Field Trips Part 2: The Carp Lake Mine and Stamp Mill

Map of the Porcupine Mountains Mining District. (Image courtesy Michigan Tech Archives)

After a few hours of hiking around the Norwich Bluff, the students began their next leg of the first week’s field trip to Ontonagon County mining sites related to stamp mills. The Porcupine Mountains State Park is at the western edge of the Copper Country, and the area’s industrial past is often forgotten now in favor of the natural beauty aspects of the landscape. A telling example of the change from its grittier past to its “wilderness” present is the fact that Carp Lake is now known as “Lake of the Clouds.”

Carp... er ... Lake of the Clouds. (Image courtesy of Steve Moray, 2011)

The lake’s original name did lend itself to the Carp Lake Mining Company. Operated primarily in the 1860’s-70’s, the Carp Lake MC worked the south face of the bluff as well as drove an adit on the north side (an adit visitors to the park can walk inside today). The mine was situated at the top of a bluff that forms part of the State Park’s Escarpment Trail. Rock piles, house foundations, and a couple caved in adits are still easily identifiable along the trail. When one hikes down the steep bluff towards the valley that hold Lake of the Clouds, something you won’t see anywhere else in the Copper Country slowly presents itself amidst the trees.

The Carp Lake MC  contracted with the Hodge Foundry on Portage Lake to build them a stamp mill. The building was most likely timber-framed, but the machinery it housed was all built of ????. At this time, mines were just beginning to transition from wood/iron stamping machinery to all iron or even steel. New materials and a growing industry required technological expertise, and installing machinery of this kind was a big job that often needed an engineer to assemble. The man chosen to install the Carp Lake MC’s stamp machinery was Joseph Rawlings, the same man who built the Cliff Mine’s man-engine and overhauled their own stamp mill just a few years prior (and one of my personal faves).

Some of the stamp machinery still in place at the Carp Lake stamp mill site.

One can try to imagine the effort it took to bring this equipment in to such a remote area. The weight of the stamp machinery and the remoteness of the site is a blessing for those interested in mid-nineteenth century copper mining technologies. This is the only place where you can still see the original stamp machinery in place. The field course students were able to examine the equipment and recreate how they would have operated. The hike is a long one (uphill both ways in fact), but again the students felt it was more than worth it to be able to touch artifacts that we hope to find similar traces of at Cliff this season.


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About Sean Gohman

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

2 responses to “Field Trips Part 2: The Carp Lake Mine and Stamp Mill”

