Miners, Put Your Lights Out

Here, just south of Painesdale, Michigan, is truly a gem of preserved Copper Country heritage, a collection of old buildings that I had always overlooked, or dismissed for some reason. When my exploring colleague Dan Glass joined me in the Keweenaw on vacation one year, he suggested we go see the Champion Mine #4. For whatever reason I had never really had this particular mine site on my radar as something to check out, but if I had realized it was so picturesque and such an amazing time capsule, I would have made it a priority much sooner. 

You may recall my other posts exploring the ruins of the massive Champion Stamp Mill on the shore of Lake Superior, in the town of Freda: Of Stamps, & Smelters (Part 1), and Sisu, Part 3: "Warp World". That mill processed the ore taken from the Champion Mine, and others.

In 1996 the Painesdale Mine & Shaft, Inc. was formed to preserve the history and heritage of this site in hopes of reopening it as a museum, and they installed corrugated metal sheathing on the structure to better close it up from the elements. Obviously, as with everything that happens in the Upper Peninsula, progress has been slow.

In 1999, Upper Peninsula congressman Bart Stupak visited to give his blessing to the project. In 2001, they received the Robert Bergdahl Award for outstanding work in local historic preservation.

The Champion #4 shafthouse (the tall, sheetmetal structure here) was built in 1902 and was part of the Copper Range Mining Co.'s holdings that ran from Atlantic Mine to Painesdale. It was one of the more reliable and longest-lived of Michigan's copper mines. Painesdale Mine & Shaft's website even has a page of collected oral histories from different folks recalling what life was like at the old mine.

This is the last shafthouse still standing south of Portage Lake, as well as the oldest of the four still remaining in the entire Keweenaw from a time when hundreds dotted the countryside. The other three survivors are Centennial #6Osceola #13, and Quincy #2, all of which I have explored in other posts. But unlike the others, which were steadily updated with technological improvements through the decades, the Champion #4 is basically still the same as it was when it was built.

According to copperrange.org, it is unique in the fact that it is one of the old style shaft-rockhouses that predated the period of modern copper mining and automated crushing, unlike the other still-standing shafts of the Copper Country. It was "built in a time when hand labor and brute force were used to move mountains, the rockhouse crushing floor is not as automated as later shaft-rockhouses were." Mike Forgrave explains:
While Quincy had multiple dumps along the skip road that served multiple purposes (one for tools, one for poor rock, and one for copper rock), the Champion had only one that served all purposes. And while Quincy relied on high-tech sorting devices such as grizzlies to sort rock coming up from the mine, the Champion relied on men to do the sorting by hand. The efficiency and high-tech rockhouse of Quincy stands in sharp contrast to the dirty brute force showcased at Champion.
Mike was allowed a peek inside the #4 to sample its intact juiciness in a c.2008 post on coppercountryexplorer.com. It's amazing what a time capsule this place is. Mike also made a more detailed interactive DVD tour of the interior of this shaft house around the same time. The #4 is well sealed, and there was no one around to let me in during our visit.

The Champion Mining Co. was organized in 1899 but became part of the Copper Range Consolidated Co. in 1901, and consisted of four mine shafts. Mike Forgrave writes that by the early 1900s the nature of copper mining in Michigan had gone from being a galaxy of fly-by-night holes in the ground run by "mom & pop," and transformed into a full-fledged industry, with large corporations forming to stabilize it. 

The two major players in Michigan's copper industry were Calumet & Hecla (C&H), and Quincy Mining, who vied for dominance over the Keweenaw Peninsula. Meanwhile, southern lands between Houghton and the Porcupine Mountains–it was rapidly being discovered–contained just as much copper as the Keweenaw, just waiting to be unearthed.

The Copper Range Consolidated Co. formed to take advantage of this, and they bought up the Champion Mine as well as several other promising ventures along the rich Baltic Lode. One could almost look at Copper Range, C&H, and Quincy as the Chrysler, GM, and Ford of the Yoopee. 

