Flashback Friday: The Milwaukee Road’s Ontonagon Station

Archive Image of the Milwaukee Road's Ontonagon Station
Exterior of the Ontonagon station.

Today’s Flashback Friday is a quick glimpse back to the Chicago Milwaukee St. Paul and Pacific railroad station in Ontonagon. Once the terminus of the line’s famed Chippewa passenger route, the depot has performed only freight service for several years. The Chippewa now terminates its Chicago-Milwaukee and northern Michigan service at Channing.

The first photograph is an exterior view of the station. The second photo shows the crew as they pause for a moment in the sun before the return journey, the next stop of which will be Rockland or Mass. From left, James Benish, conductor; H. M. Leeman, engineer; L. Lindeman, fireman; F. J. Bender, Ontonagon agent; W. Schaltz, brakeman, and Donald Carey, brakeman. All crewmen are from Channing. The agent resides in Ontonagon. These images ran in the Daily Mining Gazette on this day in 1958.

 

Archive Image of the Milwaukee Road's crew.
The crew pause for a moment in the sun, November 8, 1958.

Flashback Friday: Mining History at Copper Falls Mine

Break time underground. (MTU Neg 03074)

Happy Flashback Friday! We hope that you all had a howling good time at the Haunted Mine tour put on by students at Michigan Tech and hosted by the Quincy Mine Hoist Association! Undoubtedly, the deep, dark recesses of a mine like Quincy is the perfect backdrop for a fright fest and a great opportunity to get a sense of what life in the mines was like. Can you imagine what it was like to be a miner? What sights or sounds do you think you’d see an hear?

Anyone who has taken the tour up at Quincy has heard of Michigan Tech’s longstanding relationship with the mine, which once served as a learning facility for mining engineers, giving students hands on experience in what it was like to work underground. However, what you might not have heard is the true story about how some ambitious Tech students got a once in a lifetime opportunity to actually work like miners and resurrect a piece of Copper Country history in the process. Take a drive up the Keweenaw with us this Flashback Friday and learn more about how a bunch of Tech students raised a historic hoist from the depths of the Copper Falls Mine in 1954!

 

Headline from the Daily Mining Gazette, May 26, 1956.

The Copper Falls Mine was established near Owls Creek in Keweenaw County in the 1840s at the site of a prehistoric mining pit. The mine operated for over 40 years and produced, according to a Daily Mining Gazette article from 1956, “12,843 tons of ingot copper,” and employed “mostly Cornish, Finnish, and Irish” workers until its closure in 1901. The old hoist at the Copper Falls Mine was located by Michigan Tech geology student  Robert “Speed” Burns in the early 1950s and eventually he and Dr. Joseph P. Dobell, geology professor at Michigan Tech, proposed a project to remove the 11-ton steam hoist. The Calumet and Hecla Mining Company, which then owned the property on which the hoist resided, agreed to the project following a safety inspection. The company also supported the project through the donation of safety equipment such as hard hats and headlamps.

The adit entrance to the Copper Falls mine. (MTU Neg 03072)

Over the course of 8 months from October 1954 to spring 1955, students from the Sigma Rho Fraternity lived the life of miners working to remove the 19th century hoist from its placement eight and a half levels (nearly 900 feet) below the surface. According to a DMG article about the project, access was made through an “air ventilation adit that intersected the main Owls Creek shaft at the second level.” However, the students faced two big problems: no skip, and the need to lay 600 feet of track. Ingenious Tech students that they were, the Sigma Rho students constructed a skip with wheels out of scraps found at the site and laid the 600 feet of track themselves after backbreaking work that involved filling in washouts, erecting trestles, and replacing rotten ties.

 

Part of the hoist as it looked before being dismantled. (MTU Neg 03071)

Despite battling the mile and a half trudge from the highway through snow to reach the work site and eventually combating rising waters in the subterranean levels of the mine during the spring melt, the students had risen the ancient hoist above ground in its near entirety by spring. Miraculously, not a single person was injured throughout the project and only a few pieces of equipment were lost or damaged. What the students were left with, beyond the prize of the hoist itself, was an invaluable hands on experience of “mining out” the old hoist from the depths of a historic mine.

