The Remarkable Brockway Women

View of Copper Harbor from Brockway Mountain

View of Copper Harbor from Brockway Mountain, May 2015. Photograph by the author.

Almost everyone who has visited the Keweenaw Peninsula has heard the name Brockway. Brockway Mountain, just west of Copper Harbor, offers a stunning panorama of Lake Superior, a smattering of nearby lakes, and the thickly-forested rolling hills among which Michigan’s northernmost town is nestled. In addition to its scenic roadway–a project that put local men to work during the Great Depression–the mountain enjoys another notable tie to history, having been named after early settler Daniel Brockway. After a sojourn in L’Anse as a government-employed blacksmith and mechanic, Brockway had come to the Copper Harbor area in the mid-1840s. There, and in later years at the Cliff Mine, Brockway was a prominent merchant, hotelier, and mine agent.

Yet Daniel Brockway’s laudable success in the Copper Country is only one part of the story. From the Brockway family tree sprouted a number of remarkable people, both in terms of careers and of character. Although Women’s History Month is just behind us, it is well worth keeping our eyes on women’s history; let us take a moment to “remember the ladies,” as Abigail Adams once said. While a single blog post could never do justice to their stories, we are privileged to be able to share a glimpse of what we see of the Brockway women through our collections at the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections.

Lucena Harris Brockway, the matriarch, left the greatest archival trail. Diaries she kept meticulously for some thirty years now reside in the Michigan Tech Archives, recording her life in her own words and shedding light on the interesting experiences of others in her family. What we see from Lucena’s writing are women who confronted the challenges of ordinary days, the heartbreaking difficulty of tragedies, and the world at large with courage, humor, strength, and flair. We’ll start with Lucena herself, then look down her familial line to see her spirit carried on.

Young Lucena ms 12 b1f2

Lucena Harris Brockway in middle age. From MS-019: Brockway Photograph Collection.

Lucena, born in New York in 1816, moved to southwest Michigan in her youth and there married Daniel Brockway in 1836. She became the mother of four daughters and two sons, one of whom died in infancy and whose birthday was remembered with mournful devotion in her diaries. With her husband, Lucena made the aforementioned transition to the various locales of the Upper Peninsula and there dedicated herself to carving out a new life from the rugged locale. Though her husband’s growing financial assets meant that Lucena was insulated from some of life’s difficulties, living in a frontier community nevertheless required her to confront thorny dilemmas with tenacious resolution. At times, those problems bordered on the absurd. In August 1880, for example, Lucena awoke to an empty house and headed to her kitchen in hopes of having “a quiet day, the first in a long time.” When she glanced out the window, however, she found that her dreams of relaxation had quite literally gone up in smoke. The wooden fence near the Brockway home had spontaneously combusted and was now engulfed in flames. “So I fought fire for sometime [sic],” Lucena wrote, recalling the event later in the day, “then ate my breakfast and the fire had broken out again.” Eventually, her persistence in firefighting paid off, and the blaze came under control. Little time remained for resting by this point, however. There were chickens to be fed and beans to be picked for dinner. Life went on.

Life also had its lighthearted moments for Lucena. Removed as we are from the past, and accustomed to seeing the staid faces that early photography–with the long exposure times required to capture an image–produced, it is only too tempting to think of the 1800s as a stuffy, humorless age. Lucena Brockway was quite the opposite. In the cash account pages of her 1880 diary, she jotted a few puns that must have especially tickled her funny bone. “Why are hot rolls like caterpillars?” one read. “Because they make the butter fly.” Other jokes poked fun in a way that seems very modern. “Why is a lawyer like a restless sleeper?” Lucena asked. “He lies first on one side and then on the other.” There’s a certain humor not only in the joke but in realizing that attorneys have been the subject of light-hearted derision for centuries.  

Charlotte Brockway, Lucena’s oldest daughter, left fewer clues to her life, but what can be pieced together from the archival record indicates that she was a woman fashioned in her mother’s mold. By the time she was five, she had moved with her parents from New York to the western Lower Peninsula, north to L’Anse, and from L’Anse to Copper Harbor. The realization that the last relocation included Charlotte’s two younger sisters–a toddler and an infant–speaks once again to her mother’s fortitude. At the tender age of fifteen, according to one source, Charlotte was bright and mature enough to teach the Copper Harbor school. In October 1863, the twenty-two-year-old married Oliver Atkins Farwell, the superintendent of the Phoenix Mine. Mr. Farwell, as Lucena always called him in her diaries, was in his early fifties. Despite the considerable difference in their ages, the marriage seems to have been affectionate, if not passionate: eleven children were born to Charlotte and her husband, including a set of twins.

Portrait of an older Charlotte Brockway

Charlotte Brockway Farwell in her later years. From MS-019: Brockway Photograph Collection.

June 1881, as revealed in Lucena’s diaries, demonstrated the determination of the Brockway women to carry on in the face of great tragedy, and Charlotte was at the very heart of it. First, Sarah (“Sallie” or “Sally”) Brockway Scott lost her husband to illness; he was only 43. “Poor Scott breathed his last a quarter to three o’clock this morning,” wrote Lucena sadly on June 7. “…He knew he was going and bade us all good by [sic]. It was hard to see him go[;] he wanted to live longer if it had been so he could.” Sallie, who had already seen a daughter die in infancy, was now the widowed mother of a young son. Yet Charlotte would face an even more turbulent month. On June 18, Lucena noted that Oliver Farwell, who had begun feeling ill around the same time as Sally’s husband, was not improving. Three days later, the same note: “Mr. Farwell was worse and probably dying.” On June 22, Lucena said, “I stayed all day at Mr. Farwell’s with Charlotte. Mr. Oliver A. Farwell died 20 minutes past 3 o’clock P.M.” And, on June 25: “In the afternoon…Charlotte Farwell had a daughter born the day after her husband was buried.”

