Author: Emily Riippa

Flashback Friday: All in the Family

Image of storefront with awning and signs
Thurner’s Bakery at its Calumet location, 1977.

Thurner Bakery was a family affair from the very beginning.

At the start of its life in 1920, family businesses were hardly curiosities. Small storefronts neighbored Thurner’s all along Fifth Street in Calumet, many of them run with the assistance of a proprietor’s spouse, siblings, children, or grandchildren. By the time the bakery shut its doors in 2003, however, its family operation and emphasis on handmade work set it apart and tilted the odds against its survival.

Twenty-six-year-old Joseph Thurner arrived at Ellis Island on March 14, 1913, as a third-class passenger aboard the S.S. Barbarossa. A native of Germany, he gave his occupation as baker, unsurprising in light of his subsequent business. Thurner did not originally plan to make his home in the Copper Country: he joined his uncle, Wenzel Thurner, at Oshkosh, Wisconsin. Three months later, twenty-year-old cook Franciska Dümke stepped off the Kronprinz Wilhelm in New York City. She, too, was bound for Wenzel Thurner in Oshkosh–and for young Joseph Thurner, who the manifest indicated was her “int[ended] husband.” According to family lore, the two had met and fallen in love in Berlin before opportunity overseas beckoned Joseph away. They were married on July 5, 1913, the day after Franciska, soon to be known as Frances, arrived in Oshkosh.

The Thurners remained in Wisconsin for a few years and there welcomed three children: Helen, Frank (named after Joseph’s father), and Elizabeth. As World War I raged in their native Europe, the Thurners heard of the boom that war demand for copper had created in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Bakeries there needed workers, and Joseph decided to answer the call. He worked first at Hancock’s Star Bakery, then at Moffitt & Clark in Laurium, the town that the Thurners called home. Henry, their next son, was born there in December 1919. As Joseph continued to bounce from bakery to bakery in the months that followed, someone suggested that he might like to establish his own concern. He and Frances decided to give it a try, and Quality Bakery had its first day of business out of their home on August 1, 1920.

Snow-covered street in town with old car
Joseph Thurner regularly biked through the snow to make his deliveries. The bakery’s sign is visible in the distance on the left side of Fifth Street in this image.

Feeding the hungry people of Calumet and Laurium was no small task. Both Thurners put their blood, sweat, and tears into making a success of Quality Bakery. Joseph brought the best techniques he had cultivated in his European apprenticeships and his Midwestern adulthood to the business, baking in the small hours for maximum morning freshness. He introduced a new innovation, as well: a delivery bicycle. Local residents became accustomed to the sight of Joseph pedaling his bicycle, laden with loaves of bread and other bakery items, from customer to customer. In heavy snowfall, he biked along the streetcar tracks, knowing that snow would be blown clear from them. Frances’s assistance in the bakery and with general upkeep ensured that the business was true to its Quality name.

The bakery faced challenges in its first decade of operation that might have crushed a couple with less fortitude than Joseph and Frances Thurner. In 1927, their home and basis of operations burned to the ground. Quoted posthumously in a Peninsula News article about the bakery, Joseph described a total loss: “The lovely furniture we bought when we first came to Hancock was gone. All the dishes, bedroom furniture, dining room set: we lost it all in the fire in Laurium.” No one was injured, thankfully, and the Thurners were undaunted. With the help of an insurance policy and a generous landlady, the bakery reopened just a few months later at 319 Fifth Street in Calumet. It occupied that address for the rest of its life.

A 1928 Sanborn fire insurance map of Calumet showing the new Thurner Bakery location.

The arrival of the Great Depression two years later might have ended that life prematurely, but the Thurners pulled together. From those who could not pay cash for their bread, Joseph accepted trades of groceries and farm products, which made their way to the full apartment upstairs. Seven children had been born to the Thurner family by this point, and all who could chipped in to do their part in the business below. Frank, the oldest son, became his father’s most enthusiastic apprentice.

Quality Bakery survived and grew through the Depression and into World War II. The Thurners added one more child to their family, and people of Calumet spoke of Quality Bakery as Thurner’s Quality Bakery or Thurner Bakery. In the 1940s, Frank, joined by his wife Rhoda, assumed increasing responsibility for running the family business. Maintaining the standards of handiwork and quality product he had learned at his father’s side, Frank also harnessed the spirit of innovation that had led Joseph to deliver bread by bike. He bought new delivery trucks and improved the ovens, keeping up with the best of modern technology. Meanwhile, Rhoda frosted cakes, rolled out buns, and balanced books with zest. The bakery, its reputation, and its circulation of product grew.

Frank and Rhoda Thurner with their daughter, Nancy Thurner Pintar, and her husband, James (Jim), in a Daily Mining Gazette photograph.

The second generation officially handed Thurner Bakery over to the third in 1977, but Frank stuck around for six years out of love of the business. Nancy Thurner Pintar and her husband, Jim, were the new owners, and they expanded their sales throughout neighboring counties. The bakery retained a family feel, with employees remaining loyal for decades at a time. These years, however, presented difficulties tantamount to the Depression and the fire of 1927.

Ever since the 1950s, Thurner Bakery had resisted the national trend toward automation and changing recipes to include preservatives and create cheaper product. Although the company held out for decades by focusing on local sales and eventually opening a storefront that gathered regular customers for daily doughnuts, economic forces eventually overwhelmed it. Costs rose for everything–for fuel, for labor, for supplies–in the late 1990s and early 2000s, and profit margins grew slimmer than ever. Despite making deep investments from his own funds and valiantly fighting to keep the bakery open, Mike Pintar, the fourth-generation owner, finally conceded defeat in late 2003.

When the lights went off at Thurner’s on Fifth Street on the final day, however, they could not erase the eighty-year legacy of an immigrant couple making a better life for their descendants, one loaf of bread at a time.

Many articles from the Daily Mining Gazette, Copper Island Sentinel, and Peninsula News, especially Dennis Walikainen’s 1995 profile of the business, provided valuable information for this blog post.

Flashback Friday: Be True to Your School

A postcard view of Hancock Central High School.

Comfortably nestled in the shadow of the Quincy Mine–Old Reliable–Hancock became one of the Upper Peninsula’s preeminent towns and the Copper Country’s first city. Along its hillside and its two main thoroughfares, the commercial and artistic amenities of a large settlement sprang up: shops, taverns, performance halls. Catholic, Lutheran, Baptist, Methodist, and Episcopal churches, as well as a synagogue, arrived in the decades that followed Hancock’s creation to tend to its residents’ souls. And, as children came to Hancock, schools emerged to nurture their minds.

Records of the earliest educational facilities in Hancock went up in smoke during the great fire of 1869. According to a history prepared by Hancock Public Schools a century later, “some kind of school must have existed similar to typical ones of the period–one room structure furnished with hard-wood benches and heated with the usual round shaped wood stove.” As the town expanded, it constructed a larger, two-story facility to house all its young pupils near the corner of today’s East Franklin and Tezcuco streets.

Wood-framed school building
The Franklin Street school after it ceased to serve students, undated. Image from John Haeussler’s “Hancock” in the “Images of America” series.

Only six years after the fire, which the school incredibly survived, the student body had outgrown the wooden structure, and a new brick building rose on Quincy Street to take its place. Quincy continued booming; Hancock continued expanding. By 1893, it was clear that even the larger structure could no longer provide enough space for all the city’s schoolchildren. A facility called the Central Primary, for the younger learners, was built adjacent to the Quincy Street school, which transitioned to serving high school and junior high students. It was expanded in 1900 to feature a handsome sandstone facade, popular among Copper Country architecture of the time. The elegant cupola that had crowned the building since its inception remained.

View of high school building in snow
The 1875 Quincy Street high school before its renovation.

Hancock Central High School thrived, and it attracted top teaching talent from around the Midwest. The 1912 Han-Cen-Hi, the school yearbook, enumerated graduates of the University of Michigan, Michigan State Normal, the University of Chicago, and Olivet College among the faculty. Together, they presented a curriculum designed to prepare students for office occupations, hands-on vocations, or post-secondary degrees. Beginning in the seventh grade, according to the 1928-1929 school handbook, pupils could select a literary or engineering course of study, both of which were designated as college prep; the commercial and English programs offered an education geared toward entering the workforce immediately. The course catalog was remarkably expansive. Students in all courses studied the “three Rs”–reading, ‘riting, and ‘rithmetic–along with history, civics, domestic science or manual training, general science, chemistry, physical education, and geography during their years at the high school. Electives like botany, solid geometry, and physiology were open across the curricula. Other classes helped students to customize and specialize in their courses of study: bookkeeping, commercial law, typewriting, or stenography for vocationally-oriented students, Latin, French, trigonometry, and mechanical drawing for those seeking college.