So what become of the hoist itself? The Daily Mining Gazette article from 1956 merely states that at that time the Sigma Rho Fraternity was waiting for an offer from the “college or any group interested in having it for display purposes.” Do you know what became of the hoist? Share your story here!


Flashback Friday: Michigan’s Highwayman

Mugshot of man with small mustace
Reimund Holzhey’s mug shot, 1889. Photograph from the Archives of Michigan.

“Donate,” Reimund Holzhey said. “I’m collecting.” He raised a revolver in each hand and cocked them at the stagecoach. It was late August in Gogebic County, and although the coach had been traveling along the road from Lake Gogebic, cool breezes were hardly guaranteed. If the four stagecoach passengers had not already been sweating, they certainly were now. On their journey to Gogebic Station–a stop along the Milwaukee, Lake Shore, and Western Railroad twelve miles east of Marenisco–they had crossed paths with the type of criminal more common to the Wild West than the western Upper Peninsula. Holzhey, a young man in his twenties, had made his move boldly and confidently, like someone with experience in theft. 

Image of stagecoach being pulled by horses
Stagecoaches were common in mining districts like Gogebic County, as this photograph from Arizona shows. Image from www.tucson.com.

One man, however, kept a cool head. The would-be victims were mostly Chicago residents; violence marked that city more than most American towns. Unfortunately, his hand was not as steady as his head. “All right,” he said. “Here’s mine.” He drew his own revolver and squeezed off a round, which flew wide of Holzhey. That was enough for the stagecoach robber, who emptied his guns in the direction of the men. Two more reports from the first passenger’s revolver missed Holzhey, though he stood just five feet away. One of the others aboard, however, took bullets to his face and his leg, wounds that the Ontonagon Miner described as “not necessarily fatal.” Adolph Gustavus Fleischbein was not as lucky. The bullets that hit him in the left thigh traveled upward, entering his bowels. Fleischbein fell from the stagecoach, landing in the dirt. Spooked by the shooting and by the driver’s belated attempts to hurry them away, the horses hitched to the coach bolted, wildly dragging the vehicle down the wooded path. As they faded into the distance, Holzhey crept over to the gravely-injured Fleischbein, seized his pocketbook and jewelry, and left him to die in the road. 

Two long hours later, help returned for Fleischbein. The rescuers took him to the hospital at Bessemer, where his wounds were cleaned and dressed. It was clear to everyone, however, that he had lost far too much blood to have any hope of survival. “He cannot recover,” as the Miner put it. Telegrams flashed over the wires to Belleville, Illinois, notifying Mrs. Fleischbein of her husband’s imminent demise. Meanwhile, County Attorney Howell took Fleischbein’s sworn statement about the robber and his actions on the road from Lake Gogebic. Fleischbein said that, as the stagecoach disappeared from view, Holzhey had come up and held a gun to Fleischbein’s face, threatening to kill him then and there. Fleischbein, no doubt thinking of his wife and teenage daughter, “pleaded hard for mercy,” according to a summary of his testimony published in the Chicago Tribune. The robber agreed to spare his life–a gesture rendered moot by the fact that his bullets had already ensured Fleischbein’s death. At six o’clock the next morning, “Dolph” Fleischbein–a Civil War drummer boy, former public servant, and enthusiast of hunting and fishing–died. 

With Fleischbein’s death, the manhunt for Holzhey went from a search for a thief to a search for a murderer. Deputies had already been posted along roads and at train stations in Gogebic County, their eyes peeled for a man “small in stature, with a dark, curling mustache, of medium height, slight build, and dressed in light clothes.” The description Fleischbein and the others on the stagecoach gave confirmed the lawmen’s grim suspicions: the robber, whose true identity me remained unknown at the time, was “Black Bart.” Black Bart had bedeviled Wisconsin highways and railways for months, brazenly making his criminal forays under the noses of lawmen. Two months before he ventured into Gogebic County, the Wood County Reporter of Wisconsin reported that the highwayman had robbed three stage coaches, a Milwaukee and Northern passenger train, the sleepy general store of Bonduel, and a man traveling by buggy back to the reservation where he lived. He also had the nerve to rob the home of a judge. Despite the promise of a $500 reward offered by the Milwaukee & Northern general manager, the posse that pursued him through Shawano County had no success. After the Gogebic robbery and Fleischbein’s murder, the railroad offered a new reward of one thousand dollars, along with contributions from Gogebic County and Fleischbein’s home county. 