Portrait of Olive Farwell in middle age

A photograph of Olive Farwell published in the Daily Mining Gazette in January 1997. From the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections Farwell biographical file.

This daughter, named Olive Lucena in honor of her father and grandmother, would experience a life of great length and variety, testifying to the fortitude and courage of the Brockway women. She might not have achieved the fame of her brother, a notable librarian and botanist, but Olive carved her own niche. Her mother moved the family many times in Olive’s childhood, attempting to give her children the best life possible. From Keweenaw County, they headed south to Ypsilanti for educational reasons, then west to New Mexico in pursuit of a healthful climate. After a brief return to Lake Linden with her mother to spend time with Lucena and Daniel in their last days, Olive departed for Chicago to study interior design. Unsurprisingly, she made a success of it and established a studio in Spokane with another artist. Later, her obituary recalled, she returned to Chicago, first to work for a chain of department stores and then to establish her own prosperous candy kitchen. When World War II broke out, Olive again left Lake Linden–where she had moved in 1935–to become a Rosie the Riveter on a Lockheed production line in Burbank.

Lucena and Charlotte each lived to be 82. Olive surpassed them both, suffering a fatal stroke in the Brockway house in Lake Linden at the age of 98. Though these Brockway lives can hardly be compressed with any justice into an essay of such brevity, Lucena’s wide range of diaries–together with two other Brockway collections and articles clipped from the Daily Mining Gazette on Olive’s long life–show their shared character, spunk, and persistence. If you’d like to investigate the Brockway women further, or if you’re interested in discovering some remarkable women from your own family tree, please do not hesitate to contact the Michigan Tech Archives at copper@mtu.edu or (906) 487-2505.

And Anna Medora Brockway Gray, Lucena’s youngest daughter, who struck out on her own as  a physician in 1883? Well, that’s another story for another day.


Student Awards Spotlight 2018 – Becky

Becky poses with her certificate by the State Records Collection in the Archives stacks.
Becky poses with her certificate by the State Records Collection in the Archives stacks.

During the month of March, the Van Pelt and Opie Library hosts the annual Student Awards for all the student assistants in the library. This year’s event took place on Wednesday, March 21 and it included delicious food and a festive awards ceremony, which offered awards in eight categories. We are pleased to announce that both of our student assistants won awards!

To thank our students for their hard work and to further congratulate them on their award-winning work, we are featuring our students on social media to showcase all their efforts. Becky, our veteran student assistant, won the Excellence in Job Performance Award which goes to show that she is always on top of the many projects she works on over each semester. Our nomination for Becky is included below:

This student continues to excel and embody all the characteristics of an exceptional worker. This student consistently receives rave reviews from colleagues in the department and continues to positively impact our customer service in the department. This student turns in nearly all projects ahead of schedule and provides work that transcends that quality of normal student work. For instance, I asked for some assistance on some research and the student was able to finish several complex research tasks in a 2-hour shift, work that would normally take another student assistant at least 3 hours. In addition, this student takes initiative on research projects by anticipating patron needs and working with the supervisor to make sure no stone is left unturned. This student’s writing skills are equal to their research skills and I cannot imagine our department without this student! The quality and excellence of work projects, the care and attention to detail, and the constant cheerful demeanor set this student a cut above the rest!


Student Awards Spotlight 2018 – Jeremy

Jeremy poses by MS-080: Copper Range Collection, which has been the main collection he has worked with to build the railroad exhibit.
Jeremy poses by MS-080: Copper Range Collection, which has been the main collection he has worked with to build the railroad exhibit.

During the month of March, the Van Pelt and Opie Library hosts the annual Student Awards for all the student assistants in the library. This year’s event took place on Wednesday, March 21 and it included delicious food and a festive awards ceremony, which offered awards in eight categories. We are pleased to announce that both of our student assistants won awards!

To thank our students for their hard work and to further congratulate them on their award-winning work, we are featuring our students on social media to showcase all their efforts. Our first student award winner is Jeremy, our Copper Range Railroad exhibit research assistant. Jeremy won the Project Achievement Award. Our nomination for Jeremy is included below:

This student has gone above and beyond on a complex research project related to a grant-funded exhibit. This student provided accurate and timely research on a lesser known but historically important part of our local heritage. This student’s research findings are being applied to an exhibit project which will not only be on display in the Library, but will eventually travel off-site to other institutions. The student for this project maintained clear and consistent communication with the project team leader and was also able to earn the praise of project consultants and stakeholders interested in the project outcomes. In addition to achieving great research outcomes on this difficult and time-consuming project, the student was in a class of his own when it comes to positive attitude and enthusiasm. Not a day would go by without this student bringing joy and verve to research along with specific subject knowledge expertise which was directly beneficial to the project. This student has made this difficult project fun and informative. I always look forward to this student being in the department!


Thank you Jeremy for all of your efforts! You are a wonderful part of the archives team!


Ellen Carlson: Copper Country Woman

Ellen Carlson, undated
Ellen Carlson, undated

For many women, the early 20th century ushered in a new period of possibilities for life and work outside the home and changes to the traditional roles of wife and mother. While employment opportunities were still limited to a few fields such as school teacher, secretary, and nurse, many women fought to make their lives outside domestic life rich and fulfilling. Archival collections are full of stories of such women and the Copper Country is no different. To honor the many unique and fascinating women of the Copper Country during Women’s History Month, our blog post today highlights one amazing woman from Rockland, Michigan: Ellen Carlson.

Ellen Carlson with cat, undated.
Ellen Carlson with cat, undated.

