The mining ruins in Houghton and Keeweenaw Counties of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan remain a fascinating mystery, their time-worn brick, stone, wood, metal, and cement crumbling under the dramatic Lake Superior weather patterns. One could imagine a miner covered in dust eating a signature “pasty,” throwing the crust full of dirt down a shaft into the darkness. The “pasty” (pronounced “pass-tea”) is a pot pie style sandwich enclosed in a crimped half-moon-shaped crust which is a local staple at many restaurants.
Gales blow across the immense body of deep, dark, cold water of Superior to create conditions conducive to producing winter snow storms measured in feet rather than inches. In winter, the old 19th Century houses and shops along the roads become piled with snow, and snow banks or drifts reach up to fifteen feet or more in some places.
The towns have a ghostly appearance with many worn buildings of chipped paint, some boarded up and no longer in use. But the ravens and snowshoe rabbits still make use of the dark corners of the rooms and lofts to build their nests. One person’s trash is a bird’s treasure.
Naturally, a favorite pastime of tourists is snowmobiling. The smell of exhaust blows through and mixes with the fresh wintry air near the trails, cafes, and hotels.
The UP is easily one of the snowiest places in the Midwest United States. At times amazing, other times treacherous and spooky, the huge swaths of snow bury nearly everything in site, leaving the gravestones of the past towering above such as Quincy Mine and other industrial ruins.
The snowmobile trails wind through the forest and cliffs of Houghton, Phoenix, and Copper Harbor, cliffs that tower above with skinny pine trees nestled along the rock formations. Brockway Mountain in Copper Harbor offers a perilous lookout point at the top, the sight of the lake and forest for miles. The city of Gay has an entire dark beach of blackish mine tailing (leftover rock from processing mined materials like copper or iron ore). An old train engine sits near shore on the Houghton side of the Houghton-Hancock canal bridge. To drive through those towns on either side, one must traverse a switchback road through old buildings and houses up the mountainous terrain near Michigan Technical College, hotels, old shops, and cafes. An abandoned dredge rots rusting near shore on Torch Lake south of Hubbell in Quincy Mill.
Houghton-Hancock Bridge and Canal
Near Hubbell and Torch Lake
Ruins in Laurium, MI
Mine ruins in Centennial, MI
Schoolcraft Cemetery and the Trail in Laurium, MI
Ruins Near the Beach in Gay, MI
Ruins in Centennial, MI
All pictures and blog post © Bridget A. Brimer 2020
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One thought on “Ghosts of Houghton”
The UP is an interesting place for decades it was shut off from the rest of MI until the Mackinac Bridge was built. The building of the bridge is an interesting story. I spent three summers working on Mackinac Island in the mid-70s. I traveled to Ishpeming after a friend married a man from there. The UP has its own culture and language accent. Did you travel there recently?
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