SOUTH RANGE — The Keweenaw Peninsula is known as one of Michigan‘s premier tourist destinations and with attractions celebrating Upper Peninsula history such as the Copper Range Museum it’s easy to see why. Many gathered in South Range over the weekend for the museum’s annual open house where they learned more about the key role the Copper Country has played in civilization dating as far back as 8000 years ago.
Unless you’re from the Keweenaw or the Western U.P., chances are you’re not familiar with the Copper Range Railroad and wouldn’t know it to be one of the country’s first mass transit systems. Years ago, these rails were the primary method of transportation for miners and city folk alike. They also hauled loads of copper out of the area, and even had a rail car that served as a trolley for the students of Jeffers High School.
Newest of the displayed artifacts is the final spike of that railroad that was recently donated to the museum.
“This is the last spike that was put into the railroad on December 27th, 1899 in a blizzard, and so that spike was made with float copper found near Houghton,” said Jean Pemberton, who is the board president of the Copper Range Museum.
The ceremonial spike was eventually removed from the train tracks and given to the mine president. Nearly 120 years later, it was donated to the museum by a descendant.
“We were contacted by the grandson of William Payne, who was the president of the Copper Range Mining Company at the time that the railroad was completed and we are very excited to have this on display from the family. This is new this year,” she added.
Saturday’s attendees contributed many stories of their own with tales from detailed descriptions of a model home that’s on display and multi-family living arrangements, to a claim that one of the first operating Greyhound stations was only a hand shake away from existence in the Painesdale area. The featured display was an ancient collection of artifacts found in the area showing the fabrication of tools and utensils such as knives, fishing hooks, and sewing needles. These items were harvested from copper and believed to have been created by native civilizations as far back as 8000 years ago.
“2,000 years before the first pyramid was ever built, prehistoric people were up here. They were so highly intelligent that the tools they were making, they were finding float copper. These guys were able to say I’m going to take a piece of copper like this. I’m going to heat it, cool it, heat it and cool it, and I’m going to make a piece like this,” said Robin Hammer Mueller of the museum.
Hammer Mueller believes that the dating of these artifacts indicates that the Keweenaw Peninsula could be ground zero for metalworking globally.
“From the Stone Age to the metal age in North America and possibly in the entire world, we did this,” Hammer Mueller added.
She also says that these prehistoric people laid the groundwork for the mining boom of the industrial age, as most of the mines that were used were reopened sites of the ancient people.
“Of all the mines here, the hundreds of mines, the historic ones that were found, all but two were by historic miners. They would send out scouts. They were looking for pits and little holes. They were looking for hammer stones. That’s how the Quincy mine was found, that’s how the Adventure, the Delaware, all of those were found by these prehistoric pits,” said Hammer Mueller.
The Museum is a Keweenaw Heritage Site and is now open through October. However, it will be closed on Monday’s through the month of June.
Upcoming events for the Keweenaw National Historical Park include a geology walk on Saturday at the Quincy Mine. That event takes place at 2:00 pm.