You may recall I mounted a thorough expedition to the Trimountain Mine's ruins several years ago, which was also one of Copper Range Consolidated's holdings, located just north of Painesdale.

The Champion #4 shaft was so successful that it had been delved to 48 levels by the 1930s, or 4,800 feet below ground on the incline, according to mindat.org. It was eventually maxed-out at 56 levels, which is about twice as deep as the Burj Khalifa is tall. That might sound like a lot, but the Quincy Mine #2 was 92 levels deep.

My colleague Craig Aldinger, who writes TheCopperCountryMaps blog, found this incredible grand-scale isometric projection diagram of the underground workings of the entire Champion Mine (shafts 1 through 4), drawn by the U.S. Geological Survey: plate-17-page-01.jpg

The mindat entry also says that in 1945 the #4 shaft closed briefly so that all equipment below the 48th could be removed in accordance with plans to abandon those bottom levels. I imagine that the hoped-for profits at that depth did not pan out, and work continued on the 18th level in 1948. The Champion #3 shaft was also reopened in 1954, on its 12th and 18th levels. It would seem they had pretty well homed-in on the remaining ore body by that time, but again, the mines of Painesdale would all be closed by September of 1967, and the last copper mines left in the Keweenaw would cease operations in 1968.

Also on copperrange.org is a history of the mine written by Kevin E. Musser, wherein he illustrates how the Champion came into its own as a copper producing powerhouse around the time of World War I. The #4 proved to be so productive he said, that stamp sands (waste from the mill) were in fact dumped back into the shaft to help support the rest of the mine. By 1916 Painesdale was peaking in population Musser wrote, with a total of 200 homes. It even became necessary to build a sawmill to meet the demand for new home construction in the town, but it was torn down in the 1930s.

Copper Country historian Lawrence J. Molloy writes in his Guide to Michigan's Historic Keweenaw Copper District that the school in Painesdale also served children in the satellite communities of Freda and Redridge, where the Champion Mining Co.'s stamp mill and dam were located (I explored both of these ruins in older posts). Every morning, Molloy writes, the students from these remote tiny communities would arrive by "school train," which brought empty rock cars and students back to the mines, and every afternoon return them back to the Lake Superior shore full of students going home along with more rock to be milled.

Mike Forgrave shares some historic views of Painesdale in another post on CopperCountryExplorer.

The net income for the entire Copper Range Co. in 1929 was the highest in ten years, Musser says, as well as for the next ten years combined, although it was still nothing compared to the "glory years" of the 1910s. The Champion suffered through the Great Depression, but inflated copper prices and government defense contracts during WWII naturally benefitted the Copper Range Co., saving them from dissolution. By the end of the war however, Champion Mine had shut down all of its shafts except for #4, which was limited to just one shift. 

Forgrave explains that the Champion #4 represented the "last hope" of the Copper Range Consolidated Co., whose holdings along the Baltic Lode were slowly running out of copper, and folding up. Though the aptly-named "Champion" was still profitable, it was gradually becoming less and less so, he writes, which kept its parent company afloat into the 1950s.

When the Korean War started, it once again was to the benefit of the copper companies, who enjoyed fat government contracts and a controlled market. But as Mike notes, the company also received large government loans to explore new sources of copper and develop new methods of extraction, which resulted in the launching of the modern White Pine Mine in Ontonagon County by 1955. Although it subsisted off of chemical mining as opposed to digging for native deposits, the White Pine's production figures far surpassed those of a traditional copper mine of the Keweenaw Peninsula.

By 1963, 95% of Copper Range Consolidated's profits came from the White Pine Mine, meaning that the Champion #4 was obsolete, but it was allowed to remain open for four more years–perhaps, Mike speculates, out of a reluctance to deal the inevitable death blow to the town of Painesdale.

On September 11, 1967, the #4 delivered its last load of rock to the Champion Stamp Mill in Freda. Despite the loss of their raison d'ĂȘtre, both towns still manage to cling to a few residents somehow.

