Tag Archive | Clifton

2014 Student Blog Post #5: Daniel Schneider

Finding Meaning in Cemeteries My name is Daniel Schneider. I am entering my second year of studies in the Industrial Archaeology program here at MTU. My research interests relate to the transformation of nineteenth century artistic skills within the context of industrialization. Blog readers living in the Copper Country may know me from my work […]

2014 Student Blog Post #1: Daniel Conner

My name is Daniel Conner and I am a guest student of the summer field school at the Cliff and Clifton. I am a Flint, Michigan, native and a junior History major (with a minor in Anthropology) at the University of Michigan-Flint. If you don’t already know, Flint is the Vehicle City, the birthplace of General Motors. While horse and horseless carriages are a whole different type of industry than Native American and 19th century copper mining, it has much in common with the core of what industrial heritage means to people. Each industry grew on the backs of their workers, resulting in labor strikes, including the Copper Country Strike of 1913 – 1914 and the 1936 – 1937 Flint Sit-Down Strike. As a result of all of this local history around me growing up in Flint, I became fascinated with the rise and later fall of automotive industry in the community, as well as its humble beginnings.

Daniel Connor

Daniel Conner at the Interyard excavation area

So with my undergraduate experience soon coming to an end, this past winter I started looking for unique ways to spend my summer. Always having been interested in archaeology, a quick google search of “archaeology field schools in Michigan” soon revealed the Social Science department of Michigan Technological University, the summer field schools, and Industrial Archaeology. Checking with my university’s schedule and the needed requirements to be a guest student for the summer, I soon began planning for this unique experience. And with that, I became the first student to contact Dr. Scarlett about the 2014 Field School, months in advance back in January. I finally arrived in Houghton a couple of days before class started on May 12th.

Since I was the first student to register for the class, it is appropriate that I’m also the first student to write a guest blog about the 2014 field season! If you don’t know much about the Keweenaw, they had 340.5”of snowfall so far this season. (That’s more than 28 feet or 8.65 meters of snow!) Due to the heavy and deep snowpack, for the first two weeks we went on a number of focused learning excursions away from the site.

We took several field trips to learn geology and mining history, including a visit to the Porcupine Mountain State Park in Ontonogon County, where we hiked first to the Lake of the Clouds lookout and then finally spent the majority of the day looking at various locations within the park grounds where mid-nineteenth century copper mining took place. Some of these locations turned a tiny profit for the entrepreneurs that led the search of copper in the hills, some did not make money and were a loss in time and energy. We did happen to wander onto some remnants of an era gone by, however, and got to see the productive end of how hard work paid off and what is now left as a result of the success.

On another trip, we completed the “Keweenaw Loop,” a geology-concentrated drive around the peninsula that began in Houghton with the Boulder Garden at Michigan Tech. From there, we went on to the Keweenaw “spine” at Cliff Mine, to Brockway Mountain and Copper Harbor, and back along the southern shore to the stamp sands in Gay. If you are interested in geology, you should check out the Keweenaw Geoheritage website!

These two trips grounded us with a foundation in the history of the Copper Country starting with it’s very bones. By seeing both cultural and natural impacts uponthe environment in which we live, we got to see first hand what happened in the past, through examples in archaeology, geology, or history.

Background of Cliff Mine, Clifton, and the cemeteries

Readers of this blog know that the Cliff Mine was operated by the Pittsburgh & Boston Mining Company. One of three land leases, it was by far the most profitable for the company after sinking tens of thousands into their previous attempt nearer to their office at the tip of the Peninsula.

In 1845, the Cliff “vein” was discovered and as the History tab in this blog already notes, no mine in the Keweenaw Peninsula was more productive from 1846 – 1858 for their investors, paying to the tune of $2.5 million dollars. Just to put it in perspective, with the recent inflation calculations of 2014, that investment payback would have been worth between $71-$73 million dollars today. This payout made the Cliff Mine nationally known and famous especially in Michigan and locally in the Keweenaw.