Members of the manhunt tracked Holzhey that night for six miles from the stagecoach road to a stream, where they lost the trail. Two bloodhounds and a local Ojibwa man with tracking skills joined the search the following day. It was clear that Holzhey had headed north from Gogebic Station, but his whereabouts grew murkier after that. In fact, Holzhey had turned east, heading for the iron mines of Marquette County. 

Image of newspaper headline: "HOLZHAY IN 'HOC'"
Headline from the Ashland Weekly News proclaiming the arrest of Reimund Holzhay [sic].

On August 31, a Mr. Glode, City Marshal for the town of Republic, and Justice of the Peace E.E. Weiser left their homes early, strolling in the direction of the railroad depot. As they walked past the building, “a man dressed roughly and apparently anxious to escape attention” caught Glode’s eye. As a lawman, he had been apprised of the hunt for Holzhey and of the thief’s appearance. The stranger in town was short, slightly built, and possessed of a dark, curling mustache–Glode knew immediately that he needed to be approached. The Ashland Weekly News reported that he blocked the other man’s path, saying, “I want you.” Down went the stranger’s hand for the gun that he wore. Marshal Glode was faster, though, and he struck the smaller man with his billy club. Glode and Weiser carried the suspect to the Republic jail. 

As the stranger came to, Glode searched his pockets. He removed “three revolvers, three gold watches, four pocket books, and other articles” of value. Holzhey’s name was etched on one of the pocket books; Fleischbein’s was there, as well. Clearly, Glode and Weiser had found their man. Holzhey strongly resisted their questioning at first, but he gradually began to crack. Yes, his name was Reimund Holzhey. Yes, he had been the man who robbed the Gogebic stage and one in Wisconsin. Eventually, he conceded obliquely that those crimes had probably been carried out by the same man responsible for the others attributed to Black Bart. In the presence of the sheriff and marshal, he prepared a statement outlining his lawbreaking past. 

Even while Holzhey was being escorted back to Bessemer to face the music, newspapers treated him as something like a celebrity. At least one published a detailed and literary biography, describing his prosperous farmer father back in Germany, Reimund’s desire to make his own fortune, and his interest in the lumber mill where he had worked upon arriving in America. He was said to be a man of few words, little proclivity for alcohol, and a general aversion to trouble–unless someone crossed him. The writer placed blame for Holzhey’s descent into lawlessness on reading too many stories about criminals like Jesse James. He had been so fascinated with tales ripped from the headlines that he was determined to become one himself.

In a fall 1889 trial, the Archives of Michigan reports, a jury convicted Reimund Holzhey of murder. Holzhey served the first part of his sentence in the Marquette branch prison, where he was a disorderly inmate. The American Citizen of Ironwood wrote that he seized a knife from the prison shoe factory and took a guard hostage, demanding his release in exchange for the guard’s life. “In an unguarded moment, Holzhay [sic] dropped his right hand, still holding the knife, on his leg only to have every finger shot off with a bullet from the warden’s gun. This settled the matter for that time and reduced Holzhay’s ability to harm by one hand.” 

Image of stone prison structure
Reimund Holzhey was taken to Marquette Branch Prison to serve his life sentence. Photograph from University of Wisconsin Milwaukee.