Ellen Carlson was born in Rockland, Michigan around 1901 to Swedish parents, Gustave and Anna, who immigrated to the Upper Peninsula in 1899. Her father worked for the copper mine in Rockland until his death in 1915 following a mining accident. Ellen’s mother, Anna, was left to raise her daughter and son, Hugo, by herself. She ensured that her children received a good education and the children attended school in Rockland, with Ellen graduating in 1918. However, Ellen’s early aspirations for higher learning at the Marquette Normal School were cut short due to the outbreak of the Spanish Influenza. Though she never received a formal degree, Carlson attended classes at Wayne State, University of Michigan’s Rackham School, and the Milwaukee State Teachers College and became a school teacher, initially teaching in a four-room school in Victoria. She moved back to Rockland for a period of time before moving to Marquette in 1922 to finish her teaching studies, but continued to move back and forth between the U.P. and downstate, teaching again in Rockland, Montrose, Flint, Ferndale and Taylor. In 1965, after 46 years of teaching, Carlson retired and returned to her family’s home in Rockland where she lived until her passing in 1988.

Love letters from the Ellen Carlson Correspondence collection.
Love letters from the Ellen Carlson Correspondence collection.

For many, there is a certain stereotype associated with the concept of an unmarried, rural school teacher in the early 20th century. However, a glimpse into the the personal correspondence of a woman like Ellen reveals a vibrant personal and social life, as well as a woman who was undeterred in her quest in fulfilling her lifelong aspirations. The Ellen Carlson Correspondence (MS-416) collection held at the Michigan Tech Archives is a rich resource for anyone interested in the personal lives of women in the Copper Country. The collection primarily contains correspondence Carlson kept with friends, students, and family members throughout her life and provides a unique perspective on the life of women in the Copper Country.

Some of the earliest correspondence in the collection dates from around 1918 when Ellen was just a young woman starting her teaching education. Nearly a decade worth of letters from a likely high school beau then living in Chicago shows a young woman in love, but one torn between that love and a dedication to her studies. Sadly, the romance fizzled out during May and June of 1926 based on the letters from Chicago. We can only speculate that the relationship had a deep impact on her as she never did marry.

From the correspondence you get a sense of the importance family and social ties had to Ellen. She maintained lengthy correspondence with close friends throughout her life, in some cases receiving multiple letters per week, which implies the amount of outgoing correspondence and connections she must have maintained were extensive. Though the collection only contains correspondence she received, a researcher gets an impression of the topics that were important to women during this time period, notably between women as she maintained correspondence with several other women from her Rockland community and elsewhere throughout her life. It’s also clear that Ellen maintained a strong relationship with her mother, Anna, particularly during the latter half of her mother’s life up until her unexpected death in 1954. This section of correspondence is a fascinating view of mother-daughter relationships and a treasure trove waiting to be discovered.
Ellen Carlson with friends, undated.
Ellen Carlson with friends, undated.

Ellen clearly maintained a wide social circle of friends, especially with those within the Rockland area. An article printed in the local paper sometime between 1976 and her passing in Rockland in 1988 attests to her vibrant social life and the importance that women played within the community. Noted within the article, fellow community members described her as having “a host of friends, young and old” and that she was “very sociable — has a houseful of company all summer long.” One comment from a friend regarding the amount of birthday cards she routinely received is apparent in her correspondence collection. Among the regular correspondence and photographs, Ellen maintained several scrapbooks worth of birthday and holiday cards that she received or collected overtime, presenting a very interesting and delightful resource for people interested in period greeting cards.

Sample of greeting cards from the Ellen Carlson Correspondence collection.
Sample of greeting cards from the Ellen Carlson Correspondence collection.

According to the article, Ellen was a lifelong and active member of the Methodist church and an accomplished pianist, serving as the district organist for the Order of the Eastern Star since 1920, which is evident from the correspondence and ephemera tucked into her collection.  Among her other passions was regional history. She and fellow local, Mary Jeffs Regan, co-founded the Rockland Museum and donated material to the collection over the years. Ellen, according to the article printed later in her life, was also a reader, crossword puzzle enthusiast, and enjoyed playing cards.

While the collection is primarily composed of correspondence, Ellen maintained journals, especially later in life, which can be found in the collection. Also included are scrapbooks, postcard albums, and photographs, many of them documenting the lives of her friends and family members that were dear to her.

The Ellen Carlson Correspondence collection reveals a woman many can relate to; one driven to follow their passions and affinity for one’s roots. It provides a glimpse into the impact a singular person can have within a community and a rich resource for those looking into the lives of everyday women in the Copper Country. This extensive collection is just waiting for further exploration and insight from researchers. If you are interested in viewing this collection, visit the Michigan Tech Archives! The department is open for regular research hours, 10 a.m. to 5 p.m., Monday-Friday, no appointment necessary. You may also contact us directly at (906) 487-2505 or by email at copper@mtu.edu.


Michigan Tech Archives Seeking Graduate Intern for Summer 2018

intern

The Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections is currently seeking applicants for the Friends of the Michigan Tech Library Graduate Internship for summer 2018. The archives provides a high level of service to scholars, students and a wide range of walk-in visitors and global patrons through virtual reference. Summer services are fast-paced and we see an increase in visitors, especially through our role as part of the Keweenaw Heritage Site network, a partnership with the Keweenaw National Historical Park. Areas of emphasis include manuscripts, maps, print and digital images which document the Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan’s Western Upper Peninsula (U.P.) and university history. The intern selected will receive experience in both public service and collections handling. The intern will assist in day-to-day reference activities, including greeting and assisting researchers, retrieving and shelving collections, and assisting university and community patrons with use of materials and equipment. The intern will also gain experience in organizing, describing and processing archival collections.

Preference will be given to applicants currently enrolled in a graduate archival studies program, but consideration may be given for equivalent education and experience. The following skills are required:

  • Knowledge of contemporary archival practices, policies and procedures, including arrangement and description, and familiarity with DACS, MARC, LCSH, Dublin Core and MPLP.
  • Demonstrated analytical and research skills.
  • Ability to work independently and exercise initiative, discretion and judgment.
  • Ability to work collegially and effectively in a team-based environment.

