Tours of the Cliff start this weekend

Here is a brief announcement about the tours we’ll be giving each weekend (Saturday and Sunday) for the next three weeks.

Weekend Tours of Cliff Mine Start Saturday

HOUGHTON–Industrial archaeology faculty and students from Michigan Technological University are inviting the public to view their excavations at the first commercially successful copper mine in the Upper Peninsula.

Tours of the Cliff Mine ruins and the nearby town of Clifton will be held on Saturdays and Sundays in June, starting June 11. Tours start approximately on the hour beginning at 10 a.m., leaving from roadside signs near the parking area at the northeastern end of Cliff Drive, near the small town of Phoenix. Phoenix is about 33 miles north of Houghton on US-41.

Tours will continue all day until about 4 p.m., weather permitting. Visitors are advised to wear clothing appropriate for hiking, boots or sneakers, carry water and be prepared for the weather. The site is not improved and has no toilets.

The Cliff Mine, the Copper County’s first profitable copper mine, opened in 1845 and mined “native” copper until the 1870s. After mapping the site last year, faculty and students from the Department of Social Sciences are now conducting excavations in one of the mine’s stamp mill buildings. The research teams discovered substantial remains of the building, including floors, stairs and machine footings, that allow them to reconstruct daily life for workers at the mill.

Faculty members Timothy Scarlett and Sam Sweitz lead the field teams, and PhD student Sean Gohman is the project archaeologist.

The Cliff Mine was owned and operated by the Pittsburgh & Boston Mining Company. Discovered in 1845, the Cliff Vein produced over 38 million pounds of refined copper over a 40-year period and paid dividends to its investors totaling $2.5 million.

From 1846 to 1858, no other copper mine in the region could match the production of the Cliff Mine. After the Civil War, however, as miners followed the vein as it dipped 1,000 feet underneath the basalt Cliff face, the depth made the operation increasingly difficult. By 1870, the company decided the mine, though still producing, was not worth further investment, and sold it for $100,000.

Activity at the Cliff continued for the next 60-plus years under various managements, but it never regained its earlier success. In the 1920s and ’30s, the new owners of the Cliff, the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company, were still hoping a new vein would be uncovered and drilled dozens of holes throughout the property. Nothing of promise was found, and by the 1950s all interest in the Cliff as a producing mine ended.

To learn more about the excavations, visit the Cliff Mine blog,


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About Sean Gohman

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

3 responses to “Tours of the Cliff start this weekend”

  1. Mary Schwoppe says :

    My brother and I are 2 of 5 great grandchildren who survive William C. Watson, We plan to visit the Cliff Mine site in August to see what you have been doing. We have been there several times in the past 10 years. We have our great grandfather’s history of growing up in England, and photos of his migrating to America at age 33, and working at Cliff Mine as well as all the mines of the Bigelow Syndicate. He arrived at Eagle River on the ship “Iron City” reported to the Cliff that day where he worked as a carpenter for several years then left to go to other mines, then returned to the Cliff as surface boss from 1867 until 1877. He ended up the Superintendent of the Osceola Mine from which he retired in 1905. He was a Knights Templer Mason in the lodge mentioned by one of your blogs, and he was a founder of the Lakeview Cemetery where he and his family are buried. We are fascinated by your work and enjoy your reports.

  2. Timothy Scarlett says :

    Hello Ms. Schwoppe! Thanks for your comments. I’m sure that Sean and I would love to hear more about your great grandfather’s story. Thanks for sharing it with us. I’m sorry that our excavations will have been back filled with dirt by the time you all visit, but that is the best way for us to protect the building remains for the future.

Trackbacks / Pingbacks

  1. Dig Deep – Archaeology! « Copper Country History - June 16, 2011

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