As I discussed in my post about C&H's Centennial Mine #6, most people think the death of copper mining in Michigan was due to the copper simply "running out," but this isn't necessarily true. The copper was still down there, but it was a combination of mounting operational expenses to extract it, a nine-month labor strike over safety issues, and the fact that C&H had recently been bought out by Universal Oil Products (which was not particularly interested in copper mining, or the livelihood of the Keweenaw–but rather C&H's more lucrative Detroit holding, Wolverine Tube Co.). It was all three of these factors that contributed to bringing about the death of the Keweenaw Copper Country in 1968. 

Although the Champion closed as a mine, its days of usefulness were not over. Mike Forgrave notes on coppercountryexplorer.com that there just so happened to be a large underground aquifer that intersected with the mine's lower levels, which the township decided to utilize for supplying its residents with water. This was undoubtedly another factor contributing to the 1940s decision to abandon all levels below the 48th–it was probably too expensive to keep it pumped out and dry while mining.

It was as a result of its being reused as a municipal water plant that some of the mine's surface buildings were left intact. The shaft house, hoist house, and others facilitated the installation and maintenance of several underground pumps and other equipment for this new use.

This is the hoist house for the #4 shaft, which if I'm not mistaken was originally called the "E" shaft:

I snuck a quick peek inside, and to my shock the hoist itself still appeared to be fully intact:

Strolling down the railroad tracks a little bit...

These two long shed-type structures were the machine shop and blacksmith shop, respectively:

On the right in the next shot is the #4's dryhouse, later used as a paint shop:

One of the last structures we checked out before departing the site was the oil house, seen at left.

The oil house was one of many owned in the area by Champion Mining, and there was a large tank under this tiny building where the oil was stored. It was dispensed by these pumps for the various lubrication needs of the machinery on site.

The writing says, "LET'S TRY TO KEEP OUR PEN CLEAN":

Here was one of the pumps, with a hand-written fire safety bulletin painted on the wall behind it:

I assume that this message referred to the head-lamps worn on the miners' helmets so they could see underground, which originally burned whale oil, and later acetylene.

"That's a wrap, everyone..."

The Copper Empire, Vol. 1, by Mike Forgrave, p. 1, 21
A Guide to Michigan's Historic Keweenaw Copper District, by Lawrence J. Molloy, p. 49

For a Brief Moment in History

I had pretty much had my fill of exploring abandoned schools in Detroit by the time I got around to checking out the Hutchins Intermediate School on Woodrow Wilson Street. But I happened to be walking on an errand one day from my girlfriend's place near New Center, so I decided to take a quick jaunt through it and the Crosman School a few blocks away. I had no idea that at least ten famous performing artists had gone to Hutchins during their childhood. Now I wish I had taken a longer look, and more photos.

According to a Detroit Educational Bulletin from 1922, this school was named after Dr. Harry Burns Hutchins, sixth president of the University of Michigan, and was dedicated in October of that year, at the dawn of Frank Cody's administration as superintendent of the Detroit Public Schools. I spoke at length about the importance of Frank Cody as a historical figure in an older post.

An essay in the bulletin entitled The Intermediate School in Detroit, by Deputy Superintendent Charles L. Spain (et al) said that the Detroit Public Schools' building plan under the Cody administration called for an ultimate goal by the year 1930 of 123 elementary schools (grades K-6), 22 intermediate schools (grades 7-8-9), and 14 "cosmopolitan high schools" (grades 10-11-12). So far, there were five intermediate schools in operation, with Hutchins and Barbour having just opened during the second semester of the 1921-'22 school year. 

The biography Frank Cody: A Realist in Education, spends plenty of time discussing the administrative accomplishments of Superintendent Cody, who it could be said was the man most responsible for the grand scale and number of school buildings constructed across Detroit during the 1920s. Cody's building plan was designed to meet the needs of a city whose population was expanding exponentially. The book says that Barbour and Hutchins schools are twins, architecturally; prototypes of the template that was repeated several more times across the city as Cody built more intermediate schools in the various neighborhoods. The authors of the book provide a narrated tour of Hutchins for the reader, describing its many features and assets. Barbour and Hutchins were also two of the first schools erected in the city since 1919. 