In the 1920s, classes began at quarter to nine in the morning and continued until four in the afternoon, with a lunch break of a little over an hour. The handbook strictly charged students to “avoid unnecessary noise in the halls” and “never march more than two abreast” when moving between class periods. “There should be no running, shouting, snatching of things from others, or banging of lockers… boys, hats off on entering the building!” High school students have not changed much over a hundred years.

High school life then, as now, involved developing a strong sense of class community. Students elected officers for their peer group, selected class colors and a flower, and named a motto. “Out of School Life, into Life’s School” was the choice of 1946; the 1912 graduates favored, “He Who Conquers Endures.” They kept busy, as well, with an ample program of arts, sports, social groups, and other activities. In 1928, clubs included the Iagoo Literary Society, “a girls’ club formed for the purpose of promoting literary and social interest among the girls of the Hancock High School,” the Senatus Club (which had “as its purpose the promotion of an interest in ancient Mythology”), the Hi-Y Club emphasizing “the practice of… Clean Athletics, Clean Living, Clean Scholarship, and Clean Speech” for boys, a booster club, male and female glee clubs, and an orchestra. By 1912, the tradition of the senior class presenting a play had been established; the junior class had assumed the same responsibility by 1945. Girls in the ‘40s presented style shows for Mother’s Day, and a Christmas program featured the talents of Hancock’s public speakers. Track, basketball, football, hockey, tumbling, and baseball called to the athletes over the years. Naturally, Houghton’s high school became Hancock’s fiercest rival. The boosters wrote school yells and songs for eager fans, shamelessly borrowing the tunes used by Michigan and Wisconsin for their university athletics. Later, Hancock’s teams became known as the Bulldogs.

View of high school building with broad lawn
The replacement Hancock Central High School, circa 1923, with the Central Primary School at left.

Hancock Central High had its triumphs and its tragedies. On July 25, 1922, the remodeled sandstone school caught fire. So intense was the blaze that the Methodist church next door also suffered minor damage. The valiant efforts of three bystanders who rushed into the building preserved some of the school’s records, but the building itself was a total loss. For the next school year, students attended classes in a cramped space they dubbed “the tub-factory.” They had each other, however, and they determined to keep up with their vibrant school activities and social life; this more than made up for the inelegant surroundings. Their replacement high school, constructed at a cost of $375,000 in 1923, arose behind the ruins. Featuring “a large auditorium with a stage, a large gymnasium, offices, classrooms, and an excellent library,” the building served Hancock’s students faithfully for over seven decades. Students delighted in the high school’s broad front lawn as a place to relax or take in a beautiful view of Hancock and Houghton, especially after the Central Primary School was razed in the early 1960s.

In 1999, high school students moved out of downtown Hancock for the first time. A new building opened atop Quincy Hill, tucked back from the highway and the mine that gave the hill its name. The 1923 building housed students in grades 6-8 for another decade before a middle school wing adjoining the new high school was completed. Finlandia University subsequently acquired the Quincy Street property.

By 1968, Hancock Central High School had graduated almost 5,000 students, sending them out to enrich communities, homes, and workplaces; the ranks of Bulldogs have only grown since then. They worked for the mines, as physicians and nurses, in business and in keeping house, in engineering, in countless fields new and old. Their lives testified in part to the thoughtfulness and success of their alma mater in preparing its young people to be good citizens and faithful neighbors. They are indeed, as one school chant said, “the mighty, mighty Bulldogs.”

Flashback Friday: The End of the Line

Engine No. 29 leading the Keweenaw Central Railway sightseeing train, circa 1967.

A few weeks ago, Flashback Friday took a look at the first incarnation of the Keweenaw Central Railroad. This rail line filled the many needs of the Copper Country in its industrial heyday: it carried copper, albeit in smaller-than-anticipated volumes, and other local products south to be brought to market, and it ferried pleasure seekers and travelers north into beauty. 

The second Keweenaw Central shared the name of its predecessor but only part of its mission. By 1967, when the inaugural train rolled out, the commercial landscape of the Copper Country had changed dramatically. The mines that the original Keweenaw Central served had long since closed. The Quincy Mine, once admiringly hailed as “Old Reliable,” lay dormant. Even its peers, the mighty Copper Range and Calumet & Hecla, found themselves in the last minutes of a long twilight. Both would cease their native copper production within the year, with work continuing only at the more distant chalcocite deposit at White Pine. Mining no longer drove the Copper Country’s economy. 

Industrial buildings and smokestacks
White Pine, the last Michigan copper mine standing, circa 1955.

Although even early advertisements for the first Keweenaw Central attempted to entice residents of distant cities to visit the peninsula, the establishment of the second Keweenaw Central reflected the region’s efforts to reinvigorate itself. No commercial freight or commuters rode these rails. This line was intended for tourists and sightseers, with a location and equipment thoughtfully chosen to make their experience memorable. 

Four railroad enthusiasts with a creative eye for business were behind the new-old railway. Clint Jones, a native of Milwaukee and graduate of Michigan Tech, served as a president of the company and managed its daily operations. Fred Tonne, his vice president and right-hand man, actively promoted and advertised the vision he shared with Jones. The two were no desk jockeys. Both put in their fair share of time under the cars and engines, maintaining the equipment; Tonne strolled through the passenger cars, greeting guests and performing the duties of conductor, while Jones was known to settle in as engineer for excursions, including the very first one. Louis Keller and Frank Glaisner also contributed their “talents, equipment… and plenty of muscle, too,” in the words of one news piece profiling the railroad, to make the Keweenaw Central a reality. They “felt… the strong desire to preserve it for its historical interest and significance to the Copper Country where it served as a pioneer line.”

Jones, Tonne, Keller, and Glaisner chose to revive their line as a steam railroad, the only one of its kind in the Upper Peninsula. Out of storage came Copper Range Engine No. 29, a locomotive built in 1907. Copper Range had purchased No. 29 and seven engines like it to support its freight services, gradually transitioning it to passenger duty as industrial demand decreased. By 1953, No. 29 alone survived; all of its sisters had come to sad ends in the scrapyard. With its elegant, classic appearance and a fresh coat of paint, this engine was the perfect choice for Keweenaw Central’s purpose. From its smokestack rose a picturesque plume that seemed to belong to the trains of legend. A wooden passenger coach with open vestibules, Copper Range’s No. 60, completed the charming train. 

Train with locomotive, passenger car, and caboose passing over tall bridge
A Keweenaw Central Railway postcard showing Bridge No. 30, a signature element of the route.

The Keweenaw Central’s route complemented its scenic equipment. From its ticket office, a converted coach, and home base on Sixth Street north of M-203 in Calumet, No. 29 chugged through Hecla and Albion locations, passing industrial buildings and residences for the workers who had once staffed them. The train wound north to Centennial, then back through Calumet Junction and toward St. Louis, a mine with more hope than copper. It followed the eastern edge of Laurium, skirting the old airport, before entering the most breathtaking part of the journey. The Keweenaw Central line descended down the hill toward Lake Linden, Trap Rock Valley unfolding to the north, Lake Superior glittering where the land dropped away, the Huron Mountains rising on the distant horizon. Bridge No. 30, a wooden trestle situated 120 feet above Douglass Houghton Creek, provided just one memorable example of the dozens of Kodak opportunities along the 13-mile round trip.

