I returned to my motel room to check out, and call Brad Livingston at the Bergland/Matchwood Historical Museum before I got underway. Brad is directly descended from miners who worked the old Norwich Hill that I explored the previous summer, and wrote about in the Norwich Report. He took a keen interest in my story, saw my photos of the mines there and asked me for copies so he could print and hang them in the museum, since he said they were the best (and only) ones he had ever seen.
I hit the road toward the Iron Range from Houghton, following M-26 in its southwesterly-snaking direction amongst the hills. It was snowing.
A room upstairs had a lot of artifacts pertaining to the old Norwich mines, and surrounding village. Brad also told me immensely more about the area’s history than I can relate here. The big bucket is actually a kibble--which was used to haul ore out of the Norwich Hill mines in the 1850s:
Leaving Bergland by the westward road, I crossed into Gogebic County, and the Central Time Zone. I had originally been drawn here by photos of the Peterson Mine complex posted on the CCE forum by fellow explorer Dan Glass a few years ago, but I had now also found another potentially tasty looking specimen near it called the Newport-Bonnie Mine, which looked doable. This area was positively peppered with old iron mining sites, but looking at them on Google Earth shows that most were either pit mines that have been flooded, or completely wiped away. Just outside Wakefield, near the aptly-named “Crusher Drive,” I saw this:
Early Michigan surveyor William A. Burt noted his magnetic compass needle would spin erratically in certain areas, indicating the discovery of massive iron deposits (he subsequently invented the solar compass). Iron mining began in Michigan in the 1840s, roughly the same time as copper mining, and continues to this day.
According to Michigan State University well over one billion tons of ore has been extracted since then, and Michigan still produces 25% of America’s iron ore. The Great Lakes has one of the world’s largest and richest iron deposits--the ores were often around 60% pure, and therefore could be shipped directly to the steel mill without further refinement.
|Courtesy of MSU Geology Dept.|
Around any well-established iron mining town if you look at an aerial view, you can see deep ponds, or strangely blighted areas that appear boggy. These are either open-pit mines that have been tapped out and flooded to form a lake, or what are known as "subsidence areas" or "caving ground"--literally zones that have begun to sink due to collapses in underground mines.
It looks like just any old building now, but I feel I should give you an idea of what these now-desolate areas looked like in the heyday of mining. The following are historical photos of the Newport Mine, circa 1920s, from the archives of Michigan Tech:
However, according to the book Traveling Through Time: A Guide to Michigan's Historical Markers, by Laura R. Ashlee, the iron deposits here were actually discovered by a Harvard geologist, Raphael Pumpelly in 1871, who named Newport Hill after his hometown in Rhode Island. The state historic marker (which I somehow didn't see when I was here) also claims the dates of operation for the mine were different than those quoted by HAER: 1884 to 1966. Gogebic County had produced over 255 million tons of iron ore by that time.
Looks like it had a craneway:
Another fascinating factoid: the border between these two states is still technically under legal dispute to this day. I think Michigan has had more boundary conflicts than perhaps any other state--and certainly the feistiest. First came the “Toledo War” against Ohio, which actually resulted in Michigan being awarded the Upper Peninsula--a piece of land that would’ve eventually belonged to Wisconsin otherwise. The border with Indiana is still being argued about as well, which originally reached as far south as Gary. A sliver of Lake Superior bottomland was given over to Minnesota at Pigeon Point. Finally, the Wisconsin border was bandied over during the early 20th century, at a time when mining was certainly in full swing, and I would almost have to imagine some of the contention that arose from that conflict was no doubt driven by speculation as to the mineral riches that lay beneath that very boundary soil.
I eyed the houses across the street with some nervousness, and made quick work of these mostly empty buildings. A couple were sealed tightly, and I did not try to coax them.
I jumped back in my car and headed over to the Cardiff Mine, a mere 200 yards away. I assume the Cardiff namesake is a product of the Welsh predilection for the mining trades; many immigrants came to Michigan’s mineral ranges and engaged in work here, but the best and most sought-after miners were the Cornish, and they along with the Welsh and Scandinavians most often became foremen, engineers, and captains, whereas the Italians, Poles, Irish, Slavs, and Mexicans were used as grunts to do the mucking and tramming.
The headframe of this mine looked different than those I was accustomed to seeing in Copper Country; it was markedly stubbier, and suggested a vertical mineshaft. As I would later learn, this seems to be the norm in the Iron Range.
Unfortunately the headframe was well sealed, so I made my way back to the car.
The sign indicates that the small fenced area encloses an old air shaft for the mine.
I had visited this ruin in summer of 2006, but never featured my photo of it anywhere:
Unfortunately the rotating tubular design of his furnace developed problems, and Jones began dumping money into trying to correct it with the help of consulting engineers. By the end of two years, he had exhausted his personal fortune, and ended up losing his house without ever perfecting the invention. The Ardis Furnace was dismantled and sold for scrap, and Jones moved on to other projects. Some elements of his furnace design were however successfully employed in later technologies by others.
It was time to forge ahead to the twin towns of Norway-Vulcan. I was very grateful when I crossed back into the Eastern Time Zone.
By this point in the mission I was very weary, and ready to be amongst my friends again, having been up here in the northern wastes for almost a week straight. It was time to head home. The road that still lay ahead would take about 10 hours to conquer.
The next night while I was at home writing this, I got word that Norwich Brad had been snowed-in. They received two more feet, piled on top of the approximately three feet they already had standing. The temperature reported at Bruce Crossing was -27F, and the plow wouldn’t be able to come through for three days. I had escaped the Yoopee just in time.
Traveling Through Time: A Guide to Michigan's Historical Markers, by Laura R. Ashlee, pg. 140
The Upper Peninsula of Michigan, An Inventory of Historic Engineering and Industrial Sites, HAER (1978)