This is intended to be a 35 hour per week, part-time summer position to span seven weeks. The preferred start date is June 25. There are no benefits included with this position and the successful candidate will be expected to cover travel expenses to Houghton, Michigan. The intern will be compensated in the form of a competitive hourly wage to be paid out bi-weekly throughout the duration of employment. Offers of employment are contingent upon and not considered finalized until the required background check has been performed and the results received and assessed. Housing options in the Copper Country include independently requesting a single occupancy dorm room and included meal plan (depending on availability) or making off-campus housing arrangements. In addition to a great working environment you will enjoy exquisite scenery, moderate temperatures and outdoor activities near the shores of Lake Superior! To learn more about us, please visit our website: http://www.mtu.edu/library/archives/

Applications are due by May 11, 2018. Direct any questions, or submit your cover letter and resume to:
Lindsay Hiltunen, University Archivist
Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections
Van Pelt and Opie Library
1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, MI 49931
copper@mtu.edu
(906) 487-2505

Michigan Technological University is an Equal Opportunity Educational Institution/Equal Opportunity Employer, which includes providing equal opportunity for protected veterans and individuals with disabilities.


Guest Post from Travel Grant Researcher Matthew Liesch – Circling Superior’s Shores: Rephotography to Document Changing Landscapes of the Lake Superior Circle Tour

A 1960s-era roadside mom-and-pop-style motel, which may or may not still be taking reservations.

Cords of firewood orderly stacked in advance of a long winter and lake-effect snows.

An 1800s lakefront street now inland, separated from Lake Superior by dredge spoils, sawdust, or other (non)toxic materials, afterthoughts dumped in a different era.

1920-era bungalows transitioning to newer housing styles, larger yards, and garages facing the highway heading away from downtown.

Small aspens shooting upward, their roots expanding cracked pavement within a formerly-used logging road.

These descriptions are of a few common landscapes on the amalgam of American and Canadian highways now known as the Lake Superior Circle Tour route. Today, we take for granted the ability to drive around Lake Superior’s shoreland communities on a connected system of paved roads, designed to the exacting specifications of modern engineering. Glossy tourism brochures and travel guides showcase selected scenes to cultivate romanticized impressions of the lakeshore and nearby communities.  Travel writers in Midwest Living, Lake Superior Magazine, and other publications hype up the Lakeshore’s natural and built environments alike.

Landscapes are inherently suited for visual methodologies. Rephotography helps scholars to trace the evolution of landscape tastes, and a small yet growing group of geographers, historians, and artists have conducted rephotography as part of constructing case study narratives that inform theory about social, environmental, geological, technological, or legal changes. In this vein, I am conducting rephotography of roads around the Lake’s edges to investigate the roles of culture, technology, and policy in guiding landscape change. Photographs can help illuminate landscape change provided that other spatial and historical data are available to researchers to piece together portions of the past, or the landscape’s “backstory.”

My visits to the Michigan Tech Archives and other museums and archives have been to find photographs and textual documents to construct landscape backstories of coastal communities and connect them with theory. Planning and zoning documents, park management plans, media reports, and correspondences between grassroots activists and decision-makers are some examples of the kinds of documents necessary to explain how Lake Superior’s coastal landscapes look the way they do today.

I am selecting photographs from the Copper Country Archives Photo Files, rephotographing them, and connecting their changes to theories of wayfinding and land use classifications. The late David Lynch popularized categories of paths, edges, corridors, nodes, and districts in his classic The Image of the City (MIT Press, 1960, still in print). Other images I am considering highlight change in notable land-use classifications such as public space, civic space, residential, commercial, and industrial land uses.

The photo above is a 1960 view from Hancock of the old and current bridges from the John T. Reeder Collection, Michigan Technological University and Copper Country Archives.
The photo above is a 1960 view from Hancock of the old and current bridges from the John T. Reeder Collection, Michigan Technological University and Copper Country Archives.

As the only bridge connecting the Copper Country across Portage Lake, the present-day Portage Lake Lift Bridge serves as a prominent node. Residents’ and tourists’ cognitive images of the Copper Country most likely include this landmark. Accordingly, the Bridge serves as a key node for photographs, parades, and political rallies. Given the traffic and raising/lowering of the bridge deck to allow ships through, this iconic landscape element is arguably the closest the Copper Country gets to traffic jams today.  Owing to the traffic, a variety of alternate methods have been used in the past, such as ice roads, and correspondences housed at the Archives’ Vertical Files mention ideas floated for the future, such as ideas for a second bridge to alleviate traffic as well as bypass Houghton to the East.

Headline about road construction to Lake of the Clouds. Image from the Roads (Pre-1979) folder, Copper Country Vertical Files, Michigan Technological University and Copper Country Archives.
Headline about road construction to Lake of the Clouds. Image from the Roads (Pre-1979) folder, Copper Country Vertical Files, Michigan Technological University and Copper Country Archives.

Likewise, the Archives’ Copper Country Vertical Files have been a good starting point for finding content on landscape-oriented issues. These include information with broader impacts outside the Copper Country, such as correspondence documenting disagreement between the Michigan Department of Transportation (MDOT) and communities hoping to lower speed limits on stretches of state and federal highways.

In 1944, the State of Michigan created Porcupine Mountains State Park as a solution to concerns of proposed clear-cutting. Over a decade earlier, State of Michigan Highway Commissioner Murray Van Wagner worked to create a road west from Silver City to Lake of the Clouds. This 1936 article, “Porcupines Road Nearly Complete” provided an update on the gravel road, flanked by a 400-foot right of way buffer zone obtained to for the purposes of guiding the appearance of landscape aesthetics. Two decades later, Michigan Governor George Romney (Mitt Romney’s father) sought to prevent the extension of lakeshore road west from Lake of the Clouds to Gogebic County. The Lake Superior Circle Tour Route today would presumably have a different route if paved roads exist along that stretch of lakefront, in place of the present expanse of a contiguous wilderness area for outdoors enthusiasts, flora, and fauna alike. Although newspaper articles cannot tell the full backstory of landscape changes themselves, they are helpful for me to provide context, to serve as leads on the potential availability of laws and management plans, and to compare with other evidentiary sources.

