What’s in a name?

Turns out, everything! This summer I will be interning at Keweenaw National Historical Park. The word Keweenaw is actually an Ojibwa word that means “the crossing place”. If we look at a map of the upper Peninsula of Michigan, we see that to get to the Keweenaw Peninsula, you have to cross Portage Lake. So very apt name indeed!

Before this internship, I was unfamiliar with Keweenaw National Park, and after spending this first week here and learning more about the history of this place, I wonder how could I have not heard of it?

Lake Superior in the back, which surrounds the peninsula.

This is where the first successful mine of the Keweenaw area was. It is still possible to find copper here!

Keweenaw National Park was established in 1992 with the goal of preserving the history of copper mining on Keweenaw Peninsula. Copper mining in this area had actually been going on over 7,000 years ago by the Ojibwa people. When the first European immigrants arrived, their first attempts at mining were unsuccessful and it wasn’t until the 1840’s that mining really took off in this area. The first large scale, profitable mine in this area was Cliff Mine and although it closed in 1870, investors received $2,519,000. There were several other mines that cropped up in the area, such as Quincy mine, which was always reliable in its copper output. But perhaps the most successful mining companies of the area were Calumet Mining Company and Hecla Mining Company, which consolidated into the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company (C and H). To get an idea of just how successful they were, in just one year, they produced over 16.2 million pounds of copper and paid stockholders $2,400,000.

It was Calumet and Hecla Mining company that really shaped the area where Keweenaw Historical Park is. C and H mining company built schools and homes and also a library for the community. The Historical Center where I currently work at served as the library and reading room as well as bathhouse. Their goal was to create an educated mining town, and this would distinguish them from others. They offered medical care to workers as well. But these benefits came in exchange for loyalty to the company.

Evidence of this historical architecture is still seen throughout the site. The house of superintendent of the mines is still standing and so is the former library and school. And through several partnerships and collaborations with Heritage Sites, it is possible to see what remains of the Cliff mine and take a tour of mines to see what they actually looked like. I am so excited to get to explore this area and learn more about the history of this place. It really is a hidden gem!

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