As with most of the other schools built in the city during Cody's reign, Hutchins was designed by local architects Malcomson & Higginbotham.

The school paper in the early days was called the Hutchins Star, and despite being produced by pre-teenagers, in the 1930s it contained interviews with such notable Detroiters as Ossip Gabrilowitsch (conductor of the Detroit Symphony), Jessie Bonstelle (founder of Detroit Civic Theater), Albert Kahn (architect), Eddie Stinson (trans-Atlantic pilot), Eleanor Hutzel (policewoman), Frank Murphy (mayor and U.S. Supreme Court Justice), Ida Lippman (lawyer), Dorothy Probst (landscape architect), and Superintendent Frank Cody. The mascot and team name for the school was the "Hutchins Bulldogs."

Hutchins School sat exactly three blocks from the starting point of the 1967 Riot, putting it right in the heart of the chaos during that week-long rebellion. According to a person posting on atdetroit.net/forum, Hutchins was one of the schools that the National Guard took over and used as a field command post during the conflict, with soldiers sleeping in the classrooms and hallways.

The Hutchins neighborhood started out as mostly Jewish (as illustrated by the large former synagogue, Beth Tefilo Emanuel, at Woodrow Wilson & Taylor), but became mostly black by 1960. The book Names We Call Home: Autobiography on Racial Identity contains an essay by David Wellman called "Red and Black In White America" where he recalls just how crazily diverse this neighborhood was in the 1950s while its demographic was shifting, and of how for that brief moment in time Hutchins served as a hip melting pot for Detroit stars like Lily Tomlin, Al Young (writer), Smokey Robinson, Diana Ross, Martha Reeves, Marvin Franklin (of The Temptations), Donald Byrd (jazz trumpeter), Barrett Strong (Motown songwriter), Aretha Franklin, and many other kids from very different walks of life.

I wonder if any of them ever performed on this stage in school talent shows prior to their becoming famous?

According to detroitmemories.com, actress Ellen Burstyn also attended both Hutchins and Cass Technical High. Lily Tomlin went on to Cass Tech as well, where she was voted "most popular" and "most school spirited," according to an mlive.com article. In another AP article from 1972, a friend of Tomlin's recalls the hypnotist act they used to perform while goofing off in the balcony during gym class at Hutchins. Burstyn lived at 3271 and 3277 Hazelwood, while Tomlin grew up at 8917 Byron Street, one block from the school itself.

Burstyn and Tomlin were a little older than the Motown kids; having been born in the 1930s, they would have just left Hutchins by the time Aretha attended, who was born in 1942. Predictably, it was right after the 1967 Riot that the school's enrollment began on a downward trend from which it would never recover, as the surrounding neighborhood's population began to thin out with the onset of white flight. Thirty years later, the school would be deemed to have too few pupils to remain open.

An obituary in the June 4, 1998 Free Press told of the life and times of one more notable Detroiter who was affiliated with Hutchins, Robert Orse, a humanitarian and former teacher there, whose most noteworthy accomplishment may have been persuading the City of Detroit to institute formal plans for integrating more black employees into the ranks of its police and fire departments after the 1967 Riot. He also fought to improve regulations and conditions for inmates at Wayne County Jail, he worked in labor relations at Chrysler, and promoted fire and auto safety with AAA.

Another person at atdetroit.net/forum posted claiming that Hutchins had two swimming pools (I didn't check), and it might have been used as a Detroit Recreation Department center during the summers "because there is still a sign near the pool that says Detroit Recreation Department."

Blight and crime has been a serious problem in the Hutchins neighborhood for decades. A Free Press article from March 1981 tells the story of the abandoned house at 1503 Blaine, across the street from Hutchins' playground. In January of that year a 12-year-old girl was snatched from the school grounds by a middle-aged man who forced her into the house, where he raped her. The residents in the area had been trying to get the city to do something about 1503 Blaine for five months prior to the incident.

