Thanks to Mary and her great grandfather, William Coulson Watson

A 1906 panoramic photo of Cliff and Clifton in 1906 with the carpentry shop, stamp mill, and Methodist and Episcopal churches highlighted.

The blog recently learned that one of our reader’s great grandfather worked at the Cliff as a carpenter in the 1860’s. William Coulson Watson came to Cliff from England in 1862. Following a trend with many immigrants to the Copper Country, Watson didn’t stay in one place long. He soon left the Cliff to work for the National Mine in Ontonagon County, then returned for a second stint at Cliff in 1867 as a surface boss.

I thought I’d share this image of Cliff and Clifton from 1906 with the carpentry shop highlighted. Much of the work we are undertaking this year will involve wood artifacts and features so this story is even more interesting. Who knows, we may be excavating timber framing and wooden artifacts cut and nailed by William Coulson Watson himself.

If you have a similar story about an ancestor who worked at Cliff (or any of the early mines), please feel free to share. We at the Cliff Mine Archaeology Project would really enjoy hearing from you (as would our readers).


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About Sean Gohman

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

4 responses to “Thanks to Mary and her great grandfather, William Coulson Watson”

  1. ed chaput says :

    WATSON, WILLIAM COULSON Born in northern England in 1837, Watson had a truly amazing career, from the lowest of the low to corporate executive. He left school at age nine, went to some night school classes later, and worked in the coal mines for a few years. At age sixteen he became a carpenter’s apprentice, then worked as a carpenter in Liverpool until 1862, when he left for America.
    He hoped to work in the mines near Pittsburgh, but could not find a job. He then went to Lake Superior and was hired at the Cliff Mine as a carpenter. He remained in that position for three years, then went to Ontonagon County where for two years he was a carpenter at the National Mine.
    He returned briefly to the Cliff Mine, then in late 1877 was hired on at the Osceola Mine as head carpenter. By this time Watson had been a part of several major copper firms, and he was a master organizer and administrator. In 1878 Watson was promoted to assistant superintendent of the Bigelow Copper Mining Syndicate. From the 1870s into the early 1900s, the Bigelow-Clark interests of Boston were among the leading copper miners in the world. In addition to important Montana holdings, they owned the tremendously rich Osceola and Tamarack Mines, both of them a stone’s throw from the famous Calumet & Hecla Mining Company.
    As assistant superintendent, Watson worked closely with Captain John Daniell and his successor, Captain William Parnall. A history of 1895 praised Watson as an outstanding mining personality in the region, “and is now the possessor of a comfortable competence.” This was true, but the Watson career still had room for additional upward movement. In the 1903 annual report of the Tamarack Mining Company, he is listed as vice-president.

  2. Joe Dancy says :

    Very neat picture, thanks for highlighting buildings. I see telephone poles so I assume electricity which places us in the 1920’s? or 1930’s time wise I assume. Interesting to see how many buildings were still around and how few trees were in the fields.

  3. Mary Schwoppe says :

    Delighted you thought my information useful. I also have two original photos of family members in front of “Cliff House” taken in 1910. The house is large and quite attractive compared to others I have seen in the ghost towns of the UP. I understand that all the Cliff houses and other buildings were removed by the mining company.
    Wishing you better weather for your continuing project work! Mary

  4. Mary Schwoppe says :

    Blogging is new to me, sorry my last reply flew your way before I finished. Started out saying your work/study is so interesting to follow. Daily, you bring “The Cliff” back to life for me. Also brings back childhood memories of climbing the tailings piles behind my grandparents’ Laurium home.

    In response to Ed Chaput: Aye, you have the right gentleman. I have his autobiography written in his own handwriting, as well as a copy of the book mentioned.

    But the greatest gifts he left behind, were 7 children, 5 of whom were born during his 13 years at The Cliff. Three college-educated sons were: Ralph, graduate of the Michigan School of Mines, became the Assistant Superintendent of the Guggenheimer Smelter in Mexico; John, who was a member of the class of 1892, and who was a civil engineer with the Tamarack Mining Company; and James, my grandfather, who became a Calumet dentist after graduating from U of M, 1900.

    Not bad at all for an immigrant who started working in the English coal mines at age 6. Only in America!

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