Category: About the Archives

This category is used for posts that talk more about the people, services, and operation of the archives as a department.

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 – Frozen Blocks

Flashback Friday takes us back to a winter tradition oft forgotten; the annual ice harvest.

In frozen waters across the Great Lakes region, the new year took commercial fishermen and local folks to the shoreline to harvest “ice cakes.” Townsfolk up and down the coasts of Lake Superior and inland lakes in the Upper Peninsula set up working crews to help fill up the community ice houses. Ice was meticulously selected, cut into sheets, and the frozen slabs were hauled and stacked inside the ice houses. The precious blocks were packed in sawdust to preserve their form as long as possible throughout the year. The community ice house supplied businesses and homes in the bygone era before modern refrigerators were common!

Joseph Turk uses the long saw to completely cut the cakes. He always proceeds in the cut prepared by the circular saw. March 3, 1954 from The Daily Mining Gazette.

In areas downstate, the ice harvest typically started in January or February. In the Upper Peninsula, March was the most popular month for the harvest. Handsaws, and later gas circular saws, tore into the ice to shape each slab and prepare it for the delivery sleigh. Actual horsepower pulled the sleighs filled with ice to the storage place in the early years, and later the sleighs were replaced by trucks.

Winter road across Portage Lake, Houghton to Hancock. Annual ice harvest, 1922.

Ice was an essential part of community life, not just for local businesses and families to keep food and goods cool, but also for packing and shipping. Ice was an essential element of successful commercial fishing outfits, as smaller blocks were needed to safely pack fresh fish for delivery across the region.

The lead photograph in this post shows the ice team ready to make delivery to the ice house during this month in 1902. This image is courtesy of the Reeder Photograph Collection.


Job Announcement: UPLINK Term Digital Project Manager

The Upper Peninsula Digital Network (UPLINK) project is currently seeking an archivist or related professional to serve as the Digital Project Manager for a term-funded project. This position is made possible with support from the National Historical Publications and Records Commission (NHPRC) Implementation Grant program. UPLINK is a collaborative administered by the Northern Michigan University (NMU) Archives, with representatives from the Michigan Tech Archives, Lake Superior State University, the Peter White Public Library, and the Marquette Regional History Center.

The Digital Project Manager is primarily responsible for creating and implementing workflows and procedures to enable the effective acquisition, description, access, management, and preservation of a broad range of analog and born-digital content across the UPLINK network. This position will oversee and monitor all aspects of digital project work, including digitization of original materials, description of materials according to accepted metadata and collection level description standards, and online publication of digital objects. This position will also oversee three student assistants, assist the project director, and the UPLINK Board of Directors. Some travel will be required.

The job description and application information can be found at: https://workatnmu.nmu.edu/en-us/job/493472/digital-project-manager 

An overview of the origins of UPLINK, project planning, and more information can be found at: https://www.nmu.edu/archives/uplink?fbclid=IwAR3m-mAFqcwFHKyy25pCoodBu4dGBHtULnPuoPCwKN___8-ujiGcZZjzocc 

Questions about the Digital Project Manager position may be directed to Julane Cappo, Associate Director of Human Resources, Northern Michigan University, 906-227-1493.

Additional questions about UPLINK may be directed to project manager, Marcus Robyns at mrobyns@mtu.edu or project representative, Lindsay Hiltunen at lehalkol@mtu.edu


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.


Flashback Friday – Let It Snow, But Where Does It Go?

Flashback Friday looks back to this weekend in 1978. It seems appropriate to share, given the fact we’ve been in a snowglobe for the past few days, with 12-14 inches of accumulation in some Copper Country areas.

“You’ve seen them picking it up, but where on earth do they put it down? Houghton’s extra snow gets dropped on the shores of Portage Lake at the Copper Range Railroad property just west of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge. Don’t worry, there’s still lots of space left!”

Photograph courtesy of the Daily Mining Gazette Photograph Collection.


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 copper@mtu.edu, 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.