  1. Ed Chaput says :

    RAWLINS (RAWLINGS), JOSEPH W. V.; SAMUEL V.; CARLOS This three-generation group was one of the most unusual Cornish families in the Upper Peninsula. Joseph was born in Camborne, Cornwall in 1826 and was in North America by the late 1840s. He helped install the machinery at the Bruce Mines, a copper operation near Sault Ste. Marie, Ontario. He moved on to the Copper Country, went to the Cliff Mine, where in good Cornish fashion “I was well received by my cousin Nicholas Vivian.” Rawlins worked as an engineer at the Cliff and other nearby mines until 1853, when he went to the Minesota Mine in Ontonagon County. He was chief engineer there, and also installed some of the machinery at a mine in the Carp River district Disappointed with conditions there, he returned to the Cliff and was offered the position of mechanical engineer. He at once found a good boarding house kept by a widow with a few children. “We got along so well together that I finally married her.”
    A mine captain who objected to Rawlins smoking on the grounds ordered him to quit smoking or leave. After a few days Rawlins announced he was leaving, but the captain was perplexed. Wages bad? Poor working conditions? Have a better job? Rawlins answered no to all these questions, saying he was leaving rather than give up smoking.
    After a trip to some other mines for a few days Rawlins returned and was escorted into an office by the mine agent. It was a new office, especially made for Rawlins, and there was also a tin of tobacco and half a dozen new pipes. Rawlins “drop’d into the chair and cried my heart out almost.” He was given charge of all the machinery in the mine, and the management only asked that he not smoke in front of the men.
    Once Rawlins was involved in a “chain of command” argument that helps explain Cornish mining mentality. A mining captain wandered by and told Ned Richards, an employee of Rawlins, to start an engine. Ned said he could only do so on proper authority, meaning that of Rawlins. The captain “call’d Ned all the filth he could call to mind” and fired him. The agent of the mine backed the captain, so at the end of the month Rawlins packed his gear and boarded the stage, “for if that was to be the future method, the sooner I got a new chance the better.” The mine agent stopped the stage and demanded an explanation. Rawlins told him Ned was a prince of a fellow and a great worker and that the mine captain was foul-mouthed; supposedly, only Rawlins could hire or fire men working on machinery. “Now good bye sir, and thank you for the happiest place I ever had.” The agent at once apologized for acting without talking to Rawlins, and he persuaded Rawlins to stay on and hire as many Neds as he wanted.
    It was in 1864-65 that Rawlins created the Man-Engine. By this time, most miners at the Cliff were working more than 1,000 feet below surface, and spent nearly an hour climbing back to surface. Rawlins, using memories of Cornish practice, devised a system to hoist men from the mines on a series of platforms 21″ x 21″. The platforms were fastened to a vertical spruce connecting rod. There were two rods, each 720′ long. The surface engine would pull up one rod, and platforms, while the other descended. The system was a major success and was soon copied by dozens of other mines in the Michigan copper district.
    An incident mentioned in Rawlins’ memoirs involves the Cornish love for loud music. A professor of music from Boston was visiting the mine agent and was amazed when he heard the band playing so well. He sent for the band leader, Isaac Blank, whose clothes were still dripping with muddy mine water. The Boston gent politely demanded to know how Blank knew so much music without being educated. Blank explained that he was raised in a small village in Cornwall and never went to school. When he grew up he learned to play the clarinet, and when the teacher died Blank became leader of the village band. “Times growing bad, I came to this place and soon started the band.” How could Blank play so well without being able to read music? “When hearing music play’d by a good player, he observed the characters written here and there on the pages, was the key to the situation.”
    When the Cliff production declined, Rawlins went a few miles south to the Houghton-Hancock area, where he became a respected engineer-designer of mining equipment He became the draftsman and assistant superintendent at the Portage Lake Foundry & Machine Works, where he remained for some years. In the 1900 census he was living with his family in Franklin Township, employed as a draftsman for the Quincy Mining Company. He wrote his memoirs in 1914, when he was eighty-eight.
    His son Samuel, born in 1859, was also a draftsman and machinist. In the early 1900s, when the Mass Consolidated Mining Company began production in Ontonagon County, Samuel served as their master mechanic for some years. By 1920 he was working for the Tamarack Mining Company as a draftsman. He died a few years later.
    Samuel had two sons. Joseph, born in 1895, went to work for an electric company in Calumet. Son Carlos Vivian Rawlins continued the long family tradition as a draftsman. He was identified as a draftsman for Calumet & Hecla when he registered for the draft in World War I. He tried a related field for a time, and in 1920 he was listed as a draftsman for an excavator company in Duluth which specialized in machinery for iron mines.
    Carlos moved back to the Copper Country after a few years and became the premier draftsman for Calumet & Hecla, residing with his mother in Tamarack Town. Carlos was the head draftsman for the 1929 Butler & Burbank publication, Copper Deposits of Michigan, which to this day is the best scientific work on Calumet & Hecla history. Carlos died in Neenah, Wisconsin, in April of 1965. (Census of 1880, 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930; World War I Draft Registrations; Copper Handbook, 1902, 1908; Chaput, The Cliff, 1971; Butler & Burbank, Copper Deposits of Michigan, 1929; History of the Upper Peninsula, 1883).

  2. Jackie Longpre says :

    Thank you, Mr Chaput. Wonderful story.

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