Huron Mtns Trip, Pt.11: "Conglomerate"

October, 2012.

Return to Part 10

Day 6, continued.
At Mount Brockway the fitful weather of the Keweenaw had brought us the typical ten-minute weather cycles of constantly alternating sun and clouds. Business as usual.

Having stopped briefly in Copper Harbor, Michigan’s northernmost city, we then worked our way back down to Delaware Mine. We decided to be good little Boy Scouts and take the tour.

It’s not like you can see an extensive—non-flooded—copper mine any other way. After descending we found a disused cafeteria:

The Delaware has a tangled history, but I’ll try to sort it out for you (with a little bit of help from Lawrence Molloy’s Guide to Michigan’s Historic Keweenaw Copper District).

Here is the shaft we came in through, continuing down to the many levels flooded below us. 

Little did we know, Calumet TV6 was about to do a story on a dive team in the next couple days who would enter these long lost levels with underwater cameras.

From 1847 to 1907, eight different mining companies worked the multiple fissures in this immediate area. The town of Delaware peaked in population in 1880 but was down to 51 people by 1940.

You probably wouldn't have expected it, but the famous Horace Greeley (noted for coining the phrase, “Go West, Young Man”) visited the town twice in the 1840s, as the president of the North-West Mining Association, the first company to work this claim.

Greeley returned several more times in ensuing years, and there is a mountain nearby named after him, the tallest peak in the Keweenaw.

Keep in mind all these timbers are original. Some may date to the mid-1800s. None are less than a century old.

The Delaware was an early success—unlike most mines—with multiple shafts and a large, substantially-built surface plant. Which is nice, because many of the buildings’ ruins remained for us to enjoy on this fine autumnal day.

As they did with many, many sites in the region, the Calumet & Hecla juggernaut spent several years exploring this property after the Delaware died, to consider the potential for further mining with advanced methods. This did not pan out for Delaware however, and it was closed soon after.

The pipe along the floor is a pneumatic line for powering the automatic drills of course.

Another shaft—this is the Stoutenburgh shaft, named after the guy who discovered this particular vein, if I recall correctly:

The curved pieces of metal are the old tram rails. Looking up, behind me:

From another view, you can see there is what looks to be an old tram buried in the rubble:

Continuing along the same drift, I found another shaft leading up to the surface:

Another going down:

This was definitely the most vast mine I had ever been inside of. Another shaft:

Same shaft, from the other side:

Having reached the end of what was allowed for us to explore on the self-guided tour, we then headed up to the surface again to check out some ruins.

The breeze coming in across the highlands was making every single yellow birch leaf dance, giving the scene a very shimmering, magical quality.

I have rarely seen a more beautiful sight.

This guy who ran the place also had a bit of the requisite collection of rusting mechanical relics laying about as well.

Contraptions built to last many times longer than they will even remain technologically relevant.

The Delaware Mine closed in 1907.

Navi and I walked around in a reverie, enjoying the superb weather, and superb view to be had across the wide valley from these ruins.

To put things in an alternative perspective, consider the miniscule flyspeck copper towns of the Keweenaw this way: Imagine that the mine workings of these two- or three-digit population towns as a literal part of their “built environment.”

In other words, uproot the town of Delaware, which has nothing taller than a two-story building on the surface, and turn it upside-down. The mine workings reach a depth that is equivalent to a skyscraper 300 feet taller than the World Trade Center towers.

If you were to do this to each of the tiny mine towns of the Keweenaw Peninsula, you would have a string of about a hundred cities with World Trade Center-sized skyscrapers soaring along the 50 miles of US-41 from Houghton to Copper Harbor.

If you were to do the same to the city of Calumet, which today has a population of around 800, you would have about 21 separate skyscrapers, the tallest of which would be the Red Jacket Mine, at 4,920 feet. That's almost four times as tall as the World Trade Center; the c.1890s Red Jacket was the deepest mineshaft on this planet until modern times.

The tiny, unassuming town of Calumet, whose surface area totals but a couple square miles, sits atop a now-silent network of underground tunnels that comprises over 20 separate mines, all of them at or exceeding 4,000 feet deep, serving 30-40 levels each on average, many of which interconnect. The town that you see on the surface is therefore the smallest portion of the is like looking at the hump of a whale above the water and mistaking it for the whole.

The Houghton-Hancock area to the south is on a scale even greater than Calumet’s, with its deepest mine, the “Old Reliable” Quincy #2, bottoming out at 9,260 feet. That's seven World Trade Centers, and a full 6,538 feet taller than Burj Khalifa, the world’s tallest building. It had 92 levels reaching down seemingly almost to the molten soup of the Earth's mantle, and held the record as world's deepest when it shut down in 1945. In the bottom levels, the typical damp chill of the mine was replaced by a fair amount of natural heat.

Today, it is a pitch-black labyrinth of frigid water and perpetual midnight, having flooded almost to the top. Not only are the shafts deep, but the horizontal drifts spread out vastly as well.

Just another way of looking at these ruin sites, since it is so easy to forget just how much is below your feet.

This particular structure was definitely a boiler or engine house.

Here, the smokestack base of the compressor house, with part of the steel chimney even still present:

The poor rock piles again:

The tall mountain in the distance is the 1,466-foot Mt. Houghton.

It was at this point that Navi and I felt we had accomplished enough for the day and were in serious need of grub and beers back in Calumet at the Michigan House. Navi also was going to get his chance to scope out all the sweet architecture in that picturesque city. Personally, I think Calumet ranks as one of the three most beautiful towns in Michigan.

After that we were delightfully buzzed and well nourished, but not ready for bed yet, so we decided to hit the road again to get a jump on tomorrow’s driving south. We got as far as Baraga Cliffs before pulling off the road to camp. It was cold again, maybe even more so than last night at Silver Mountain.

CLICK for part 12

Guide to Michigan’s Historic Keweenaw Copper District, by Lawrence J. Molloy

No comments:

Post a Comment

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