Summer and fall emerged as the logical seasons to operate the Keweenaw Central Railway–summer with its verdant vibrancy, autumn with its varicolored splendor, and no need to plow snow from the rails at either time. In 1968, the first train of the year steamed out of Calumet on June 22. Daily runs continued through Labor Day, when more occasional excursions to view the fall colors took over. The various departures throughout the day bore creative names, which often switched when the train reversed directions in Lake Linden: Detroit Express, Northern Michigan Special, Copper Country Limited, North Country Mail. Jones and the other railway operators hoped to capture the feel of the region by reviving these route names, which had once been trains by which local residents could set their watches. Company advertisements emphasized the railway’s ability to capture the “fabulous–historic–mysterious Copper Country.” Aboard the train, passengers of all ages could “find new thrills” or “relive grand memories” unique to riding on a historic steam train, passing over familiar territory or discovering a newborn love. Prefiguring the network of Heritage Sites that would arise decades later with the creation of Keweenaw National Historical Park, Keweenaw Central promotional materials also positioned the railway as part of a larger effort to tell the Copper Country story. They turned a visitor’s attention to other local attractions that would shape his understanding of the region: Fort Wilkins, the Quincy Mine, and the profound beauty of Lake Superior chief among them. The effort hearkened back to the original Keweenaw Central, which had also promoted the organic allure of the peninsula alongside its industrial character.

Diesel locomotive on tracks with man looking underneath the hood
A diesel locomotive used by the Keweenaw Central Railway while No. 29 awaited repair.

Unfortunately, despite the best efforts of Jones and company, the second life of the railroad was shorter than its first. As a sightseeing tour, the Keweenaw Central Railway enjoyed its share of popularity, and its fans came from throughout the Great Lakes region for the experience. By 1971, however, it faced pressing difficulties, most notably the imminent abandonment of the Copper Range line with which it connected. The directors made the painful decision to discontinue operations, announcing that the last train would run on Sunday, October 10. Engine No. 29 had been sidelined for boiler repairs a year earlier, so a diesel-electric locomotive claimed the honor of pulling the final consist. Riders descended from Madison, Duluth, Detroit, Minneapolis, and other Midwestern towns to be part of the terminal run, and Jones assumed the role of engineer once again. Charles Sincock, a former vice president of the Copper Range Railroad, also joined the riders. 

On October 10, the train slowed and halted in the woods. Passengers ranging from young children to retirees clambered down from the rail cars to pose for a commemorative photograph. “LAST RUN!” read the handwritten poster that Keweenaw Central Railway executives bore. “KEWEENAW CENTRAL RAILWAY, 1906-1918, 1967-1971. THE COPPER COUNTRY ROUTE. UPPER MICHIGAN’S ONLY PASSENGER TRAIN. GOODBYE FOREVER TO OUR FRIENDS. R.I.P. OCT. 10, 1971. FINIS.” 

The last run of the Keweenaw Central Railway, October 10. 1971.

Within two years, the tracks that the Keweenaw Central traveled would be torn up, leaving the line to return to nature. Engine No. 29 was parked at the Quincy smelter, awaiting the day when it could be brought to a museum. The days of rail in the Copper Country had come to a quiet end.

Flashback Friday: All Aboard

Green railroad map with red routes on it
Route map of the Keweenaw Central Railroad, 1911. The dotted lines were never built.

At the height of the Copper Country’s success, railroads were omnipresent. Children in Hancock crossed the tracks to get to classes in the morning, while their counterparts at Painesdale High had a school train rather than a bus. Locomotives chugged through downtown Houghton, passing houses, warehouses, and roundhouses. Trains collected industrial products to carry from mine to mill to smelter; they deposited passengers at depots built next to churches and breweries. They pulled through forests, along lakes, and over hills, whistles shrieking over the sounds of mines working at full power and steam rolling high over the branches of pine trees. Onlookers saw a variety of names as the cars and engines passed by: Copper Range Railroad, Mineral Range Railroad, Quincy and Torch Lake Railroad, and many others.

One of these rail lines enjoyed a fascinating two-part existence, if only in name. The Keweenaw Central in its first incarnation was both an industrial enterprise and a leisure line; the second railroad by that name, established half a century later and positioned further south, was intended purely for tourists and pleasure-seekers. Both desired to play up the scenic beauty of the Copper Country and contribute economically, and both experienced only momentary success before fading away.

The first Keweenaw Central began its life in 1906 under the guidance of the Keweenaw Copper Company. Leaders of the parent corporation sought to revitalize abandoned or flagging mines in the northernmost reaches of the peninsula, an area that had been overshadowed by the prosperity of Calumet & Hecla, Quincy, and Copper Range to the south. To that end, the company acquired a number of properties, among them Aetna, Mandan, Medora, Phoenix, and Washington. The Delaware Mine had constructed a stamp mill at Lac La Belle and, in the 1880s, built a narrow-gauge railroad to carry copper-bearing rock from the mines down to be milled. The Keweenaw Copper Company acquired the idled line and quickly worked to expand it to standard gauge. The width of the track was the most modest growth of the railroad, however.

People standing in front of wooden building
Passengers waiting at the Mandan depot, undated.

Naturally, the primary purpose of a mining company railway was to ferry products, and the Keweenaw Copper Company’s line would bring its copper to the mill and to the market. Like its neighbors elsewhere in the Copper Country, however, the executives of the corporation saw another opportunity. Keweenaw County had no passenger railroad, and overland travel for people in the county remained challenging. The industrial Copper Range Railroad in Houghton County, by offering passenger service to the range towns and outlying settlements, had infused life into many of them. Why could not the Keweenaw Copper Company do the same with its own line? The Keweenaw Central Railroad was born from that vision.

Employees of J.J. Byers, contractor, worked frenetically through the summer of 1906, first to complete the original track widening and then to prepare new railbeds. From Delaware, the laborers hewed north to Mandan and south toward Mohawk. They carved out a path on the outskirts of the once-vibrant Central Mine (making possible the town’s annual reunion), through Phoenix at the base of the spectacular cliffs, and past swamps and forests toward Mohawk. A subsequent elongation would carry the Keweenaw Central all the way to Calumet.

Strange train plowing through snow
The Copper Country’s unparalleled beauty also presented unique needs, like a locomotive specially designed to plow the snow.

The line enjoyed breathtaking scenery, a fact that advertisements used to the railroad’s full advantage, attempting to attract pleasure seekers and tourists. “Beautiful Keweenaw!” exclaimed an early brochure. “For many miles its unbroken forests with narrow trails, lakes and streams mark this spot as one of the ideal places where old dame Nature has been allowed to revel in all her primeval glories… the cool and exhilarating climate, and its remoteness from the cares and distractions of the busy and bustling outside world, [make] it a paradise for the weary and the lover of out of door life.” From the hamlet of Ojibway to Phoenix, having left the noise and success of Calumet behind, “the track is bordered on one side by the ‘Cliffs,’ one of the greatest natural wonders of the Northwest. Towering almost beyond the line of vision, the vari-colored rock peers forth here and there from its covering of verdant green… the scenery along the Keweenaw Central Railroad, unlike the usual rail trips, continually changes, and has a most pleasing effect upon the eye.”

Like the Houghton County Traction Company and its Electric Park, the Keweenaw Central capitalized on these scenic surroundings and built a recreation resort. Crestview, situated along a branch from the main line, was “provided with the necessary attractions for an ideal outing. The casino is the handsomest, the most complete and convenient structure of its kind in the copper country.” A dance hall, complete with all the modern conveniences, a magnificent view of Lake Superior, extensive walking paths, swings, a bathing beach, and a house orchestra “to assist the worshipers at the shrine of Terpsichore” called to prospective Crestview guests from its opening in 1909.

People disembarking from train
Crestview guests disembarking from a Keweenaw Central train, undated.

Forces greater than the appeal of Crestview, however, and the allure of nature prevailed in the story of the Keweenaw Central. Despite all the optimism invested in its purchases, the Keweenaw Copper Company’s mines underwhelmed again; production was lackluster. There would be no lasting revitalization of the abandoned properties. By 1919, with copper prices plummeting from heights they had attained during World War I, company officials realized the hopelessness of their situation. Consistent service from Calumet up to Crestview, north to Mandan, and downhill toward Lac La Belle ceased soon after. Although the company held tenaciously on to some of its equipment for another decade, the Keweenaw Central’s life was over.

Its first life was over, that is. The Keweenaw Central name made a reappearance in the Copper Country in a different place and time, providing a scenic thrill and a brush with history. This second incarnation will be covered in a future Flashback Friday, bringing the story of the Keweenaw Central full circle.