Perhaps it was for the best that I didn't spend more than my brief moment inside Hutchins; according to one fellow explorer, the place was wired with battery-powered motion-sensing security cameras that fed video directly to police. If you want to see a few more good photos of the interior, check out his HERE.

The Hutchins program relocated in 2007 to the futuristic new McMichael School building on McGraw & 16th, until it closed in 2011, becoming a Detroit Police facility. Meanwhile the Crosman Alternative School next to Herman Kiefer Hospital moved into the old Hutchins building. By 2009 however the Crosman program ended as well, and the old Hutchins School was abandoned.

Just for reference, I marked up the following aerial photo taken from Bing.com to show the disposition of this school and the other culturally important buildings/sites in this neighborhood of Virginia Park that I have posted about such as the Crosman School and Tried Stone Baptist Church:

Image from Bing.com
Below is a brief list of other posts on this website where I discuss vacant Detroit Public Schools, all but the last two of which were built during Superintendent Cody's reign:
Wilbur Wright Vocational High School
Mackenzie High School
Jane Cooper Elementary School
Breitmeyer School
Grayling Elementary School
Sherrard Intermediate School
McMillan School
Emma Thomas School

Frank Cody: A Realist in Education, by Detroit Public Schools Staff, p. 276-281, 440
The Detroit Educational Bulletin, Vol. 6, No. 3 (1922), p. 8, 9
The Detroit Educational Bulletin, Vol. 6, Research Bulletin (October, 1922), p. 10
"Abandoned Houses: Ugly Havens for Ugly Deeds," Detroit Free Press, March 1, 1981, p. 3
"Robert Orse: Led Early Detroit Affirmative Action," Detroit Free Press, June 4, 1998, p. 20
Names We Call Home: Autobiography on Racial Identity, edited by Becky Thompson, Sangeeta Tyagi, p. 32
Home in Detroit, by T. Burton, p. 60, 78, 96, 98
The Southern Diaspora: How the Great Migrations of Black and White Southerners Transformed America, by James N. Gregory
"Lily Tomlin the Same Offstage," Florence Times Daily (AP), June 11, 1972, p. 13
Histories of the Public Schools of Detroit, Vol. 3 (1967), p. 1309-1311

The Money Maker

When my colleagues Dan and Ava visited my girlfriend and I during our yearly Keweenaw Peninsula retreat, we spent some time rambling the countryside in search of new stuff none of us had checked out before. 

Near Copper City we pulled over to turn around and noticed this old tow truck, evidently once owned by "Krazy Cooter's Towing," which naturally mandated a photo-op:

The next morning I happened to pass through the same area again, and stopped to take a better look at the ruined foundations nearby. As I later found out by doing some quick page-flipping, this was once the site of the Ahmeek Mine's #1 and #2 shafts. You may recall that I explored the impressive ruins of the Ahmeek Stamp Mill in a couple older posts.

Lawrence Molloy's A Guide to Michigan's Historic Keweenaw Copper District says that Copper City was a residential community built for the Ahmeek, Mohawk, and Kearsarge mines. It was not affiliated with any of the mining companies, but was designed by real estate man Edward Ulseth in 1907 because he saw a need to provide more homes for the miners of the area. The Kingston Mine was also right in the same immediate area as the Ahmeek.

Ahmeek Mining Co. was founded in 1880, and according to Molloy they built their mill near here in 1902, at which time the small town of Ahmeek was built up around it. By the way, the name "Ahmeek" comes from the Ojibwe word for "beaver," amik.

This is the hoist and compressor house for the #1 shaft, with the boiler house almost immediately adjacent to it. It seems to have housed the hoists for not only the #1 but also the #2 shaft under the same roof, with the cables leaving opposite sides of the structure.

As usual the concrete foundations were all that remained after the steel structures were reclaimed for scrap decades ago, which meant that detective work would be needed to figure out the specific purpose this particular structure served at the mine. My first guess was that it was an engine or boiler house of some kind, but I was also seeing foundations that looked a lot like hoist footings. Luckily two of my colleagues had already done the detective work for me....

