Boston & Albany Mine Co. opened this shaft in 1865, and poured concrete did not come into use up here until much later...why would there be both these building material types used at the same mine?

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.

Mike explained,
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, 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:

I had to remove my snowshoes so I could fit through the hole, but Dave’s were narrow enough to where he didn’t have to. Upon jumping inside, my left leg immediately stabbed down into what felt like a hole (but was actually a pile of old tires), and I found myself stuck up to my nippies in the snow. Dave had to pull me up, and I managed to walk about in here only with laborious difficulty. Luckily I did not have far to go to reach the tunnel, which was thankfully free of snow. Half-buried in drifts like this, its geometry seemed to suggest the entrance to some eldritch labyrinth or tomb:

Inside the tunnel I saw this icicle which had formed “dry,” and which was crystal clear, like acrylic. I wish I could’ve gotten a sharper shot:

Coming out into the other side of the ruin, I could see that the situation was just as snowy:

It was actually hard to tell what we were looking at under all this, but here is a panoramic photo of the hoist ruin that Mike took in summer: CLICK

We crawled back out of there, and putting on my snowshoes again I followed Dave toward the smokestack of the Franklin Jr. #2’s boiler house. The next ruin we would encounter was the rock-house foundation of the #2.

Uh-oh, looks like we’re on the turf of a serious street gang…

This was a sketchy lookin’ hood. After passing the stripped skeleton of a stolen snowmobile, I kept expecting any minute to come around a corner to see a Yooper in flannel gang colors holding a deer rifle sideways at my head and demanding I fork over my snowshoes.

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.

All of a sudden I realized that I had lost sight of Dave. I had been following a slightly different path through the trees, stopping every so often to take a picture, and now I couldn’t find his tracks. I had his form in view moving between the pines in the distance every couple moments, but now he had totally disappeared, and his tracks along with him. Snow continued to fall, as always. I stopped to listen and thought I heard a rustle to my left--when I looked, I saw him moving inside a dark grove of cedars. But what took me aback was the fact that this dark grove of cedars was made out of--stone?

I was seeing the edge of one half of a rock house foundation, completely wreathed in evergreens. It soared above my head in stark, angular magnificence that could only be emphasized by being hidden under snow and cedar boughs:

This also lent it an air of being a “secret” location that could only be found by following a hidden path. Imagine being some random explorer wading through endless trees and suddenly bumping into this monolith, not knowing an inkling of the history of the area. Would be pretty mind-boggling.

I followed Dave into the narrow margin between the ruin and the wall of trees, breathing in the heavy aromatic potpourri-scent of giizhik as I went.

Between the two halves of the rock house ruin, things were quite peaceful and serene. It was like being inside a pretty snow globe…far different from what the scene here would’ve been like a century ago: we’d be pressed up against railcars with hundreds of tons of copper ore raining down noisily on our heads through the rock crusher's steel chute.

If the concrete here seems a little darker than your normal concrete, that’s probably the result of using Allouez Lode conglomerate aggregate in the mix, which has a dark red tone to it. I'd say it's in decent shape for being a century old.

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.

Big Louie quickly found out however that because of his size he would have no career in the cramped mines, so he became a sideshow attraction in the circus and traveled the world. But Louie quickly tired of being gawked at, and returned home to his beloved Keweenaw to become a tavern owner, and later successfully ran for Justice of the Peace for the city of Hancock in 1911. Big Louie died in 1913, the year of the great Copper Country Strike.

Not far away, we found the actual shaft of the Franklin Jr. Conglomerate #2. It is capped, and you cannot see it:

The cap here is a cement slab poured over the shaft collar which itself is of concrete, and an old rail sticks out of it with the mine’s name welded into it for identification, like a tombstone. No vent on this one, just a cap. What I wouldn’t give to descend into one of these old labyrinths. Here’s a historical photo, but I don't think I see Big Louie in there anywhere: CLICK

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:

This one belonged to the #3, whose shaft incidentally sat wide open just a few yards away. Dave however was not keen to venture near, saying that it was an endeavor best left to summertime, when one can see what one is stepping on.

We then made a 90-degree right turn and traversed a wide open clearing where the rock pile had once been, but was undoubtedly hauled away over time to be turned into new roads (as is so often their fate). Directly ahead now I could see the soaring pillar that had been the #1’s boiler plant smokestack:

Ruins began coming into view.

Here was another case of stone buildings alongside cement ones. This extremely tall sheer rock wall has presented something of a classic mystery to my Copper Country exploring colleagues:

Their theories suggest that it was part of the boiler house or coal bins.

This shorter concrete structure attached to it however is not on the Sanborn maps, and remains open to speculation:

The tall wall again:

Walking around behind…

Did I mention it was snowing?

That bracket fungus was the size of my palm and was holding a glob of snow the size of a basketball.

Here is the mammoth hoist foundation of the #1 Franklin Jr.:

Dave leads the way back.

It was snowing.

CLICK for part five

The Copper Empire, Vol. 1, by Michael Forgrave
A Guide to Michigan's Historic Keweenaw Copper District, by Lawrence Molloy, pg. 43 74

No comments:

Post a Comment

Note: Only a member of this blog may post a comment.