The years after 1858 began the start of decline at the Cliff in profitability. After the Civil War, with the depth of the mine already reaching nearly one thousand feet and the lode now looking like it was arching north under the cliff, management soon realized that further efforts did not make financial sense. By 1870, the original company sold the mine and miners started to look for work elsewhere.

As the mine slowly died away, so did too the community that had grown up around it. With a once plentiful immigrant population reaching nearly 1,500 people, the ethnic diversity showed greatly in its community activities, organizations, and churches. As Clarence J. Monette noted, Clifton had a wide variety of communal societies and events including branches of Order of Good Templars and Order of the Odd Fellows, a juvenile group, the Band of Hope, and Cornish wrestling & poll climbing clubs. To support this diversity, three churches were created, a Cornish-Methodist, an Episcopal, and the Roman Catholic[1]. These churches not only served the living, but also located the dead, as they supported separate cemeteries. There are two cemeteries at Cliff: Hillside, which was the protestant cemetery on a hill overlooking the original 1840’s settlement, and one that was platted alongside St. Mary’s Catholic Church.

For most of the mines’ existence, these two cemeteries were the primary resting spots of those who died in the mine and in the community. From the 1850’s up until 1890, these cemeteries, were actively used for burials. Evergreen Cemetery in Phoenix came under the care and ownership of Cliff Mine and as the community disintegrated, graves were moved and reinterred there, since Phoenix and Eagle River, which were both more populated places by then.

This Field Season

This has been a field season of constant unknown, more so than most relative archaeology field schools. Its not always about unpredictable weather, since some other project plans did not work out in a timely manner. We have been malleable, free form, and adaptable. The professors have been talking about the research process and how a professional must be able to design fieldwork according to major research questions, within ethical and legal frames, and under real budgetary constraints, while also accounting for weather and other unpredictable factors.

This season, we’ve been able to finish work started in 2013 and look at some entirely new areas of the site. We are continuing excavation of Trench 54 North, within the grounds of what has been hypothesized as a butchering area due to the large number of animal bones within the proximity.  In addition, we have mapped two of the three Cliff cemeteries for the first time. They had not yet been surveyed during all the previous seasons. Some of my peers will write about the cemetery studies.

The techniques that have been used in these past weeks, have included learning to make maps by triangulating with tape measures, degree-and-distance with magnetic compasses and an optical transit, and digital mapping with GPS and an EDM Total Station. Beginning with Hillside and the Catholic cemeteries, we drew base maps from scratch using metric tapes and the optical instrument. While teams then inventoried and recorded the monuments and markers, a team with the digital mapping tools came through to lock our hand drawn plan into the Cliff GIS. We have also used the pXRF on soil samples taken near the Clifton trenches in what the team thinks is a building foundation and an animal pen.  In the upcoming blogposts, you will read from others like myself in this years 2014 Field School on what we are learning, experiencing, and the possible results that could culminate through these practices.

Thank you for your continued readership and support of our ongoing archaeology and research efforts. It is your comments and memories that inspire us in our work, showing that even in looking to the past impacts the present and future. We’ve already run into several groups of people visiting the site who had ancestors working there and one of the historic photos provided by a family may be key in helping us link specific families mentioned in the census to specific buildings now mapped in our GIS!


[1] Monette, Clarence. Clifton and the Cliff Mine. Greenlee Printing Company. Calumet. 1999.

[2] Blog entry, April 29, 2010

[3] Lee Presley, 2014

Visualizing the map in progress, 2010-2014

The vast majority of data was collected in 2010 and 2012, as those were years where primary focus was on mapping Cliff and Clifton, respectively. In 2011, 2013, and this year, mapping is secondary, though what has been mapped has filled in the edges somewhat. The 2014 season is not over, and the focus is […]

What was (and is now) the ‘Function/Use’ of the Cliff?

