The Pittsburgh and Boston Copper Harbor Mining Company: Failure at Lease 4

A shaft of the Pittsburgh & Boston Copper Harbor Mining Co. near Fort Wilkins. (Photo courtesy S. Gohman)

This is the fourth in a series of posts providing an historical context for the Cliff Mine beginning with the creation of the State of Michigan and ending with the discovery of the Cliff vein.

After spending the winter in Pittsburgh dreaming of copper riches, John Hays, along with eight Pennsylvania coal miners and a German geologist named Alfred Rudolph, returned to Copper Harbor in the spring of 1844 and began exploring Lease 4. Focusing their earliest efforts on Hays Point, home to La Roche Verte, two shafts were sunk containing a black oxide of copper. Near the shore and 40-60 feet deep, the shafts were difficult to de-water. The difficulty in keeping the shafts dry and promising news heard from Fort Wilkins drew the men’s attention away from the point.

Soldiers were prohibited from digging for ores, but one still “managed” to stumble upon some decent sized specimens of ore on the premises, and work soon spread to the grounds around the Fort. Here they found another black oxide vein, and sunk two shafts. The oxide ore proved to yield 60-70% copper, a promising find that led the company to request setting up a smelting furnace on the west side of Lake Garrison (now Lake Fanny Hooe) for their anticipated bonanza. With building materials already in hand, the mineral land agency offered the company support for the furnace. Fort Wilkins’ commanding officer, the ultimate decider in the matter, deemed its intended location, “1000 feet from any of the Buildings of the United States,” as still too close to a military installation, and denied the request. The furnace materials, their intended use now void, were probably used to build a hearth for the company laborers, who’s quarters were set up just a few yards east of the Fort.

Fort Wilkins in winter on the north shore of Lake Fanny Hooe. (Photo by S. Gohman)

The furnace refusal should have been seen as a sign. Things at Copper Harbor were not as promising as first felt. Compounds of copper such as the black oxide were the prevalent form of ore in the Old World, and their presence fostered a belief in future success. Curiously, only in this area of the district are oxides of copper found. Most everywhere else, copper exists in its pure, metallic state. After 15 feet the black oxide ore ran out, but it took another 105 feet of digging to convince the company that Lease 4 was a bust. In all, 30-40 tons of black oxide and native copper were removed from Lease 4, amounting to $2,968.70 in profits. Compared to the nearly $25,000 invested by the company, this was a failure, and the Copper Harbor workings were mostly abandoned in 1846.

Further reading:
Angus Murdoch, Boom Copper: The Story of the First Mining Boom (Hancock: The Quincy Mine Hoist Association, 2001).
Donald Chaput, The Cliff: America’s First Great Copper Mine (Kalamazoo: Sequoia Press, 1971).

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About Sean Gohman

Currently a PhD Degree seeking student in the Michigan Tech University's Industrial Heritage and Archaeology program.

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