Daily Mining Gazette article on installation of the first “Lake Superior Circle Tour” reassurance shield signage, from the Roads – US 41 folder, Copper Country Vertical Files, Michigan Technological University and Copper Country Archives.
Daily Mining Gazette article on installation of the first “Lake Superior Circle Tour” reassurance shield signage, from the Roads – US 41 folder, Copper Country Vertical Files, Michigan Technological University and Copper Country Archives.

The now-ubiquitous “Lake Superior Circle Tour” green and white signage program is only a generation old. On the eastern shores of Lake Superior, sparse population, limited commerce, and rugged topography diminished funding priorities for blasting a highway route through granitic bedrock. Not until September 17, 1960 could the touring public feasibly circumnavigate the lakeshore on wheels. That day, Ontario Prime Minister Peter Frost and a motorcade of other dignitaries cut a ribbon to commence the official opening of a Lake Superior Circle Route. Afterward, North American media hailed the completed road through a variety of monikers, such as the “Lake Superior International Highway” and “Lake Superior Circle Route.” (The present-day label of “Lake Superior Circle Tour” derives from then-Michigan First Lady Paula Blanchard’s 1985 efforts to promote tourism.) The Circle Tour sign shown here is an example of a “reassurance marker” to symbolize the route for travelers. The Daily Mining Gazette article of July 3, 1986 mentions that signs were being installed that week at 10-mile intervals.

Although the Archives serves as a regional repository for the Western Upper Peninsula, its holdings contain useful documents of interest to scholars working on other areas of Lake Superior as well. The Keweenaw Historical Society Collection appears as if it would exclusively focus on the Keweenaw Peninsula, but holds a wealth of documents from seemingly disparate lakeshore locales. One example is the collections on Silver Islet. Due north of Isle Royale, Silver Islet is the site of a short-lived silver mine, once led by William Frue of Houghton. Shareholders’ Meeting Reports and other records help piece together the story of strategies to modify the landscape at Silver Islet, with regard to both lakeshore development at the Silver Islet community on the mainland, and expansion of the island’s size using leftover rock from the silver mine. Other far-flung files in the collection include photographs of Marquette, updates of roadbuilding through Pictured Rocks National Lakeshore, and documents about the Soo Locks.

This Spring, I will rephotograph key places and landscape elements in order to examine landscape change along Lake Superior’s shores and settlements. Incorporating these photos with geographical and historical data into a book will interest both scholars of cultural landscapes and segments of the general population interested in seeing how Lake Superior’s landscapes have evolved. I will share some of these images at a Michigan Tech Copper Country Archives Speaker Series talk in June.

Editor’s Note: Matthew Liesch is Associate Professor of Geography and Environmental Studies at Central Michigan University. His publications range from iron and copper mining heritage to use of GIS in archaeology to conservation easement modeling. Other current research includes a Mott Foundation-funded project integrating interview data into economic modeling to examine return on investment of the federal Great Lakes Restoration Initiative program. Liesch is a former Chair of Main Street Calumet’s Economic Restructuring Committee and is a Planning Commissioner for the City of Mount Pleasant.


2018 Travel Grant Program Call for Proposals

 

francis jacker

 

The Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections is currently accepting applications for its annual Travel Grant Program, which brings scholars and researchers external to Michigan Technological University to work with the archives’ collections. Financial support for the Travel Grant Program is provided by the Friends of the Michigan Tech Library, a support organization for the library and archives of Michigan Tech. Grants are awarded for up to $750 to defray the costs of travel to visit and conduct research in Houghton, Michigan. In addition, graduate students applying to the program may request up to an additional $200 to help defray any duplication costs incurred during a qualified research trip.

The Michigan Tech Archives houses a wide variety of historical print, graphic and manuscript resources related to the Copper Country and Michigan Technological University. Subject coverage includes university and campus life, regional towns and cities, local industries and businesses, as well as social organizations, events and personalities of the Copper Country and Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. Primary topical research areas include the western Upper Peninsula, industrial history, particularly copper mining and its ancillary industries, social history, community development along the Keweenaw Peninsula, transportation and the environment. Finding aids for some of the collections can be found here: http://www.mtu.edu/library/archives/collections/.

To apply for funding through the Travel Grant Program please visit the program website: http://www.mtu.edu/library/archives/programs-and-services/travel-grants/

Applications are due on March 16, 2018. Award recipients will be notified by late April. The successful candidate must complete their travel by December 7, 2018. Electronic submission is preferred.

For further information, please contact:

Lindsay Hiltunen, University Archivist
Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections
J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library
1400 Townsend Drive
Houghton, MI  49931
Phone: (906) 487-2505
E-mail: copper@mtu.edu


A Calumet & Hecla Rosetta Stone: Reading a C&H Employment Card Part 2

The following post is part two of a two-part series, which was researched and authored by Emily Riippa, Assistant Archivist. 

Welcome to the second part of a discussion on deciphering Calumet & Hecla Mining Company (C&H) employment records held by the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections. This post will concentrate on the back page of a C&H yellow employment card, which emphasized a worker’s job history and relationship to the company. If you missed the initial part of the series or would like to refresh your memory of the card’s front page–where the employee’s personal traits and family connections were in focus–you may find it valuable to reread the prior post before perusing this one.