After nearly four years of increasing difficulty, Holzhey was taken under strong guard to Ionia, home of “the asylum for criminal insane.” There, he underwent some sort of procedure that left him transformed. He came back to Marquette stable, responsible, and eager to work. According to a piece by the Archives of Michigan, he became the official prison photographer, librarian, and newspaper editor before his life sentence was commuted in 1910. Discharged in 1913, Holzhey loped back into the woods that were familiar with him, working at resorts. He headed west to Yellowstone to continue his photography career, then moved to Florida. He died there in 1952 by his own hand, bringing the story of Michigan’s last stagecoach robber to an abrupt conclusion. 


Travel Grant Talk – “The Hats of Calumet and Women in Front” on November 1

Portrait of Katherine Belliel.
A portrait of 2019 Travel Grant recipient, Katherine Belliel.

Please join us for visiting scholar Katherine Belliel at 4:00 pm on Friday, November 1 in the East Reading Room of the Van Pelt and Opie Library on the Michigan Technological University campus for her travel grant talk, “The Hats of Calumet and Women in Front: Creative Writing About Women of the Copper Country.” This event is free of charge and open to the public. Refreshments will be served.

In this presentation, Belliel will discuss the research process and inspiration behind her two creative projects on the life of Calumet native, and Michigan Women’s Hall of Fame inductee, Anna Klobuchar Clemenc. The Hats of Calumet is a collection of short fiction pieces told from the perspective of a variety of hats worn by different historical characters narrating the crucial events in Anna’s life. This project illustrates how domestic violence, infertility, immigration, and the “third culture kid” (TCK) experience both influenced and spurred her activism, tying Anna to not only American Labor History, but also the current Women’s Movement of today. “Women in Front,” a braided essay comparing and contrasting the role of women in the 1913 Copper Country Strike with the 2013 Gezi protests in Turkey, will also be discussed. A short reading from both creative projects will follow the discussion.

Katherine Belliel is an American writer based in Turkey and the US. She is the co-editor of Expat Sofra: Culinary Tales of Foreign Women in Turkey (Alfa 2019), and her work has also appeared in several expat anthologies such as Tales from the Expat Harem (Eds. Ashman and Gokmen, 2005), Encounters with the Middle East (Bowman and Khashan, 2006), and Single Mothers Speak on Patriarchy (eds. Hendren and Daly, 2016). She is currently an MFA candidate at Northern Michigan University.

Big Annie carries a large flag during a strikers parade during the 1913-1914 copper miners' strike.
Big Annie leads a a strikers parade on Calumet Avenue near the C&H hospital during the 1913-1914 copper miners’ strike. Photo is undated.

Belliel’s research visit and presentation are supported by a travel grant from the Friends of the Michigan Tech Library. Since 1988, the Michigan Technological University Archives Travel Grant program has helped scholars advance their research by supporting travel to the manuscript collections at the Michigan Tech Archives.

For more information, feel free to call the Michigan Tech Archives at 906-487-2505, email at copper@mtu.edu, or visit on the web at http://www.lib.mtu.edu/mtuarchives/. You can also find us on Facebook, @mtuarchives on Twitter, and as michigantecharchives on Instagram.


Flashback Friday: Lake Superior Performance Rally

Image of a rally car driving by some spectators.
Lake Superior Performance Rally 2000.
This weekend the Copper Country will be alive with the sounds of revving engines and screeching tires, as the Lake Superior Performance Rally (LSPR) marks its 25th year. The event takes place October 18-19 in various stages throughout the Keweenaw. Today’s Flashback Friday zooms back to October 2000 as an unidentified driver of car 21 passes a group of spectators.

Rally has deep roots in the Upper Peninsula, with 2019 marking 70 years of the sport. In 1949 a time-speed-distance rally called the Press on Regardless started up. 20 years later the event became a full stage rally event, with recognition as a round in the World Rally Championship coming a few years later in 1973. While Press on Regardless opted out of stage rally and returned to its time-speed-distance history, the first Lake Superior Performance Rally was held in the Copper Country in 1994.

For the past few decades, LSPR has been the ultimate round on the American rally circuit as well as the final event of the season. Traditionally held in October, the spectacular fall colors and the possibilities of all kinds of weather events (even snow!…though hopefully not this year…) makes for a unique experience for drivers, navigators, and spectators. Viewing stages near sharp corners can be quite dangerous in certain weather, turf, and speed conditions, so be sure to stay alert at all times! The LSPR is a world-renowned event and a favorite for many, with the popular street stage in downtown Houghton allowing fans to get very close to the action. 

