Field Trips Part 3: Copper Harbor

Fort Wilkins in Copper Harbor. (Image courtesy of Steve Moray, 2011)

Before I get into the meat of the excavations (honestly I don’t where to start-things have been going almost too good to keep up), I wanted to post one last field trip that the students took last week. The first two field trips, Norwich Bluff and Carp Lake Mine, were to see historic mining sites that are in some ways similar to the Cliff. For this trip, it was purely a history lesson in the early days of the mining district and the Pittsburgh and Boston Mining Company’s place in that story.

For those interested in the history of the Copper Country, one could argue that the best place to start is Copper Harbor, the site of the Mineral Lease Office in the mid-1840’s. After the Treaty of LaPointe awarded the Western Upper Peninsula to the United States (all surface and mineral rights), adventurers and explorers flooded the area to find their fortune in copper boulders believed to be littering the ground. The U.S. government, wishing to make a profit off the mineral rights themselves, set up a Leasing Office on Porter’s Island, located at the north end of the harbor. From here, would-be miners leased properties on the Keweenaw, with the expectation that a portion of all profits would be remanded to the Government.

Copper Harbor was a place where miners and speculators hustled each other over leases and information. John Hays, arriving from Pittsburgh in 1843, overheard one Jim Raymond discuss his need of funds to make a go of it at three of (in his mind) best leases on the peninsula. Hays told Raymond he could find backing, and within a year, 4 Pittsburgh investors were found to join with Raymond’s Boston backers to form the Pittsburgh and Boston Copper harbor Mining Company. Once the Cliff vein was seen to be the focus of the company (at Lease 5), the “Copper Harbor” portion of the name was dropped.

Detail of the Lease 4 property of the Pittsburgh & Boston Copper Harbor Mining Co.

In the first couple of years of the company however, work was focused at Copper Harbor (Lease 4). Shafts were dug at Hays Point (the site of the lighthouse) and just to the east of Fort Wilkins. These shafts are all still visible and the students were given the opportunity to view them while the early history of copper mining in the district was discussed. A visit to Fort Wilkins allowed the students to view period architecture and artifacts of the mining boom era, and reinforced the idea that in the 1840’s, the Keweenaw was the wild and adventurous West. The California Gold Rush wouldn’t be for another few years, and only then would the American West be seen as the lands west of the Mississippi.

Following a drive up to the top of Brockway Mountain, the students proceeded to Eagle harbor to visit another important staging area for the copper mining boom of the 1840’s. Eagle River capped their field trip with the reason for the visit being that this was the dock location for the Cliff mine, and its connection to the outside world for 20 plus years.

Dr. Scarlett and the field course students standing atop Mt. Brockway. (Image courtesy of Steve Moray, 2011)

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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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