Flashback Friday: Bright Lights and Big Names

We’ve all needed a little fun lately, and several prior blog posts have discussed what people of the Copper Country did to entertain themselves back in the mining days. We’ve struck up the company band for a relaxing Sunday afternoon concert, and we’ve headed out on the streetcar for picnics at Electric Park. Now let’s all head to the lobby and venture into Hancock’s venerable Kerredge Theatre, a longstanding home for movies, music, and dramatic performances.

When workers began construction of the Kerredge in 1902, it dominated its block of East Quincy Street. Small houses dotted the hillside behind it, and an abandoned tramway path for the Quincy Mining Company separated it from a modest Finnish Lutheran church. A little closer to Ripley, the first luxe mansions had begun to rise in the affluent East Hancock neighborhood. But the Kerredge–three stories tall at its streetfront, five at the back of the lot–rose above all of them. With its heavily-ornamented facade and expansive brick walls, it radiated prosperity and spoke to a Copper Country with grand ambitions.

The men behind the theatre had aspirations to match. Echoes of the great American success story resonated in William Kerredge’s life. His father Joseph, a gamekeeper turned general laborer, and mother Phoebe brought young William over to southern Ontario when he was no more than three years old. From there, evidently concluding that the infant Copper Country held greater promise than Canada, the Kerredges moved to Michigan. By 1870, teenage William resided in Hancock with his parents and two younger sisters. Like his father, who found a post in a local sawmill, William worked as a laborer. By the time he married eighteen-year-old Mary O’Neill in 1879, however, he reported his occupation as merchant. Young William was moving up in the world: he had trained as a tinsmith and embarked in the hardware business. His trade prospered in a growing copper town, one that needed the construction supplies and tradesmen’s tools that Kerredge provided. By the mid-1890s, William and Mary Kerredge had moved into a comfortable, newly-built home in West Hancock; the new residence provided ample space for their son, Ray, daughters Phoebe, Pearl, and Emma, and Joseph Kerredge in his last years.

The 1894 Independence Day parade in Hancock. William Kerredge’s hardware store is seen at center.

It isn’t clear what drew Kerredge to the performing arts or when his interest began. As his hardware business took off, however, he began to look beyond the world of saws and nails to curtains and footlights. In 1901, the Polk city directory for Hancock listed him not only as proprietor of the hardware but also of St. Patrick’s Hall, a gathering place for various social groups in town and, in the words of Hancock historian John Haeussler, “arguably Hancock’s premier playhouse” at the century mark. Despite St. Patrick’s success in the arts world, its operator had bigger dreams. He envisioned something grander, something that would attract top-tier acts to the top of the state and provide a beautiful home for community productions. Perhaps the Calumet Theatre, which opened its doors in March 1900, inspired him. At any rate, the Kerredge Theatre progressed quickly from idea to reality. The brick playhouse began hosting productions in 1902 and established itself as a fixture in the community soon thereafter.

In its heyday, the Kerredge could host up to 1,500 theatregoers for a performance, about one-third of Hancock’s population in 1900, and William Kerredge did his best to fill each seat. An article in the Daily Mining Gazette recounted his particular skill in scoring desirable bookings, describing them as “of sterling order,” the type that “put the theater in the field of the most important playhouses in the Midwest.” Variety also characterized the typical Kerredge season, which opened in the last days of summer. Shakespearean dramas arrived in Hancock, as did French operas and stories inspired by the life of Alexander the Great. Comedies, especially musical comedies, proved particularly popular, although most of their titles–”Peggy from Paris,” “Southern Skies,” “David Harum”–are unknown to connoisseurs today. Other oeuvres, like Ibsen’s “A Doll’s House,” resonate through the decades.

The Kerredge in its early days, 1904.

These productions, both the ephemeral and the enduring, brought with them actors and musicians from around the globe. Like the economic opportunities of the Copper Country, the allure of the Kerredge was international. Chauncey Olcott, known for making the rounds of Midwestern theatres, performed in Hancock, as well. Enrico Caruso, the celebrated Italian tenor, appeared bathed in the footlights on one occasion. John Philip Sousa brought his ensemble to play his compositions in Hancock. Sarah Bernhardt trod the boards of the Kerredge, and, according to one rumor, even toured the Quincy Mine to experience life underground. Lillian Russell, whose style was as extravagant as her talent, apparently earned twelve overtures in a single performance at the Kerredge. Capitalizing on the quality of entertainers that the Kerredge was attracting, an enterprising mayor of Hancock, A.J. Scott, built the massive Scott Hotel next door, at the corner of Quincy and Reservation in 1906. The luminaries appearing at the Kerredge did not have far to go when they were ready to turn in for the night, and one wonders how many unsuspecting hotel guests ran into a Bernhardt or a Caruso on the way down the stairs in the morning.

Yet the Kerredge was not merely for big names and bright lights; it remained a community theatre in spite of its glamor. Students from Painesdale High School presented “The Dawn of a New Era,” an educational play with themes centered on international peace and women’s suffrage written by local educator Flora Jeffers, at the Kerredge in 1912. The production was just one of many amateur and school presentations to debut in Hancock. Long before the Rozsa opened on the Michigan Tech campus, its students found a welcome home for their dramatic expressions. By the 1920s, college productions of shows like “A Lucky Break” and “The Poor Nut,” described as “a comedy of modern youth,” became springtime staples at the Kerredge. The theatre adapted, as well, to the advent of moving pictures, both for entertainment and education. Fielding Yost, a renowned athletics director at the University of Michigan, projected films of the Wolverines’ football triumphs on the Kerredge movie scrim in 1923 as part of a lecture to Yooper high schoolers. As enticing top acts to the Copper Country became more difficult, the famous faces of America increasingly appeared on screen in Hancock rather than in flesh and blood; live productions at the Kerredge took on an increasingly local character alongside a growing slate of films.

The Michigan Tech band on stage at the Kerredge, 1940.

William Kerredge, who had guided his namesake theatre to realization and whose skill had helped it become a dominant force in upper Michigan’s entertainment, served as proprietor for some decades after its creation. He entrusted daily management tasks to his son, Ray, whose responsibility increased after William’s death from a stroke in 1927. Sadly, Ray’s own poor health forced him into retirement in middle age, and he died from heart troubles in 1938. The Kerredge outlived both men. Rallies, movies, and concerts attracted the people of the Copper Country down to their theatre for decades to come, creating memories that senior residents of Hancock cherish to this day.

The Kerredge Theatre after its final drama, 1959.

But all good things come to an end, even those we most enjoy. In the small hours of May 29, 1959, a fire of unknown origin sparked at the Kerredge Theatre. Rapidly, the flames gained speed, consuming everything in their path. Heartbroken former patrons of the Kerredge gathered on the sidewalk by the hundreds, watching the theatre’s walls and roof collapse into a smoldering ruin.

It was the last and most tragic show the Kerredge ever offered.

Michigan Tech Archives Reopening for Reference Appointments

Three men riding horses on a city street
We’re back in the saddle!

Following Michigan Tech’s resumption of on-site classes, the Michigan Tech Archives will be reopening for in-person research on a modified appointment-only basis. Appointments may be scheduled from 1pm to 5pm on Tuesdays and Thursdays, subject to availability. As in the fall semester, appointment requests must be confirmed by an archives staff member a minimum of 24 hours in advance. Per university policy, patrons must wear a face covering for the entire duration of their appointments and complete a symptom tracking form (available at the Michigan Tech Flex Portal) before arriving on campus.

Appointments may be requested via email at, by phone at (906) 487-2505, or through our appointment form.

We look forward to assisting you!

Flashback Friday: It’s Electric

Image of large wooden pavilion with sign reading "Electric Park"
The hub of entertainment at Electric Park.

The more things change, the more they remain the same. Much about life–the way Americans dress, the types of jobs available to them, their methods of travel, the ways they communicate–has changed since 1900, and yet so much remains the same. People have a fundamental desire to visit with old friends, meet new ones, let down their hair, and enjoy themselves. The Copper Country is no different, and, in its heyday, the opportunities for entertainment grew as numerous as the mines. In a prior Flashback Friday, this blog profiled the bands formed by mining companies and communities. Now the focus turns to a venue where these bands often played for eager listeners and excited dancers at the turn of the last century.

