Historic Locations

Historic Locations

Take a step back in time to explore the yesteryears of Copper Harbor. Remnants of miraculous history abound
at a variety of sites, ranging from ancient indeginous culture to the mining era and maritime history to present day ghost towns.

Copper Harbor Ancient History

Copper Harbor history begins long before the European explorers, traders, missionaries and immigrants arrived to what would one day be nicknamed, “The Copper Island,” as the presence of copper in the Keweenaw Peninsula was already well known. Archeological evidence shows that more than 7000 years ago an ancient population began digging pits in the ground and used heavy stones to separate the copper from the waste rocks. Such copper quarrying, mining and fabricating of the malleable material went on for thousands of years, and the creation of ornaments, beads, knives and awls, fish hooks and other items for trade was profound. In fact, ancient objects made of pure Keweenaw copper have been found across the Americas and beyond!

      Copper Boom Hits the Harbor

      Shortly after Michigan was admitted into Statehood in 1837, Douglass Houghton was appointed as the first State Geologist and was assigned to conduct a state geological survey. With the known presence of copper in the region, Houghton made his way to the legendary “La Roche Verte” (e.g. the “Green Rock”, which had captured the imaginations of early voyagers), located near the present day site of the Copper Harbor Lighthouse. He was most impressed by its blue-green streaks of oxidized copper that would ultimately sell him on the Keweenaw’s mining potential. 

      Houghton’s 1840 published report describes the Keweenaw’s copper deposits, and despite his appeal for caution, a land rush soon started by opportunists attempting to acquire the copper-rich real estate. Among these was John Hayes of the Pittsburgh and Boston Mining Company who began excavating pits in 1844 on what today is known as Hayes Point, adjacent to the present day lighthouse. Though it produced little copper, it was the first serious mining attempt in the United States.

      Copper Harbor history shows that by 1846 the copper boom was in full swing, with explorers, speculators and miners living in a tent-city. Soon entrepreneur D.D. Brockway (Brockway Mountain’s namesake) would build Copper Harbor’s first hotel – which served a dual purpose as his family home – and the Land Commissioners also built a “Government House” on Porter’s Island.

      Origins of the Fort and the Lighthouse

      In an effort to protect its interests of the new found copper boom, the U.S. government established Fort Wilkins in 1844 to oversee Copper Harbor’s Mineral Land Agency (the “Government House” that issued exploration permits and land leases) and to maintain law and order. The military outpost was a typical stockade frontier fort that only operated until 1846 until the U.S. war with Mexico required the garrison be replaced and shipped to the warfront. Following the Civil War in 1867, the post was re-occupied by US soldiers to serve out their enlistments until it was permanently abandoned by the government in 1870. Fort Wilkins became a State Park in 1923 and is today open to visitors as an interpretive look into its historic past. 

      There were no roads to Copper Harbor during the first mining rush and all travel – men and supplies, was by boat. Lake Superior’s fierce storms, amidst rocky reefs and shoals, prompted Congress to construct Copper Harbor’s first lighthouse in 1848. Lit in 1849, it along with Whitefish Point commissioned that same year were the first operating lighthouses on Lake Superior. With the absence of a building code at that time, the original lighthouse fell into disrepair in relatively short order and Congress allocated funds for its replacement in 1866. The historic1866 building that still stands today remained operational until it was replaced by the neighboring skeletal tower and automated in 1933, which concluded the resident “lightkeeper” position. Though there is currently no public access to the lighthouse, it is maintained as part of Fort Wilkins State Historic Park.

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        Post Copper Boom to Tourist Boom

        It is documented in Copper Harbor history that by 1882, copper mining in and around the Harbor had proven not as prosperous as anticipated. The once thriving town had only six families and thirty inhabitants remaining at this time. Larger copper lodes were eventually discovered and mined at more notable locations working their way south to Mandan, Delaware, Central and Copper Falls locations and eventually further on down the Keweenaw Peninsula including those at Cliff, Calumet Hecla and Quincy.

        Commercial fishing would prove to be one of the main industries in the Harbor during the twentieth century, which provided livelihoods for several local families. And in most recent history, it has been proclaimed that Copper Harbor’s “terrain is the real product” — responsible for a tourist boom. Really expanding its roots in the area post World War II, the tourist economy has since evolved to become Copper Harbor’s primary industry. 

        Astor House Museum

        The museum is located at the Minnetonka Resort and preserves some of the Keweenaw’s rarest and most unique artifacts. Relive history through relics of the earliest known settlers and browse mining tool displays from the copper boom days of the mid-1800’s. The museum houses an exquisite collection of over 400 antique dolls from across the globe and much more.