We’ll continue our exploration of the yellow C&H employment cards, which the company used from about 1915 through at least 1957, by once again examining the sample record of Peter Gasperich, my great-great-grandfather. As a reminder, Peter was a Slovenian immigrant and resident of Osceola who worked for C&H at the time of his death. From the front page of his card, we learned that he was married and the father of seven children, that he had previously been employed by the Osceola and Champion copper companies, and that he was a literate man of modest height and solid build. On the reverse of the card, we will find the bulk of the information related to job titles, the divisions of C&H in which the employee worked, and rates of pay. Parsing this data is often the most complicated part of interpreting an employment card, both due to its density and the number of abbreviated, specialized terms used–enough, it seems, to fill a small book rather than a blog post. Still, with the space we have, let us try to unravel the mystery of the back page, piece by piece.

The back page of Peter Gasperich’s Calumet & Hecla employment card, which looks at his relationship to the company and the finer points of his job history.
The back page of Peter Gasperich’s Calumet & Hecla employment card, which looks at his relationship to the company and the finer points of his job history.

 

In the upper left corner of this page, C&H set aside a section that can best be described as a General Notes field. Here, the company documented matters like the date and cause of a worker’s death or information about his pension if he received one; here, too, were any explanations for why he left the company–willingly or involuntarily–including times when he and his boss had butted heads. As with the results of the worker’s physical exam on the front page, these remarks were consistently blunt, if not outright brusque: “losing time,” “lazy,” “no good,” to name a few. For Peter, the card’s most prominent note was that he had left the company’s employ permanently with his death on June 14, 1923 from bronchitis. Keep in mind that C&H did not always accurately record causes of death, either deliberately or from lack of knowledge, so it is wise to cross-reference this information with official death certificates whenever possible. In Peter’s case, the state’s explanation–stomach cancer–seems far more likely in light of clues given in other areas of his employment card.

We see those clues as we move clockwise around this part of the card to look at Peter’s financial relationship with Calumet & Hecla. Next to General Notes, the company recorded a list of dates and amounts of cash. These figures indicate money that Peter withdrew from the C&H Aid Fund, a benefit society of sorts operated by the company. A set deduction was taken from each paycheck of employees who agreed to participate, and C&H matched their contributions. Later, if, like Peter, the worker were laid low by illness or injury, he could draw on the aid fund to keep his family housed, clothed, and fed until he could be back on the job. Though generous by contemporary standards, C&H also kept a sharp eye on its aid fund and monitored the frequency and duration of use by each employee. Distrust fell on men who seemed overly dependent on charitable moneys. The company’s observation, however, and its recordkeeping can provide interesting insight to genealogists in particular. From Peter’s employee aid record, I was able to see that he had called upon the aid fund on several occasions, including one string of withdrawals that began in February 1923. It seemed likely that the fatal illness must have begun around this time, and picturing those last few months in the Gasperich house as Peter declined added a new dimension to my understanding of my ancestors.

Below the General Notes and accounts of Peter’s aid fund use came several additional fields whose meaning is more familiar to modern readers: a tally for dates that he had received workmen’s compensation funds for any injuries received on the job, a list of addresses he had occupied and changes he made to his residence, and the dates that he had been examined by a C&H physician. Individuals joining the company had to pass physicals, which were seemingly required at irregular intervals thereafter; any extraordinary results–described in General Notes–could mean the rescindment of an offer of employment, lest the worker become a threat to his colleagues or a financial drain on the company’s hospital.

The left side of the back page of Peter’s C&H employment card, concerning his death, his use of various company funds, his examination by a C&H physician, and his address history.
The left side of the back page of Peter’s C&H employment card, concerning his death, his use of various company funds, his examination by a C&H physician, and his address history.

Although interesting, these components are not the meat of the employment card’s back page. That honor belongs to the right side, where Peter’s work history was recorded in meticulous detail. This section began with Peter’s typed name and, below it, two identification numbers: an enrollment card number and a pay roll number (which also appeared on the front page). It is not uncommon for the latter of these numbers to be crossed off if the employee had passed away or replaced with digits in the form P-### if the worker had been pensioned. Further information on any such pensions were recorded, as we have already seen, in the General Notes field. Beneath these numbers came several columns designed to capture the nuances of Peter’s time at C&H. Two of them–the first and the next-to-last–simply listed the dates that Peter began his work, whether at the company or in a new position, and the dates that he ceased to hold that job.

Next was given the title of the occupation itself, often in abbreviated form. To most modern researchers, Peter’s having worked as a “tram” or a “pipe” seems nonsensical, but these terms indicate that Peter worked as a trammer–moving heavy cars of mine rock along a shaft level to be raised to the surface of the shaft–and a pipeman, someone who laid and repaired pipe for compressed air, steam, or water. Similarly, as a timberman (or “timb,” as C&H put it), Peter would have placed and maintained wooden mine structures, like ladders and hanging wall supports. Occupational shorthand abounded through the cards, but two other common terms of note were “dry” for “dry man”–often an older or partially disabled man who kept the workers’ change house clean and supplied–or “sfc,” for surface, preceding a job to distinguish employees who did the work on one side of the ground or the other. Keep in mind, as well, that sometimes words that seem straightforward today had nuances at the time the cards were created. It’s easy to think that every underground man at C&H was a miner, but the term was specific in its meaning and referred only to workers who drilled and blasted rock in search for copper.

Under the Rate column, C&H provided the wage paid for each occupation that an employee held. Notice on Peter’s card the word “cont” in several places, indicating that he was paid wages specified in a contract he had negotiated with the company. For other jobs, the amount of pay was given in numeric form: a monthly wage, generally speaking, until about 1918, when a daily rate began to be used. In the 1940s, C&H switched again, transitioning to listing pay in hourly terms. If you see an ancestor’s income listed as cents and fractional cents, that is a good indicator that this pay was hourly. If the card bears a number like $55.00, the rate was monthly.