Nestled in the woods between the bustling copper metropolises of Hancock and Calumet sat Electric Park, a project of the Houghton County Street Railway Company (later the Houghton County Traction Company). In the early 20th century, rail lines crisscrossed the western Upper Peninsula, carrying new arrivals into the region and bearing products like copper ingots and timber to points beyond. The street railway’s electric cars filled a niche for local passenger traffic and established what railroad historians Wally Weart and Kevin Musser characterized as “the only true interurban line in the Upper Peninsula.” When the streetcar line opened in 1900, travelers could go only between Houghton and Boston Location; within a year, the route expanded to Calumet and subsequently added a branch line to Hubbell. A final expansion, completed in 1908, carried riders as far north as Mohawk, with stops all along the way.

Passengers normally rode interurban lines to journey from community to community, but businesses like the streetcar company saw a profitable opportunity in creating another reason to ride their trains. What if they could be the exclusive transportation to an attractive leisure destination, the sort of place where friends wanted to gather and have fun? As spring arrived in 1902, the company moved quickly to capitalize. It obtained access to a patch of land, a little north of Boston Location, dubbed “the Highlands” and hired a contractor to begin clearing brush from the property. The Copper Country Evening News described the plans for the park:

“The pavilion will be a structure of 100 feet by 50 feet and will seat in the neighborhood of 300. When the floor is cleared dancing will be indulged in by several hundred couple [sic]. Amusement each evening and on Sundays will be furnished and refreshments being served on the grounds, people will be able to stay and enjoy themselves several hours at a time.

The entertainments given will be of the best and will be free of charge, all that the railway company will make off the investment will be the revenue derived from the fares to and from the Highlands. The fares promise to be quite an item and the resort or park will prove to be a very popular place for certain classes in this section.”

Streetcar and people next to wooden station
A Houghton County Traction Company streetcar at Albion Station, one of its regularly-scheduled stops. A sign propped against the building advertises a band concert at Electric Park.

This strategy worked. Enjoying high-quality entertainment with friends and basking in the delight of a Copper Country summer for no more than the cost of a streetcar fare drew scores of residents to the park. In 1910, the Houghton County Traction Company recorded some 50,000 visits to the little grove during the warm weather season. By this time, the park had long since shed the Highlands moniker. After a few years of being called Anwebida–a name purported to mean “here may we rest” in Ojibwe–it became Electric Park, a title that required no explanation to those who didn’t speak the language. And the atmosphere there was as electric as the name.

Electric Park kept bustling throughout the summer seasons. The 50,000 visits in 1910, as in most years, covered a whole host of events, gatherings, and activities. Bands descended on the park from the start, with both the Calumet & Hecla and Quincy corporate ensembles playing afternoon concerts. A typical C&H program covered a vast artistic field, incorporating Verdi, patriotic marches, ragtime, and other genres so as to appeal to all tastes; if hired for a dance, the musicians served up an evening of waltzes and two-steps, the toe-tapping favorites of the time. Dances proved particularly popular at Electric Park and in some years were held three times a week. The original dance pavilion burned to the ground in 1906, but its popularity prompted an almost immediate reconstruction and an expansion by nearly 25 percent.

An advertisement for band concerts and free dancing at Electric Park
Ad for Electric Park that ran in the Calumet & Hecla semi-centennial edition of “The Keweenaw Miner.” The streetcar company’s wholesome entertainment–the kind that didn’t lead to hungover or drunk men skipping work–was appealing to efficiency-driven C&H, too.

This new pavilion was well-suited not only to the fashionable dances held at Electric Park but also to the other entertainments and groups that descended on the grove. A stage and dressing rooms, balconies framing the dance floor, large open-air porches, and game tables provided crowd-pleasing, well-equipped spaces. Fraternal organizations rented the Electric Park pavilion to host their own festivities. The UP Federated Italian Societies, for example, hosted a reunion and picnic there with a “program of speeches and sports,” a band concert, and a boccia ball tournament, promising “a day of fun and entertainment for everybody.” The Laurium chapter of the Knights of Pythias held dances at Electric Park; the Hancock and Calumet councils of the Knights of Columbus did the same. Elementary students celebrated the end of the year with a big to-do at the park. Nearby Lutheran and Methodist Sunday Schools took their students out to the grove for picnics and showcases of what they had learned. The Methodists in particular made a habit of bringing large events out to Electric Park, hosting an annual “chautauqua” (convention) of presentations, missionary visits, and music for members of the denomination there throughout the 1910s.

Whether they came to attend a Sunday School picnic, a company band concert, or a fraternal organization party, Electric Park kept its visitors happy. Children zipped down wooden slides and played merrily on unique “boat swings” that sometimes attracted adults, too; management had to post a sign on each reminding older visitors that “this swing is for children only.” Men and kids alike played baseball on a diamond surrounded by a thick stand of trees. As the sun faded, a massive “ELECTRIC PARK” sign, said to be the largest electric sign in the region, blinked on and cast a romantic aura on the grove. When guests of the park needed something to eat or drink, they could purchase snacks like popcorn and sarsaparilla–or visit the outdoor water pump for free refreshment. In the earliest days of the park, supposedly, those looking for adult beverages could find their poison also close at hand. Quickly, however, Electric Park abandoned any liquor sales and forbade patrons from bringing their own, hoping to preserve a true family atmosphere not available at most Copper Country entertainment venues.

Three children on a rocking wooden swing
Three children enjoying the popular boat swings at Electric Park.

Although Electric Park tallied tens of thousands of annual visits for many years after its inception, as first the Copper Country entered an economic decline and then the Great Depression arrived, its days were numbered. As a cascade of mines entered hibernation and people moved away to seek jobs in Detroit, Milwaukee, or Chicago, fewer and fewer passengers rode the Houghton County Traction Company’s streetcars. The company folded. All operations ceased on May 21, 1932. Orphaned by the collapse of its parent organization, Electric Park struggled on for a time. Concerts and dances became much more sporadic, although organizations still put on the occasional picnic, but the summers when the park dominated local entertainment became mere memories. World War II and the cost of maintenance proved the last straws. Electric Park’s pavilion was soon scrapped, sold, and reassembled as a potato barn. Only traces remain of its once-bustling streetcar station, picnic grounds, and dance hall, buried in the underbrush like so much Copper Country history.

Flashback Friday: Strike Up the Band

Living in the Upper Peninsula has always, to some degree, required Yoopers to know how to make their own fun. When the snow falls to the tune of two or three hundred inches annually, a person either learns to love winter or how to pack up and move. Likewise, the resident of a small town who longs for the attractions of a big city either contents himself with what he can do at home, or he does his best to bring the city home.

From the early days of industry in the Keweenaw Peninsula, its residents sought to do something of both, combining the entertainments they knew elsewhere with the feel of the region. Mining towns throughout the Copper Country, both large and small, devised their own ways of having fun, which often took the form of creating bands. Copper mines throughout Cornwall, the western region of England from which many early immigrants came, often supported the establishment of a brass band; the band both provided wholesome diversion for residents and promoted the mine. Musical groups began to form in the first few decades of copper mining in Michigan as companies and communities took root. Unsurprisingly, in composition and style, these ensembles reflected the musical traditions of the new arrivals. By 1873, men at Calumet & Hecla had organized into a traditional British brass band, a group dominated by cornets with supplementation by clarinets, horns, and a small percussion section. These days, a cornet might be unfamiliar to many audiences, but the instrument’s mellow tone and bell shape–an appearance something like a modern trumpet–were instantly recognizable to the Cornish people of the early Copper Country. As bands at Calumet and Central Mine, among other places, became more established and increasingly entertained at concerts, dances, and Fourth of July festivities, they contributed to a vibrant cultural life in an industrial world.

Band in front of wooden building
The Calumet & Hecla band at an Independence Day celebration, 1873.