        SE Corner of Gratiot (US-41) & 6th Streets

        Website || 906-289-4449

        One Room Schoolhouse

        A multiple generational school, Copper Harbor’s one-room schoolhouse is one of the of the oldest in Michigan — and is also the farthest north. Established in 1850, the school is still active with an average of 6-12 students attending each year. The school district’s motto is “Searching For Knowledge” and the mascot of the schoolhouse is the Copper Harbor Prospectors. Interestingly, the local copper mining families were originally responsible for funding and creating this school, and their efforts were clearly not in vain.

        Brockway Mountain Drive

        By the early 1900’s, the heart of the area’s mining operations had migrated further south to those at Calumet and Hecla and Quincy regions. Around that time, a new industry – tourism – was emerging.  The National Park system, urbanization and mass production of affordable automobiles contributed to more families traveling on vacations. With plans developed by the Keweenaw County Road Commission – and with funding acquired from the Michigan Civilian Conservation Corps – construction began in 1933, increasing the Road Commission’s employment ten-fold. Upon completion, the “county highway quickly became one of the most popular motoring destinations in the Midwest,” wrote historian LeRoy Barnett. What’s more, with more than one million visitors within the first five years of opening, Brockway Mountain was credited for sparking the area’s tourism boom.

        And most fortunately Brockway has stood the test of time, as Brockway Mountain Drive remains the most popular vacation destination in Copper Harbor. Making your way to the top is hands down a MUST DO while in the Keweenaw Peninsula.

        Copper Harbor Cemetery

        Listed as a Michigan State Historic Site, the Copper Harbor Cemetery is located southwest of downtown Copper Harbor on US 41 just west of M-26. Burials dating as far back as 1853 may be found, as well as present day burials. Nestled under the high bluff of Brockway Mountain, this most scenic and quaint cemetery is a special, timeless place.

        Historic Lodge

        Keweenaw Mountain Lodge

        The Keweenaw Mountain Lodge is on the state of Michigan and the national historical registers. The Lodge was designated a state historical location in 1976 and designated a national historical location in 1980. Learn more

        Ghost Towns

        Now a part of the Keweenaw County Historic Society Museum Complex, Central was settled around the Central Mining Company in 1854. It’s population went from 1,300 in 1887 to 100 in 1905. Many of the residence exteriors have been restored and a visitors center provides interpretive exhibits about Central. There are two walking paths, a memorial garden, and three building open to visitors. Self-guided walking tour maps are available at the Visitor Center. The site is open year round. Please respect the privacy of dwelling occupants. The Visitor Center is open early June to mid-October from 10 am to 5 pm. Learn more about Central and Ghost Towns.

        Delaware Mine

        The Delaware Mine is an authentic mine that operated from 1847 until 1887, during the country’s first major mining boom. The mine was supported by a group of investors, including Horace Greeley. Although the mine didn’t make any money for its investors, it now serves as the perfect example of what the mines in this area were like in the 1800’s. Visitors to the Delaware Mine walk down 100 feet of stairs through the #1 shaft to the first level of the mine, then walk approximately 1700 feet through the original workings to experience a self-guided tour. The length of time the tour takes depends on the visitors’ interest level. Above ground are trails taking visitors past the ruins of two original mine buildings, equipment displays, antique engines, trains and animals. Picnic facilities are available, both above and below ground. A gift shop featuring locally made mementos and rock and mineral specimens is also available. Our very special pets are also featured in the gift shop. The Delaware Mine offers a very unique combination of entertainment and education that will intrigue every member of the family.

        Website  |  906-289-4688  |   US-41 – 10 miles south of Copper Harbor

        Historic Fort

        An exciting living museum with a fully reconstructed fort, several walking trails,  picnic, and playground area, gift shop, and camping. The mixed woods and lake make it a great spot for bird watching too. You can feel the history as you walk by Michigan’s early mine sites at the fort and lighthouse with their interpretive guides.

        History
        In an effort to protect its interests of the new found copper boom, the U.S. government established Fort Wilkins in 1844 to oversee Copper Harbor’s Mineral Land Agency (the “Government House” that issued exploration permits and land leases) and to maintain law and order. The military outpost was a typical stockade frontier fort that only operated until 1846 until the U.S. war with Mexico required the garrison be replaced and shipped to the warfront. Following the Civil War in 1867, the post was re-occupied by US soldiers to serve out their enlistments until it was permanently abandoned by the government in 1870. Fort Wilkins became a State Park in 1923 and is today open to visitors as an interpretive look into its historic past.

        Website |  906-289-4215  |   About 1 mile east of Copper Harbor proper

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