The Company and Department (Dept) headings can also be a source of confusion. Although it is useful shorthand to think of C&H as a single entity, in many respects it was more of a corporate umbrella containing component companies, including some former competitors. A little history may help to explain this. Calumet & Hecla began life as two related organizations–the Calumet Mining Company and the Hecla Mining Company–that were combined into C&H in 1871. To ensure the company’s continued success, in the early 1900s C&H began to acquire large amounts of stock in some of its local competitors, placing them under C&H’s control. This method brought Osceola into the C&H “family” in 1909 and Tamarack in 1917. Ahmeek, Allouez, and Centennial were purchased outright in 1923, leading to the creation of the Calumet & Hecla Consolidated Copper Company. Other mines and facilities also came under the umbrella over the years, creating a C&H that employed workers in places far beyond the little village once called Red Jacket.

Given this history, the Company and Department columns seem more logical. “Company” allowed C&H’s clerks to specify which part of the organization an employee belonged to: Osceola, Kearsarge, South Hecla, C&H proper, etc. “Department” permitted greater specificity: a Hecla miner could be said to work in the #9 shaft, for example, or a C&H general laborer could be designated as a smelter employee. For companies that already had subsidiaries at the time of their incorporation into C&H–like Osceola’s operations at Kearsarge–the Department field could also be used to further distinguish among the company hierarchy. At other times, however, the two sections simply repeated each other. On Peter’s card, for example, we can see Company listed as in one place as “Osc. Cons,” referring to Osceola Consolidated Mining Company, and the Department simply listed as “Osc,” not shedding much light on his particular place within the organization. Where greater details than these were provided, these fields in conjunction with the Occupation column offer the genealogist significant insight into the nature of an ancestor’s work.

As with Occupation, abbreviations for Company and Department abound. Decoding the meaning of the more obscure shorthand is an ongoing project at the Michigan Tech Archives. A few basic words of advice are worth sharing at this point, however. Common entries in the Company column–in addition to the ones mentioned above–include LMS & R[ef] Co for Lake Milling, Smelting, and Refining Company; Tam for Tamarack, west of Calumet; I.R.C. and I. Royale for Isle Royale Copper Company, near Houghton; and a dizzying array of options for the Tamarack, Osceola, and Ahmeek mills on Torch Lake. Department abbreviations featured likewise ran the gamut. Rkhs, rchs, and r. hse indicated an employee assigned to the rock house; sm, smelt, and smelts, the smelter; mill or st. m, the stamp mill; or sfc, the surface. Where a number or single letter were given in the Department column, it referred to a particular designated mine shaft at the company in question.

The right side of the back page of Peter Gasperich’s employment card, showing the details of his positions and pay at C&H.
The right side of the back page of Peter Gasperich’s employment card, showing the details of his positions and pay at C&H.

Moving past the Date Left column that was mentioned earlier, we look at last to the Reason column, which provided a rationale for Peter’s departure from each position. Peter’s card included three of the most common explanations: Q for quit (he chose to find work elsewhere), L.O. for laid off (economic factors led C&H to cut his job), and Sett for settled up (he died, and C&H concluded its business with him). This last term also was used to address workers who resigned, possibly in lieu of termination, and sometimes men who had been drafted into the armed forces. If an employee’s reason for departure was given as “Dis.,” he certainly was dismissed or discharged–fired. “Ret” workers had simply retired. Peter’s card also used the word “Strike” in the explanation column. This does not necessarily mean that he was an active part of the 1913-1914 Western Federation of Miners (WFM) copper strike; rather, C&H used it to indicate that the mine at which he had worked shut down during that time. Occasionally, recordkeepers placed numbers in parentheses next to one of these reasons, indicating a more detailed explanation was available next to the corresponding number in the General Notes section. Look to that section, as well, to distinguish men who had joined the union from men whose note of “Strike” simply meant that they were bystanders: if the note indicates that a man burned or gave up his WFM book, he was a union member.

What more can be said about the Calumet & Hecla employment cards? Quite a lot. These documents mirror the organization that created them: they are as broad as the workforce and as deep as the company’s copper mines. The Michigan Tech Archives earnestly hopes that this overview of the C&H records has been useful, limited by necessity as it may have been. If your interest in learning more about your ancestors’ potential ties to C&H has been piqued, if you would like assistance in deciphering a record already located, or if you have any other research questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Michigan Tech Archives. We may be reached via e-mail at copper@mtu.edu or by telephone at (906) 487-2505, and, as always, we are very happy to help.



A Calumet & Hecla Rosetta Stone: Reading a C&H Employment Card, Part 1

The following post is part one of a two-part series, which was researched and authored by Emily Riippa, Assistant Archivist. 

Fall semester is always busy for our department, but October was an especially busy month of outreach for the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections. Everyone on our staff had a part to play. It was my honor and privilege to speak at the monthly meeting of the Houghton-Keweenaw County Genealogical Society on some of our most popular documents: the employment records from the Calumet & Hecla Mining Companies Collection (MS-002).

The Michigan Tech Archives holds more than 54,000 of these records for workers–primarily male but, in some instances, female–hired by the company between 1865 and 1957. Astonishing though that number is, it still does not quite capture the vastness of the workforce under the Calumet & Hecla (C&H) umbrella. Records for an unknown number of employees who left the mines before the mid-1890s or stayed on with C&H until its bitter end in 1969 were lost or destroyed before the collection arrived at Michigan Tech. C&H’s habits when it acquired competitors also weighed negatively on documents from those companies: if a worker was employed by Tamarack Mining Company, for example, only before it ceased to be an independent organization in 1917, C&H apparently disposed of his employment information. If he stayed on when Tamarack officially came into the Calumet & Hecla family, the corporation’s clerks transferred his information to a new, C&H-specific document.

Sample Calumet & Hecla employment card.
Sample Calumet & Hecla employment card.