More information about LSPR 2019 can be found on the Lake Superior Performance Rally website.

Flashback Friday: Bygone Burial Grounds

Image of tree-shaded cemetery
Walking among the trees in an old Hancock cemetery.

Many Copper Country visitors whose ancestors once called the Keweenaw Peninsula home hope to see where these family members have been laid to rest. Standing by the grave of someone who died decades or more than a century ago provides an opportunity to reflect on his life–or on one’s own–and to pay respects. 

It’s an easy enough activity for many: cemeteries in Calumet, Lake Linden, Houghton, Hancock, and throughout the rest of the Copper Country offer grassy lanes for strolling and looking for headstones. Records held at the Michigan Tech Archives, with government offices, and at the cemeteries themselves can help to narrow down exactly where in the burial ground one should search for relatives. Yet the Copper Country also has a number of cemeteries lost to the sands of time and to changes in how communities decided to use their land. This week’s Flashback Friday profiles just two of the cemeteries that are no longer with us. 

Early in the history of Hancock, two strains of Christian congregations–Catholic and Protestant–established distinct cemeteries at the western edge of town. Faithful from St. Patrick’s or St. Joseph’s Catholic churches would be buried in their own hallowed ground; members of the town’s numerous Lutheran churches, its Congregational organizations, and other Protestant denominations found their places of rest in an adjacent park slightly further west. Sales of lots at the Protestant cemetery, according to research compiled by John M. Blom, have been documented as far back as 1866; the Catholic (St. Joseph) cemetery was almost certainly established at about the same time. 

For decades, families and friends made the sad journey from funeral parlors, private homes, and places of worship to lay their loved ones to rest in the two distinct cemeteries. In 1896, however, a new municipal cemetery was incorporated. Lakeside Cemetery sat perched on a bluff, promising cool breezes off the Portage Canal and, as a carpet of trees grew around it, shade and quiet away from the bustle of the city. Here, Catholics and Protestants would be buried side-by-side, although the Sisters of St. Joseph of Carondelet reserved a section for their faithful members. As residents of Hancock increasingly embraced Lakeside for a burial ground, the deterioration of the Catholic and Protestant cemeteries accelerated. By the middle of the 20th century, many years had passed since anyone had been laid to rest in either of the old sectarian burial grounds. 

At the same time, the congregations that had once supported these cemeteries found themselves at a crossroads. Like many mining towns, Hancock’s Catholic and Evangelical Lutheran churches had been founded on ethnic lines, with German families or Finns joining others of their background for Sunday worship in their native tongues. In the 1960s, clergymen had largely abandoned preaching in Finnish or German; English was the lingua franca now. Houghton County’s population had also fallen into decline as one mine after another closed. Consolidation in a new Lutheran building and a new Catholic parish made sense. Amidst great controversy, the congregations selected the old burial grounds for the new construction. Gloria Dei Lutheran Church would be erected on the space occupied by the Protestant cemetery; the aptly-named Church of the Resurrection would take the place of the Catholic burial ground. 

Image of cemetery surrounded by town buildings
The Catholic (St. Joseph) cemetery shortly before it became the Church of the Resurrection.

Surviving relatives of those who had been buried in the cemeteries were apparently given the opportunity to claim their family members and have them reinterred at Lakeside. For many of the deceased, however, there were no claimants: few had surviving family members, let alone ones who remembered that a great-grandfather or a distant great-aunt had been buried in a now-overgrown cemetery in the 1870s. Headstones that remained were removed–some to Lakeside, with the individuals they described, and some to a memorial that the Church of the Resurrection hoped to create on its grounds. Repeated vandalism stymied that effort and, by the late 1980s, the church conceded defeat. Today, at both Gloria Dei and Resurrection, plaques mark the location of the old cemeteries. Adjacent to the Lutheran church sits a small park where visitors can honor the dead who still rest there, their presence persistent if invisible.