This looks like a flue-way to the base of a smokestack that I'm standing on top of here:

And here is what looks like an old-style stone base for an early smokestack...

...leading me to believe that this was the ruins of a boiler house?

My colleague Mike Forgrave's post on CopperCountryExplorer explains that "Wherever you find the foundation to a steam engine (or three in our case) you are bound to find a boiler house nearby." The Ahmeek Mine was built before the advent of the electric hoist he says, and therefore relied on steam power for everything, which meant that an old stone boiler house ruin was indeed lurking here immediately adjacent to the more modern concrete hoist house ruin.

The Ahmeek Mine's beginnings were rather dismal, as Mike points out. Since they were unsuccessful in extracting profitable copper from the Houghton Conglomerate Lode, work was soon abandoned. He says that another richer lode was discovered on the same property over 20 years later however, the Kearsarge Amygdaloid Lode, and new work resumed with much better results. Productivity was so much better in fact, that the great Calumet & Hecla mining corporation bought up the Ahmeek Mine in 1923, as it had become one of the most productive on the Keweenaw Peninsula.

Mike says that the Ahmeek #2 shaft even acquired a reputation across the Copper Country as the "Money Maker" because it was so reliable, even when compared with some of the other all-star mines such as the Centennial #2Quincy #2Champion #4, and the C&H itself. It set several annual ore production records and "became the most productive single shaft in Copper Country history," according to Mike.

As Mike writes, "The Ahmeek Mine was the savior that C&H had desperately been searching for." The great Calumet & Hecla Mine's own copper productivity began to wane, so they began looking at other smaller mines to see if there was a hot new area they could buy up interest in. The Kearsarge Amygdaloid Lode was that promising new area that filled the bill, so their corporate management began buying out as many mines along this lode as they could–including the Ahmeek Mine.

The reason this foundation is such a vast ruin (as illustrated above) is because it supported a lot of heavy machinery; it functioned as both a hoist house and a compressor house, for two mines. The hoists are what pull the miners and ore up out of the mine, while the compressors provide the pneumatic pressure to run the miners' drills underground.

The Ahmeek #2 turned out to be a stellar investment for C&H, and soon was accounting for the majority of their copper production for the next 40 years, Mike wrote. It even weathered the C&H consolidation and stayed open until the bitter end in the mid-1960s.

The entire Ahmeek Mine consisted of a total of four shafts, and had an elaborate surface plant, including several other split buildings that were shared between the #1 and #2 shafts. Besides the hoist / compressor house here, these included the rockhouse, the boiler plant, and the dryhouse.

The #3 and #4 Ahmeek shafts were located a little ways from here, and anyone who has driven that section of M-26 will recognize the big hoist houses of that complex, now occupied by a woodworking business.

According to my colleague Craig Aldinger, who writes TheCopperCountryMaps blog, the Ahmeek #1 and #2 were originally connected by a 1,440 foot elevated trestle, while the rockhouse was in the middle between the two. The twin hoists were set up back-to-back, whose cables ran close to the ground for most of their run between the hoist houses and headframes...a very unorthodox configuration overall.

In 1915 Craig writes that all production switched over to the Ahmeek #2 while the #1 shaft was abandoned, and they mostly continued using the same layout with few changes. So half of this hoist house was shut down, while the other half was kept in use.

Mike Forgrave says that this big barn-shaped building was the dryhouse for the #1 and #2 shafts, where the miners were able to change clothes and shower in between shifts. There were rows and rows of lockers in here for all of the miners that used to work here back in the heydays. Nowadays the building seems to be used for some kind of industrial storage.

And this is another photo from the same series, which I cannot now remember where I took it at:

Don't you hate it when that happens?

The Copper Empire, Vol. 1, by Mike Forgrave, p. 11, 40
A Guide to Michigan's Historic Keweenaw Copper District, by Lawrence J. Molloy, p. 63, 64