Field Trips Part 1: The Norwich Bluff

On Friday of the first week of the field season, the weather was too wet for effective excavation work. It was not too wet for long hikes in the woods to two important mid-nineteenth century copper mining sites in Ontonagon County, however.

Our first stop on our field trip was to the Norwich Bluff, located about 20 minutes SW from the town of Ontonagon. The bluff was home to numerous mining companies between in the later half of the nineteenth century, though none of them would go on to make much of a success. Off the top of my head I can come up with Norwich, Ohio Trap Rock, Hamilton, Windsor, Cascade, American…. and the list goes on.

Sean pointing out some of the features of the Ohio Trap Rock stamp mill. (Photo courtesy Steve Moray, 2011)

All of these various companies left their mark on the landscape of the Norwich bluff. Shafts, adits, roads, horse whim platforms, wells, dams and building foundations litter the site, offering many opportunities for instructing the students on how to read the landscape for clues about the decision-making of the miners and those who lived around the site. Many of the same features can be found at Cliff, though the larger-scale of their operations generally makes finding their remains easier than at a smaller mining community like that found at Norwich.

One company, the Ohio Trap Rock Mining Company, left one significant feature on the landscape that was the focus of the field trip, a mid-nineteenth century stamp mill that likely operated much the same as Cliff’s, only at a smaller scale. Archaeological excavations at the site in 1994 and 1995 exposed well-preserved wood-constructed features associated with the “washing” of copper rock after it had been crushed in the stamp house. The copper in the sands acted as a natural preservative for the wood, allowing archaeologists to see working surfaces just as they had been left, 150 years ago.

"Knap & Wade, Pittsburgh." (Photo courtesy of Steve Moray, 2011)

At the site today, the stone smoke stack is still identifiable, as is the overall orientation of the mill’s workings. Iron bolts found near the stack indicate the location of the mill’s steam engine, while an earth berm running off the side of it shows where the stamp batteries did their rock-breaking work. Nearby a distinctly shaped bolt reveals the exact spot where a Cornish buddle once sat, while a few feet away a 200-300 lb stamp shoe marked “Knap & Wade, Pittsburgh” lies on the surface, providing an interested researcher a clue as to the technological and transportation networks linking the Copper Country to the rest of the United States.

For any of you who have made the journey to the Norwich Bluff and hiked to the top, you know it’s not the easiest hike, but the end result, being able to see for miles in three directions, is more than worth the effort. The students took their lunch to the top of the bluff, relaxed after a few hours of hiking over the site, and then make the hike back down the bluff to drive to our next destination, Porcupine Mountains State Park and the remains of the Carp Lake Mine.

For more information on the Ohio Trap Rock mine and the archaeology undertaken by Michigan Tech’s IA program at the Norwich BLuff in the 1990’s, please check out this short synopsis by following the link below:

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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 “Field Trips Part 1: The Norwich Bluff”

  1. Joe Dancy says :

    Awesome. I have heard of the Norwich Bluff but never explored. Now I have a new place to hike to this summer.

    • Sean Gohman says :

      I’ll tell you this, Joe. It looks like we are on to something good at Cliff. It might be awhile before I post directly on what we are finding (I don’t want to talk about it until I know just what we’re dealing with) but I am pretty confident that the work this year will really outshine last years.

  2. Steven Walton says :

    Very neat that this has a Knap and Wade piece of equipment. They, like the WPF, were one of the quasi-federal foundries that cast ordnance, but also had to have civilian lines to keep the furnaces running. And that is likely datable because Knap [Knapp?], Wade, and McClurg went through various incorporations in various partnerships (all generally called the Ft. Pitt Foundry), so it should be narrow-down-able. Good stuff.

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