Flashback Friday: Homecoming

Today’s Flashback Friday offers a little homecoming and gridiron nostalgia for your weekend. Very few homecoming festivities on any campus across the country can rival Michigan Tech’s for zaniness, uniqueness, and all-around fun! In addition to the sacred gridiron tradition of the Michigan Tech Huskies homecoming football game, the celebration features the crowning of the homecoming royalty, a cardboard boat race on the Portage Canal, competitive challenges, and many other events that promote Husky Spirit.

Homecoming queen candidates, 1963.
Homecoming queen candidates in the parade, 1963.

The crowning of the homecoming royalty is one of the most anticipated aspects of homecoming week. The photo in the insert was taken of the homecoming queen and candidates at the 1963 parade by Roger La Mothe. Shown on the float from left to right we have Maria Mustonen, Peggy Foley, Kristine Rowbottom, Mary Lou Junttila and Barbara Perlich.

In celebration of the football game, the main Flashback Friday photograph shared at the front of this post takes us to September 1958 when the Michigan Tech football coaches were hard at work making a game plan for the upcoming Mankato State game. At left, Head Coach Omer LaJeunesse shows a new play to Back Coach Verdie Cox and End Coach Bill Lucier. LaJeunesse indicated that he might unveil an updated version of his standby offense based on the material at hand.

The coaching meeting took place on Thursday, September 11th to plan for the opening game at Tech’s Hubbell field that Saturday. Despite blackboard tactics and intense on-field practices, the Huskies fell to Mankato State, 26-16. But even though Coach LaJeunesse started off the season with a young squad and two defeats, the Huskies pushed back with three straight victories and continued to show improvement throughout the 1958 season. The

Michigan Tech football players pose on the field, 1974.
Football players, 1974.

team closed out the season with a 4-4 record, which was admirable in the first year of play in the Northern States Colleges Conference. While much of the buzz this week has been about hockey in all its forms, the focus this weekend is on the Michigan Tech Huskies against Grand Valley State for this year’s home opener match up. Kick-off is at 1pm at Sherman Field. 

Other homecoming traditions have included various kinds of parades, creative and athletic contests,  and races in all shapes and sizes. For a full schedule of this years homecoming events, please see the Homecoming page on the Student Leadership and Involvement website.


Award Winning Author Mary Doria Russell Coming to Houghton

Author Mary Doria Russell poses for a publicity photograph.
Acclaimed author Mary Doria Russell. Photograph by Don Russell.

Award winning author Mary Doria Russell will be coming to Houghton for two special events centered around her recent novel The Women of the Copper Country. The Portage Lake District Library (PLDL) and the J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library (Van Pelt and Opie Library) are excited to host her for a two-part presentation series. 

A formal lecture will take place on October 8 at 7 pm in the East Reading Room of the Van Pelt and Opie Library on the Michigan Tech campus. A social hour and book signing will follow the presentation. A second event, an informal book talk and book signing, will take place at the PLDL on October 9 from 6-8 pm. Refreshments will be served at both events and all are welcome to attend!

The front cover of the book The Women of the Copper Country.
The cover of Mary Doria Russell’s latest novel, The Women of the Copper Country.

The Women of the Copper Country centers on the life of American labor activist, Annie Clements, as well as paints a broader historical portrait of the lives of local people in the midst of a turbulent labor movement and social landscape. The historical novel is startlingly relevant today and would be of great interest to the campus and local communities. Some of the research for her book was conducted with assistance from the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections. 

For more information about the events please contact Katie Edson (906) 487-1636, Lindsay Hiltunen (906) 487-3209, or Michael Stanitis (906) 482-4570. The author’s visit is made possible by a travel grant from the Friends of the Michigan Tech Library and The Women of the Copper Country Planning Committee.


