Prof. Patrick Martin and Ph.D. candidate Sean Gohman of Social Sciences have been awarded a two-year grant for archaeological surveys at Fort Wilkins State Park in Copper Harbor. The grant, for $19,487 each year (total of just under $39,000), comes from the Michigan Department of Natural Resources and will be used to support graduate students investigating the remains of the Pittsburg and Boston Copper Harbor Mining Company sit, now located on the Fort Wilkins property. This summer and fall the crew of archaeologists from Social Sciences will survey the site, and next year do some selected test excavation and recordation. If funding becomes available in 2016 and beyond, the team hopes to continue similar work on the Copper Harbor Range Lighthouse site.
Fort Wilkins was built in 1844 by the fifth U.S. Infantry Regiment to keep order in the Michigan copper mining district, though it was abandoned two years later (but re-garrisoned from 1867-70). In the absence of the military (1847-66 and 1871-1923) civilians frequently occupied fort buildings as residences and later as hunting camps and cottages until the property became a state park in 1923. Today Fort Wilkins State Park interprets three primary themes: early Keweenaw copper mining by the Pittsburgh and Boston Copper Harbor Mining Company, Lake Superior maritime history with the Copper Harbor Lighthouses, and nineteenth-century military history at the fort itself.
Since 1974 the Michigan Historical Museum has been responsible for historical activities within the park. Today, there are nineteen historical buildings: twelve original structures from the 1840s and seven reconstructions based on the historical and archaeological record. Archaeological research has been carried out intermittently at the fort from 1975 to present under state contracts and over that time various projects have investigated a number of the military buildings, the fort’s blacksmith shop, the Copper Harbor lighthouse, various trash and dump sites (often excellent windows into past material culture) as well as parts of the Pittsburgh and Boston Copper Harbor Copper Mining Company activities. This current grant will support phase I and II (surface survey and selected test dings, respectively) archaeological projects in the P&BCMC site along the northern boundary of Fort Wilkins State Park along the southern shore of Copper Harbor.