So the property has a classification and (at some point) will have a hard number of contributing and non-contributing resources that go into that will help support its nomination… and in this next step, the assignment of past and current Functions/Uses. It’s important to list what a property’s current state of use (or function) in […]

The Classification of the Cliff Property

So now we’re getting into the nuts and bolts of the National Register Nomination forms. It’s the part of the process that is very important in terms of how the property will be viewed by potential owners/caretakers from now on. Again, this step in the process is seemingly simple and straightforward, but in reality it […]

First Things First: Defining Boundaries

For the majority of National Register nominated properties, defining a boundary isn’t too difficult. The historic home is defined by it’s lot (unless it’s just one of several historic homes—then perhaps the entire block/neighborhood). Same goes for most other architectural resources. But what of a landscape? Is it enough to only include a 100 year […]

What is the National Register of Historic Places?


As stated by the Guidelines for Completing National Register of Historic Places Forms, “The National Register of Historic Places is the official Federal list of districts, sites, buildings, structures, and objects significant in American history, architecture, archaeology, engineering, and culture. These [places] contribute to an understanding of the historical and cultural foundations of the nation.” These places include all prehistoric and historic properties of the National Park System, all National Historic Landmarks, and properties that have been successfully nominated for inclusion by State Historic Preservation Officers, Federal agencies, and even you.

To qualify for the National Register, a property must possess both historic significance and integrity. Significance is tied to “four aspects recognized by the National Register Criteria.”

  • Criteria A: Association with historic events or activities.
  • Criteria B: Association with important persons.
  • Criteria C: Distinctive design or physical characteristics.
  • Criteria D: Potential to provide important information about prehistory or history.

The first two criteria are fairly straightforward. The site of an important battle (or in our case, the first profitable copper mine in Michigan) is a great example of significance under Criteria A. The birthplace of an American President would be one example falling under Criteria B. Criteria C is often associated with architecture or perhaps (in the case of the Copper Country) a well preserved company town/district. But it can also refer to an excellent example of workmanship or technical practice not tied to a specific piece of architecture. For instance, one building may not be individually significant, but a collection of structures could embody a distinctive method of creation, use, or process. Criteria D is generally associated with archaeological resources. The property may not include any standing/obvious features at the surface, but beneath that surface may be found years and years worth of resources related to some aspect of our nation’s history and/or prehistory.

Beyond historic significance, a nominated property must also contain a level of integrity. This is defined as “the authenticity of a property’s historic identity, evidenced by the survival of physical characteristics that existed during the property’s prehistoric or historic period.” A property is measured against seven qualities that can determine historic integrity:

  • Location
  • Design
  • Setting
  • Materials
  • Worksmanship
  • Feeling
  • Association

A property does not need to meet all seven qualities, but it must meet at least one.

As you continue following my education in completing one of these nominations, I’ll return to these ideas of historic significance and integrity, and discuss how the Cliff mine and Clifton meet (and in some cases, don’t meet) these Criteria and qualities.

Next time I’ll discuss the importance of defining appropriate boundaries for your nominated property.

Michigan Tech’s 2013 Field School in Industrial Archaeology at the Cliff Mine and Clifton!

Join Michigan Tech industrial archaeologists in documenting a historic copper mine in the heart of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. The Keweenaw is famous for its abundant formations of native copper, ranging in size from pebbles to record-breaking boulders of pure metal. Our ongoing project investigates the ruins of the Cliff Mine, the region’s first profitable copper mine, the townsite of Clifton (established 1845, peaked c.1870, and abandoned in the early 20th century), and comparable sites on the Keweenaw. The “Cliff Vein” produced over 38 million pounds of refined copper over a 40-year period, paying dividends to its investors totaling $2.5 million. People working in the mine and living in the town transformed the social and technological practices of mining, adapting to the mass copper running through the region’s rich veins and starting America’s first successful industrial mining boom. The Cliff site is situated along the 200-foot greenstone bluff that runs up the spine of the Keweenaw Peninsula, about 30 miles northeast of Houghton, Michigan.
ImageFieldwork in Clifton during the 2012 season included both Wide Area Excavation and Shovel Test Probe survey.