Among the best-documented mining company and community bands of the region was one established by the Copper Range Company, a sizable competitor of C&H with its heart of operations at Painesdale. The band seems to have been formed in 1910, about a decade after the birth of Copper Range. By this point, the ethnic composition of the Keweenaw Peninsula had changed considerably; alongside the English, German, and Irish immigrants of forty years earlier were substantial numbers of new arrivals from Finland, the Austro-Hungarian Empire, and Italy. The band membership, as recorded by its secretary E.W. Kruka, demonstrated the extent of Finnish settlement along the range: surnames like Ylijoki, Laukka, Hyrkas, and Waara dominated the list. In fact, only two men–Thomas Letcher and Helmut Steinhilb–out of the two dozen musicians did not have obvious Finnish heritage. Despite the change in background, however, the style of the band remained much in line with the traditional British brass form. One of Kruka’s first responsibilities in March 1910 was to place an order for cornets, horns, and trombones, as well as books of solo music for these instruments and drums. Band leader and conductor Charles Holpainen, unsurprisingly, took a prominent role among the cornet section. He, Kruka, and other officers of the band proceeded to lay in a large supply of music for the Copper Range men to learn, attempting to keep their repertoire contemporary, lively, and interesting to their audiences. Throughout the year, Kruka dispatched letter after letter on behalf of the band to suppliers around the Midwest, ordering popular waltzes like Strauss’s “Blue Danube,” rousing tunes with titles like “Swedish Guard March,” and arrangements designed to appeal to the national pride of audiences, such as “Selection of Finnish Melodies.”

Typed list of musical pieces
A program of music to be performed by the Copper Range Band at a Finnish temperance society hall in Painesdale, undated.

The Copper Range Band also sought to bring a touch of professionalism to their performances with the addition of uniforms. Earlier bands had commonly been photographed in good suits and hats, as in the case of the Central Mine ensemble. Men looked nicely-outfitted but not coordinated as a group, given the variations in suit colors and hat styles. For the company’s new band, Kruka placed an order with a tailoring house to equip each man with matching coats and caps. Holpainen’s apparel received extra attention, with “band” embroidered on the hat and “leader” along the coat’s shoulder straps. The uniforms were slow in arriving, even before the special order for Holpainen’s conductor’s gear, and Kruka wrote again to the business, greasing the skids a little with a hint that it would secure uniform orders for his fraternal organization if only the uniforms came through expeditiously. With any luck, they arrived on time for the performance.

Company bands and their members regularly enjoyed particular status in the community in exchange for their work. The leaders experienced this most of all. Calumet & Hecla’s band master, for example, earned $100 monthly, a handsome salary at the time; historian Larry Lankton succinctly described the job of the Quincy Excelsior Band’s director as “cushy.” But even for men who were part of the rank and file, being in the band brought along perks. In response to a letter from John McCarthy asking that “one of the Painesdale bands,” much in demand, come down to Winona for the community’s all-day Fourth of July celebration, Kruka wrote that members of the band “usually get $5 per man for a ‘Fourth of July’ service.” Since McCarthy had outlined a program that would require the musicians to arrive the day before and stay two nights, missing the next day’s work, Kruka drove a harder bargain. To compensate for the lost shifts, he requested an additional $2.50 per man, as well as for Winona to cover the roundtrip train fare. Naturally, the men would be riding the Copper Range Railroad to their destination.

A poor-quality image of the Copper Range Band in uniform, undated.

In their regular lives, the Copper Range men drilled into rock walls, hammered iron, and managed inventory. In their musical lives, they played for fraternal organizations, community concerts, and local dances; they provided accompaniment for rallies advocating for Prohibition, entertained groups of socialists, and serenaded conservatives. Music, they say, is universal, and the Copper Range Band illustrated it. Finnish men played German waltzes in British style to American audiences, bringing tastes from over the Atlantic to Michigan to serve a varied people in a remarkable place. What could be more universal than that?

Flashback Friday: Loyalty

Massive crowd of people surrounding a flag-draped stage
A glimpse of the crowd gathered to celebrate Calumet & Hecla’s semi-centennial.

In 1916, Calumet & Hecla celebrated its semicentennial in grand fashion. The company normally abhorred any stoppage in work not demanded by market conditions, making its decision to halt work for the July 15 festival particularly remarkable. That day, star-spangled banners fluttered on buildings and bandstands throughout Calumet, and workers–male and female alike–marched through the streets to the acclamation of spectators. Near the head of the parade walked Charles Alschbach. At Calumet’s “commons” (later Agassiz Park), he and his peers listened as Michigan Governor Woodbridge N. Ferris feted the success of Calumet & Hecla. They dined on lunches provided by the company–some 19,000 of them. Then, at two o’clock, C&H President Rodolphe Agassiz rose to salute the loyalty, efficiency, and service of the company’s longtime employees. Concluding his speech, he invited Alschbach and 168 of his peers to come forward so that he might present them with gold medals honoring 40 to 50 years of employment at C&H. Spectators who obtained copies of The Keweenaw Miner’s commemorative program could peer at the photographs provided of “Gold Medal Men” and see Alshbach among them. A mustachioed man with a receding hairline, he looked proud to stand before the camera in his dress suit. He was the epitome of a model employee.

Which makes his abrupt termination two years later even more remarkable. Remarkable, perhaps, but very much of its time.

Headshot reading "Charles Alschbach."
Charles Alschbach’s photograph as it appeared in the commemorative program.

Charles Alschbach was born in about 1860 in Eagle River. The 1870 census found him residing there as the second son in a family of seven children. His father, George, worked as a stone mason; his mother, Caroline, tended to the home. Although Charles’s older brother, Henry, and sister, Catherine, were both recorded as “at school,” Charles was not. Perhaps the nine-year-old’s first census offered a glimpse of his life soon to come.

In 1874, the Alschbach family moved from Keweenaw County down to Lake Linden. While the northern county had been a nexus of copper mining in the early days, the geography of the Copper Country had shifted since Charles’s birth. First the Hulbert Mining Company and then its two child organizations–the Calumet Mining Company and the Hecla Mining Company–began to work one of the richest copper deposits in the world, located in northern Houghton County. After original operator Edwin Hulbert blundered his way through the first years, the board of directors of the Calumet and Hecla companies ousted him in March 1867 and installed Alexander Agassiz, father of Rodolphe, as superintendent instead. The two companies, which quickly became profitable, merged in 1871 but counted their original, separate birthdates of 1866 as their shared founding year.

Successful mines reaping copper-bearing rock–and up to 15 percent of what came out of C&H’s early workings was copper, a remarkable sum–needed a place to mill it, separating the valuable metal from the poor rock and preparing it to be smelted into ingots. Ready access to water made the critical difference between making money and losing it: the copper needed to be washed and to be crushed under steam-powered hammers, and some early mines faltered for placing their mills in poor locations. C&H chose more carefully. Between 1868 and 1870, first the Hecla and then the Calumet mining companies built stamp mills on the shores of Torch Lake. Men flocked to work at the mills, and the town of Lake Linden grew up in their shadow.

View of industrial building with sloped roof
An early stamp mill for the Calumet & Hecla mining companies in Lake Linden, circa 1870.

Charles Alschbach and his family arrived during this early boom. Although Lake Linden already had a school, constructed with the eager support of its residents, his thoughts and priorities lay elsewhere. In 1875, at fourteen or fifteen years old, he walked into the C&H employment office and applied for a job.

Child labor had long been tightly bound up with copper mining. In Cornwall, where mining predated the birth of the industrial Copper Country by centuries, whole families regularly went to work at the local mine together. Children, daughters and sons alike, accompanied their fathers and sometimes their mothers to work from an early age. Eight- or nine-year-olds sweeping up the hoist house were not an uncommon sight; occasionally, even a child of four or five might be found helping to carry and stack small rocks. Adolescent girls learned to hammer ore into smaller chunks in preparation for additional milling. At twelve, boys frequently made the switch to working underground, gaining skills that they would eventually bring with them to Michigan. An 1839 report found that 7,000 children worked in the Cornish mines. While the population of underage boys working in their Copper Country counterparts probably never reached the same levels, photographs taken at the Quincy Mining Company in the late 19th century depict a number of small faces.

Group of boys and men standing and kneeling
Among the Quincy Mining Company’s employees photographed in the late 19th century were a number of young boys.

C&H in 1875 was no different, and Charles Alschbach did not become the youngest worker on the payroll when he accepted his new job at the stamp mill. He appears to have been a general laborer for at least the first few decades: asked in 1894 to describe the nature of his work, he wrote that he “work[ed] at all kind [sic] of jobs” in the company. About a year later, he settled in the mill’s machining department, where he built boilers, and began to earn $52 each month: not a bad wage for the time and place. And he needed the money, too, in light of his growing family responsibilities. Charles had married Anna Opal in 1884, and they welcomed daughters Theresa in 1891 and Irene in 1897.