Flashback Friday: Cliff Mine

Henry Warren’s stamp heads at Cliff Mine, September 16, 1926. Photograph by J. T. Reeder (Michigan Tech Archives, MS042-057-999-W699)

Flashback Friday to a view of the stamp heads at Cliff Mine in Keweenaw County, 1926.
Owned and operated by the Pittsburgh & Boston Mining Company, the Cliff Mine was established in 1845 and quickly became the first profitable copper mine in the region. By 1849 the mine had paid out its first dividend and grew to become one of the most successful mines in the region during the mid 1800s. Cliff Mine operated consistently until 1854, but by the early 1870s the mine was in a financial decline and was sold. The land at Cliff was eventually taken over by the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company, but by the early 1900s all mining interests in that region were abandoned for more profitable pursuits.


Flashback Friday: On Top of the World

Image of log cabin building with many signs
The Skytop Inn advertising its attractions, circa 1940s.

A few weeks ago, Flashback Friday took readers to Copper Harbor’s Brockway Mountain to visit with Bill Mattila, who lived in a modest home perched atop the scenic spot for many decades. This week, we return to Brockway for a look at another staple of the mountain that has since vanished: the Skytop Inn. 

Travelers who cruise Brockway Mountain Drive almost invariably make a stop at the summit. Here, they can take in expansive views of crystalline Lake Superior, breathtaking sunsets and sunrises that paint all surfaces with gold, and, for the persistent, the Milky Way unfolding overhead and making one feel small and insignificant. Indeed, the appeal of the peak and its potential to promote automobile tourism during the Great Depression helped to secure federal funding for the construction of Brockway Mountain Drive. Numerous local men who had lost their jobs found new ones helping to clear space for the new, winding road and lay down gravel, later to be replaced with pavement. Now, motorists from the Copper Country and tourists from points beyond could cruise in their Packards and Plymouths smoothly up to the peak.

Clyde H. Wescoat–better known as Harold–saw an opportunity. A hotelier and liquor store owner in Copper Harbor, according to the 1940 federal census, he claimed Pennsylvania as his birthplace but fell in love with Michigan native Serene Ferrien, then with the Upper Peninsula. The Wescoats moved from Detroit to Escanaba sometime between 1920 and 1930, then to Houghton, and finally to Keweenaw County. Enterprising Harold seized upon the chance to buy 320 acres at the crest of Brockway Mountain. There, he built a small log cabin to serve as a gift shop. From the wraparound porch created by its support platform, or through the picture windows in the cabin itself, visitors could take in the stunning views that had prompted Harold to call his store the Skytop Inn. 

Two men working inside the frame of a log cabin
C. Harold Wescoat and a companion building the original Skytop Inn.

Visitors came by the dozens to enjoy the vista and to browse the Skytop. An early photograph of the building captured the varied offerings at the little gift shop: ice cold Coca-Cola, candy, tobacco, and souvenirs reflecting local flavor. Copper cards seemed to be popular choices for tourists, who could also secure directions and recommendations from the knowledgeable employees. 

Harold Wescoat died in Copper Harbor in July 1946, a decade after constructing the Skytop at the crest of Brockway. In the 1960s, the original log cabin came down, finding its replacement in a more modest, blue structure. The million-dollar view remained, however, and the Skytop lived on for almost fifty years longer.

Old structures of significance often meet their ends through sad ways: they fall into disrepair and disintegrate, or fire claims them, or they are wiped away to build something shiny and new. The Skytop Inn’s demise was for, perhaps, kinder reasons. The heirs of the Wescoat family wanted to ensure that the community could continue to enjoy the summit of Brockway unimpeded and that the environment would remain protected. They worked in collaboration with The Nature Conservancy, Eagle Harbor Township, Keweenaw Land Trust, and other nature- and community-minded organizations to broker a deal for the purchase and protect the peak from subdivision by developers. Countless individuals mailed donations to assist the township in the purchase, which became official in 2013. Not long after, the Skytop building came down, leaving a small, open field in its place. When the wind rustles the grass as you look down on Lake Superior, you wonder how many thousands of people have stood in your place at the peak of the mountain, ready to touch the sky.

Image of blue-painted wooden building on Brockway Mountain
The last Skytop Inn after it ceased operations. Photograph by the author, 2013.