Learning archaeological fieldwork is an immersive experience where teamwork is essential. It takes weeks of work before a person can begin assembling the clues from each discovery into meaningful pictures of the past. As a result, students should expect the work to be exacting, often slow, and physically challenging, as one develops professional skills over time. We work eight-hour days in all conditions, five days a week (generally Wednesday through Sunday) throughout the six-week summer course. All that time is essential to the process of learning tools and techniques, as well as piecing together the clues of Cliff and Clifton. Students should expect to do the actual fieldwork instead of watching other people work and tell you what it all means. Every day, each person adds an important piece to this large, multiyear, interdisciplinary jigsaw puzzle that is rediscovering Cliff and its community.

The class is led by Associate Professors Timothy Scarlett and Samuel Sweitz, in close collaboration with Project Archaeologists Sean Gohman and Lee Presley.  The course runs May 13th-June 28th, 2013. Instruction is enhanced through the active participation by guest scholars and experts in Copper County industrial and preindustrial history, archaeological and environmental sciences, and planning and industrial heritage studies. The course may be taken for undergraduate or graduate credit.

Our research is driven by questions posed by a team of graduate students and faculty, as we pursue several intertwined threads:
• We are reconstructing the evolution of the mine’s industrial processes during its heyday, using clues left by workers as they built, worked, and reworked the site’s shafts, mills, engine houses, stacks, shops, houses, and offices.
• We are excavating in town to recover artifacts that tell stories about the residents’ daily lives, putting “meat on the bones” of the animals they ate and illustrating the material worlds they built in their homes, churches, and schools.
• We have established a landscape archaeology theme as well, in which we are using bioarchaeological, geoarchaeological, and archaeochemical studies to enhance our understanding of how the residents transformed the Keweenaw’s ecological setting. Our effort ties the people of the Cliff Mine to the transformations of the entire region as farms and villages waxed and economic, social, and ecological relationships with Cliff waned.

On the Cliff Mine and Clifton site, students will learn a wide range of archaeological field methods and gain proficiency using important equipment and tools, within a committed public archaeology context. Examples of what team members learn include the following:
• consulting documents, maps, aerial photos, and oral history during excavation and survey, including several different types of remote sensing (satellite, aerial, ground-based, and maritime remote sensing systems have all been used in past seasons);
• using traditional mapping technologies, along with LiDAR, Global Position Systems (GPS), and digital Total Station (EDM) tools, in mapping landscape details such as walls, structures, and roadways for the purpose of creating “living” geospatial environments within a Geographic Information System database;
• working with both “wide area” excavation and Shovel Test Pit survey for data recovery, including appropriate sampling methodology to ensure that artifacts are representative of the larger area;
• completing measured drawings of architectural remains with traditional tools, as well as digital equipment like EDMs and LiDAR, to produce measured drawings;
• sampling for archaeobotanical, geoarchaeological, and archaeochemical analyses;
• ethically driven decision making about artifact collection, cleaning, identification, analyses, and conservation, with concern for industrial archaeological sites in particular; and
• working with stakeholder and descendant communities in the responsible conduct of public scholarship and research with industrial heritage; including legal, ethical, and environmental issues surrounding industrial communities, sites, and landscapes.

During time off, students will be able to enjoy the rich cultural and natural heritage of Michigan’s spectacular Keweenaw Peninsula and the shores of Lake Superior. A short drive brings visitors in reach of two national parks, two national forests, several state parks and wilderness areas, industrial heritage museums and monuments, miles of public lakeshore, watersports, and world-class mountain biking trails.  Students are also encouraged to attend the 2013 Annual Meeting of the Society for Industrial Archaeology in Minneapolis, Minnesota!

More information about class registration and costs can be found here:


Second Weekend of Public Tours

We had some decent weather yesterday and that brought out over 80 visitors to the site. From what I gather some of our visitors spent hours visiting the excavations and then hiking along the cleared trails using a map we’ve created for the event. Another mild day today will hopefully mean a higher number. We’ve […]

Thanks to the Keweenaw County Historical Society

I just wanted to post a quick thank you to the Keweenaw County Historical Society for inviting Lee Sweitz and myself to talk about our research at Cliff and Clifton. The event took place today at the Eagle River Community Building and was attended by about 60 people. Lee and I spoke for about an […]