By 1916, when Rodolphe Agassiz handed him a gold medal and shook his hand, Charles’s life was firmly bound up in the operations of C&H. His home sat on land leased from the company. He paid for it with an income that had steadily increased over the years: by 1913, he earned $78 per month. Through all the tumult of the 1913-1914 strike, Charles remained loyal to the company and walked to the stamp mill in the dead of winter, the heat of summer, and as leaves budded on springtime trees and fell, crimson and gold, from them in autumn. When the United States entered World War I in April 1917, pledging to support the Allied Powers in their fight against Germany and its partners, C&H also joined the fight. The Copper Country mines, wrote Larry Lankton in his seminal Cradle to Grave, reached “their highest peaks ever of production and profitability.” All hands went on deck to help, including Charles Alschbach.

Men in suits lined up to receive small boxes
Men receiving their service medals from Calumet & Hecla in 1916, the year before America entered World War I.

Historically, wars have tended to carry with them two prominent traits: heightened patriotism among the people and a profound need for money on the part of the government. To address the latter, taxes ticked upward nationally, and the federal government began to issue what it called Liberty Bonds, which allowed it to receive loans of money from private individuals on the promise of repayment with interest. The first Liberty Bonds or Liberty Loans, totaling $1.9 billion, rolled out shortly after the declaration of war in April 1917. Three subsequent issuances of bonds followed: $3.8 billion in October 1917, $4.1 billion in April 1918, and a final round of $6.9 billion in September 1918. The bonds sold well by calling upon patriotic fever sweeping the United States–and something else. No one was required to purchase a bond, at least not officially, but failure to do so led to askance looks from neighbors, suspicion from coworkers, and even intimidation from the most passionate supporters of the war effort. Newspaper articles warned Americans that failure to participate in the Liberty Loan scheme and provide funds for military supplies could cost the United States the war. And who could confront the possibility of being conquered by the Germans? Only those who must secretly resent American democracy and pine for the autocratic rule of the Kaiser.

Anti-German sentiment was not new to the United States, but it reached an apex during World War I. How could the people that Americans held responsible for unprecedented carnage in the trenches of Europe successfully integrate into their society? The German neighbor who had run a butcher shop had seemed innocuous before; now, he seemed like he could be a possible spy for the kaiser’s forces, who were themselves butchering the young men of France and the United Kingdom. Now, with American doughboys headed overseas, discomfort with all things German intensified. A town in Michigan that had, for decades, carried the name Berlin shed its moniker in favor of Marne, honoring a battle in which the Allied troops prevailed. Diners sat down not to enjoy sauerkraut or hamburgers but liberty cabbage and liberty steaks. Theodore Roosevelt had cautioned in 1915 that “there is no such thing as a hyphenated American who is a good American. The only man who is a good American is the man who is an American and nothing else.”

Newspaper with headline: "ARE YOU WITH OR AGAINST THE HUN?"
This Kansas newspaper illustrated the kind of patriotic rhetoric surrounding Liberty Bonds in World War I.

Immigrants and native-born Americans of German descent who hesitated to purchase Liberty Bonds–or who spoke German around the dinner table or stood on the corner reading a German-language newspaper as the war waged–seemed suspicious in their loyalties, as far as those who took Roosevelt’s admonition most to heart were concerned. Many German-Americans attempted to prove that they were truly American in Roosevelt’s sense of the term by enlisting in the service, volunteering with the Red Cross, proudly declaring their support of the American Expeditionary Forces, and, of course, participating in the Liberty Loan program whenever new bonds were issued.

Charles Alschbach was a first generation American. George and Caroline Alschbach both immigrated from the small states of Germany to the Copper Country. Although Charles spoke English as his native tongue and had never resided anywhere but the United States, he bore a German surname, and his family attended a German Lutheran church. Perhaps he flew an American flag in his window; perhaps he remained thoroughly ambivalent about the war and its aims. We have no record of his private thoughts. We have only an inference.

On September 25, 1918, Calumet & Hecla abruptly dismissed Charles Alschbach, Gold Medal Man, from his employment. Forty-three years of association with C&H ended that day. Alschbach never worked for a copper mine again. His cause for dismissal, the only blot noted on an impeccable record:

“Making disloyal remarks regarding the Liberty Loan.”

Portion of Charles Alschbach’s Calumet & Hecla employment record describing why he was dismissed from the company.

The last round of Liberty Bonds, the one totaling nearly $7 billion, was poised to be deployed within days of Alschbach’s dismissal. His comments on the matter may have been truly appalling to even an objective observer. On the other hand, they could have been innocuous remarks about how much money the government was spending, or expecting Americans to spend, that aroused deeper criticism because the son of German immigrants spoke them. Regardless, the word that C&H chose to describe Alschbach’s comments–disloyal–carried with it a heavy weight. It cast a pall on his citizenship, his care for his neighbors and friends, his ability to be a true American, his allegiances in the largest fight the country had joined since its birth in 1776. What must a man who had given more than four decades of his life to a single company, let alone resided in the same region since his birth, have thought when he was branded disloyal in any capacity?

The next few years saw dramatic changes in Charles Alschbach’s life. For emotional or financial reasons, or maybe to join his brother Christian, he and his family left Lake Linden. By 1920, they were settled on Waverly Avenue in Detroit, where Charles had found work in an auto factory, most likely Ford. Daughter Theresa became a teacher. The other Alschbach daughter, Irene, and her husband resided with Charles and Anna Alschbach, and the presence of a growing brood of children likely brought joy and comfort to their grandparents, especially when Irene died at a young age.

At 73, Alschbach retired from work. The next two years he spent in failing cardiac health, passing away on September 2, 1935. He was buried in Roseland Park Cemetery in Oakland County, a world away from the mining company that accused him of disloyalty after hailing him one of their Gold Medal Men.

The Library of Congress’s “Shadows of War” and Sara J. Keckeisen’s “Coming of the Night” informed this post.

Flashback Friday: A Coppertown for the Copper Country

Good times seem that they will never end.

When Calumet & Hecla was in its prime, the future seemed to promise unalloyed brilliance. The company was the richest in a district that produced 12 to 16 percent of the world’s copper between 1880 and 1910. The company “ruled its region,” historian Larry Lankton wrote, “with a haughty self-assuredness that the only way to mine for copper, or to run a mining community, was the C&H way.” In the late 1800s and early 1900s, C&H seemed vindicated. Although plenty of have-nots called the residential areas around its mines home, Calumet and Laurium also abounded with signs of prosperity. In 1900, the imposing Calumet Theatre, with its sandstone facade and a proscenium arch adorned with murals of the Greek muses, opened on Sixth Street. Pedestrians strolled along wooden sidewalks underneath a growing spider web of electrical wires. Shoppers could browse through a number of specialty shops, including photographers’ studios, multistory department stores like the Vertin Brothers, and jewelers. Multiple newspapers circulated in town. Presidential candidates campaigned personally in the area: Theodore Roosevelt stopped in Laurium to promote his 1912 third-party bid. Although no truth existed to later rumors that Calumet would be made the capital of Michigan, it was undoubtedly the capital of the Copper Country.

Image of wide stone store building
The Vertin Brothers store was just one example of the many mercantile opportunities in Calumet in its prime.

But no boom town lasts forever. Calumet’s star faded in the wake of the 1913-1914 strike, a post-World War I slump in the copper market, and later still with the onset of the Great Depression. In 1910, the population of Calumet Township was 32,845; by 1920, it had declined to 22,369, a decrease of more than 31 percent, as people sought jobs elsewhere. By 1970, the township had only about one-quarter of the population it had enjoyed at its peak. Even more notably, Calumet & Hecla had finally closed for good. Failure of employees and management to agree to terms on a new contract in August 1968 led to a strike that dragged into the spring of 1969. The company’s new owners, Universal Oil Products, ultimately elected to cease all mining operations. Although some hope remained of eventually dewatering the Centennial Mine, and some Calumet workers rode daily chartered buses down to Ontonagon County’s White Pine Mine, the era of mining had ended.