 

Rich with information about such topics as family backgrounds, occupations, rates of pay, and on-the-job injuries, the many cards that have survived are perennially in demand with genealogists, labor historians, and many other researchers. Yet the very wealth of information available often renders the cards challenging to read and decipher. Even more than its biggest competitors–Copper Range and Quincy–C&H created employment cards with a complex structure and devised a collection of information-storing abbreviations as expansive as the workforce it described. For researchers a hundred years later, understanding the C&H language and card structure can be a challenging proposition. In my presentation last October, I provided what I called a Cliffs Notes guide to what a person needs to know to read a C&H employment card, and I am pleased to be able to share a version of that with you. It would be a disservice to the records to abbreviate that discussion too dramatically, so this Cliffs Notes guide will be divided into two posts. The first entry will focus on the information that the cards provide on an employee’s background and personal traits.

When we speak of C&H employment cards at the Michigan Tech Archives, we are, in fact, referring to two distinct styles of record. A small, dense document that resembles a modern index card came into use for documenting C&H employees in the 1890s. A larger, yellow sheet with a more complex structure replaced it beginning in 1915. While the format might have changed, many of the company’s questions and abbreviations remained constant over the years. Understand the newer C&H employment record, and interpreting its predecessor will be simple. For that reason, both posts will examine the yellow document.

It’s easiest to understand yellow cards by looking at a sample record, so I selected the employment card for a relative of my own, Peter Gasperich. Peter was born in Slovenia and came to the United States in the late 1880s, settling near Calumet. He worked in the copper mines for more than thirty years and concluded his career at C&H, where he was employed at the time of his death.

On the front page of the yellow card, C&H employment clerks recorded the aforementioned information about Peter as an individual. The left side of the page began by asking for a substantial number of details of interest to genealogists; name, date and place of birth, current residence, and status with regard to marriage, citizenship, and parenthood lead the list. A genealogist may find that, if the individual’s name was unusual to American eyes or if the worker was an immigrant looking to blend in with his peers, the name given on the employment card varies from what is given elsewhere. Employees may also have misremembered or been motivated to obscure their years of birth, either to inflate or reduce their ages; this information is worth verifying with other sources whenever possible. It is worth noting, as well, that contemporary names were used for places of birth. Peter was born in Črnomelj, Slovenia, a town then part of the Austrian empire. He provided his hometown using its official German name (Tschernembl), which the C&H clerk attempted to transcribe phonetically–with little success. It took quite a bit of additional research to tie “Chernemble” back to Peter’s actual birthplace.

As they moved down the page, the clerks inquired about the name of Peter’s spouse and where she resided. Employees whose parents were still alive also provided information about them to C&H. Unfortunately, the company was not motivated to collect details about deceased relatives and simply recorded them as no longer living, rendering this section a–no pun intended–genealogical dead end. Names and dates of birth were noted for children, albeit with the same caveats as Peter’s name and age. The questions about Peter’s family also requested details about any relatives of his who were also working in Michigan’s copper mines. If the family member were employed at a different mine, both the person’s name and the name of their employer were listed, along with a succinct abbreviation of their relationship; if the person worked somewhere within the C&H empire, the employer’s name was replaced by the individual’s identification number. This portion of the front page concluded with information about Peter’s most recent employer prior to C&H and his reason for leaving that company.

The left side of the front page of Peter Gasperich’s C&H yellow employment card, which features a range of basic biographical data.
The left side of the front page of Peter Gasperich’s C&H yellow employment card, which features a range of basic biographical data.

Although the structure of the employment cards varied over the years, the right side of this front page here provided a space for C&H to expand on Peter’s work history. In this more detailed inquiry, the company asked about Peter’s employers in the twelve months prior to his hiring at C&H: the name and location of the firm, the dates that Peter worked there, and the position he held were all noted. At times, an employment card might show a smattering of jobs spread across multiple years: when workers returned to C&H after an absence, the company would simply update existing records rather than creating new ones. The genealogist who sees this apparent disarray on an employment card should see it as a clue that their ancestor moved from job to job with some frequency.

Perhaps more interesting to family history researchers, however, is the description of the employee’s appearance also provided. For genealogists who have only black-and-white photographs of their ancestors–or, in the case of Peter, no pictures at all–these details about hair and eye color, height, and weight are a particular treasure. Rest assured that C&H company physicians, who examined all prospective hires, spared no detail. I know more now about the scars and bodily oddities of long-dead family members than I ever desired to know. On the employment records produced in the years immediately following the 1913-1914 Western Federation of Miners copper strike, a paragraph authorizing a rudimentary background check and vowing no affiliation with the union was also included. By the time Peter’s card was created in 1921, this section had fallen by the wayside; its commitment was now implicit.

The new hire signed the card–or made his X mark–on this page, and a representative of the company added his own signature and the date. Updates here were made in much the same way as the employment history section. At the very bottom of the page, clerks wrote Peter’s name again and added one of the two numbers he was assigned within the C&H system.

The right side of the front page of Peter Gasperich’s C&H yellow employment card, which discusses his work history and physical appearance.
The right side of the front page of Peter Gasperich’s C&H yellow employment card, which discusses his work history and physical appearance.

The Calumet & Hecla employment cards offer extraordinary insight into the company’s workforce for a bevy of research interests. Hopefully, this primer will prove a useful orientation to the basic history and purpose of the cards, as well as the information available on their front side. A future blog post will turn to the back page, which shifts its attention away from personal details to focus more on a worker’s relationship to C&H. Watch this space for the second part of the guide. In the meantime, if your interest in learning more about your ancestors’ potential ties to C&H has been piqued, if you would like assistance in deciphering a record already located, or if you have any other research questions, please do not hesitate to contact the Michigan Tech Archives. We may be reached via e-mail at copper@mtu.edu or by telephone at (906) 487-2505, and we are always very happy to help.