The profound changes wrought by mining and population growth remained, and so did the people who remembered and appreciated the Copper Country in its heyday. Local residents had long been passionate about history, forming societies and museums to keep their heritage alive even when the mines were still running. The Keweenaw Historical Society, under the leadership of John T. Reeder and John A. Doelle, began to collect archival material on the Keweenaw Peninsula in 1912. The Houghton County Historical Society, a successor organization, began in 1961; its counterpart in Ontonagon County dates to 1957. Yet appreciation for history as a means to keep the Copper Country alive reached greater heights after the mining period drew to a close.

One proposal perceiving history as a means of revitalization took a particularly grand, sweeping, and in some ways eyebrow-raising approach. Its creators dubbed the vision “Coppertown U.S.A.” In an April 3, 1973 presentation in Calumet, Robert Teska, a representative of the project through Barton-Aschman Associates, described Coppertown as “a plan to restore and expand the former Calumet & Hecla headquarters… into a historic mining, ethnic, and tourism complex.” The project’s main purpose would be “the creation of a historic center and service facility for Copper Country tourism, to be entertaining and educational and to be integrated into the social and economic fabric of the two communities of Calumet and Laurium.” Ideally, Teska explained, Coppertown would span “in excess of 300 acres overall” across the heart of the old C&H properties, with its center “ideally located at the historic crossroads of U.S. 41 and Red Jacket Road.”

View of church at a crossroads with a stone building behind
A view of Barton-Aschman’s ideal location of the Coppertown U.S.A center at Red Jacket Road and today’s US-41, once the home of the Calumet Congregational Church.

The Coppertown U.S.A. complex proved broad not only in scale but in scope. Teska laid out a plan for multiple “development units” surrounding the “theme center.” The heart of Coppertown would host parking for well over 1,000 vehicles. Mine Street, the road along which so many shafts had been dug, would become a pedestrian path along which tourists could stroll. Behind the former C&H library building–serving as administrative headquarters–Barton-Aschman Associates envisioned the old roundhouse transformed into an entertainment megaplex, in conjunction with a newly-constructed motel. There, visitors could dine, browse boutiques and art galleries, pick up drug store necessities, or take in a musical performance. While most of Coppertown had a tourist orientation, the roundhouse would be designed as a gathering place for locals, as well.

The theme center was just the start. A second development unit incorporated “several satellite activities” of diverse types. A museum village consisting of “10 to 15 authentic buildings moved to the site from [throughout] the Copper Country and restored to reflect a period in history” would sit adjacent to Mine Street. Teska’s presentation suggested that the village might consist of a general store, church, schoolhouse, blacksmith shop, and “several residences that would typify the homes of early miners and of various ethnic backgrounds.” Summer employees and school tour groups traveling from a distance would bunk down in a special dormitory built for their use. When they ventured out beyond the roundhouse and museum village, they would find a host of activities devoted to copper mining awaiting them.

A drawing of the expansive redevelopment and historic incorporation envisioned by Coppertown.

Recognizing the popularity of the Arcadian Mine in Ripley–and presaging the success of Quincy, Delaware, and Adventure–the Barton-Aschman proposal for Coppertown U.S.A extensively incorporated demonstrations of mining technology, techniques, and properties. “The highlight of the satellite activities would be the Osceola Mine,” explained Teska, “a modern facility that would be restored for use as a major attraction offering an underground tour of an actual copper mine.” Tourists visiting Osceola could hop aboard “a small historic mining train,” sure to delight children and adults alike. Later, back on Mine Street, they would find Coppertown’s exhibition center, “an entertaining and educational display featuring the history of copper mining, the technology used, old equipment, and demonstrations of actual mining and maintenance techniques.” From there, the visitors would stroll through another hall displaying new copper products. If they tired of studying copper mining itself, the Coppertown ethnic and cultural center would provide them the opportunity to learn more about the cultures of Keweenaw people, both immigrant and indigenous. “The center would be a place where ethnic crafts and food would be made and sold, Teska said, “where people of all ages would come to participate in authentic folk music and dancing, and where the joys of folklore would prevail. Employees would be dressed in costumes representing their native homelands.” Folk culture would spill out into the “festival plaza,” a decorated outdoor space that would be “a focal point of community as well as tourist activity.”

Crowning the entirety of Coppertown, “several hundred feet to the northwest” of the festival plaza, would be a statue of a miner standing some 70 to 80 feet tall. If Keweenaw Bay had its shrine to Bishop Baraga, then Calumet would have a monument to the industry that built it.

Schematic showing the layout of a tourist park
A drawing of the Coppertown U.S.A site plan showing the various structures to be included.

Of course, none of this–the renovation of Osceola, the construction of a new motel, the commissioning of a copper statue–would come cheap. Barton-Aschman estimated that, in addition to land, Coppertown U.S.A “will require… a considerable investment of approximately 12 million dollars.” In 2019, an equivalent investment would total over $70 million. To assuage anyone who balked at the high price tag, Teska promised that Coppertown would quickly pay for itself, bringing droves of visitors to the Keweenaw with money to spend. The statistics presented by the consulting firm were staggering: one million visitors per summer to the area by 1980, with as many as 850,000 people–both locals and tourists–stopping in at Coppertown. Each summer, the Barton-Aschman presentation said, Coppertown would lead to a gross income of over $5 million; winter tourism would be the icing on the cake. In addition, the complex stood poised to bolster local tax revenues, employ a populace that could no longer look to the mines, and unify Calumet and Laurium.

At the time that Barton-Aschman Associates presented the plan for Coppertown U.S.A, it must have seemed like a marvelous and realizable dream to its boosters. If the inspiration and funds of Henry Ford could bring Greenfield Village to life, why could the people and companies of the Keweenaw Peninsula not do the same? Supporters who signed on to the plan early on included Endicott Lovell, a former president of Calumet & Hecla, William Nicholls, vice president of the Copper Range Company, and Louis Koepel, who had charge of the Quincy Mining Company property in Hancock; joining them were prominent local contractor Herman Gundlach, multimillionaire philanthropist and Laurium native Percy Ross, and historian Arthur Thurner, among others. Although some local residents, despite fundamental agreement with developing tourist appeal in the region, expressed skepticism of the project, its Copper Country directors set up in the old Calumet & Hecla library building with great anticipation. Promotional literature brimming with optimism scurried through the post offices and into newspapers across the state, and a sign proclaiming Calumet the future home of Coppertown went up on the edge of town.

Yet the project’s grand scale proved to be in large part its undoing. Despite the support of millionaires and bank executives, the $12 million needed for that initial investment was difficult to raise. By 1975, although the dream remained alive and its board active, some reductions had already been made. A newspaper article describing the aim of Coppertown described the would-be iconic miner statue as standing some 35 to 40 feet, only about half of its original intended height. Plans for the motel, the roundhouse shopping complex, and hauling historic buildings from their homes throughout the Copper Country stalled. In 1979, the old Calumet & Hecla pattern shop opened as a museum and visitor center for the future project.

Interior view of industrial building
A historic interior of the Calumet & Hecla pattern shop, later the Coppertown U.S.A museum.

By 1980, however, local newspaper the Copper Island Sentinel wrote that Coppertown was highly unlikely to come to fruition as originally planned.

“According to the original plans, Coppertown was to be a complex of buildings, including a hotel, library, cultural center, 70 foot statue and plaza area that would accommodate 650,000 tourists a year. Those plans have yet to be totally abandoned, unlike the mines it was to hold in tribute. But the reality of the present is those future dreams rely on the 14 women of the Coppertown Auxiliary and the profit margin of a small boutique that supports the only operating attraction of the development–the Coppertown Museum.”

Despite the best efforts of the auxiliary women and those who staffed the pattern shop, the Coppertown U.S.A project went no further than that. However, a little over a decade after the Sentinel piece, a different effort to organize, preserve, and promote the Copper Country’s historic resources saw its hopes realized. Keweenaw National Historical Park was officially established on October 27, 1992. Although its approach to tourist facilities proved quite different than its predecessor project, the new park shared certain values with Coppertown: a passion for a special past, a devotion to revitalizing mining towns, and a desire to share the ethnic treasures of our community with the world at large. Today, the Coppertown U.S.A museum remains in operation as a long-term member of the Keweenaw Heritage Sites network of the national park. Long after the mines have faded, the heritage left behind is more vibrant than ever.