Copper in the Arts

August 2008

Uncovering the History of Coppertown USA

By Donna Dvorak

Coppertown Mining Museum The Coppertown Mining Museum in Calumet, Michigan

Photograph courtesy of the National Park Service

Copper mining in Michigan boasts roots from more than a thousand years ago, and miners, since then, have found pure copper using tools and all types of techniques. Now, in tribute to this wonderful trail of many years of copper mining, the Coppertown USA Mining museum has been constructed for the public to learn about this rich copper trade. Coppertown USA is located in Calumet, Michigan, originally known as Red Jacket where, from 1890 to 1920, more than 60,000 people of many nationalities and backgrounds resided. In fact, Calumet Township houses 60 saloons, 33 churches, 30 schools and five stores, with other businesses unique to the area. Each nationality had their own hangouts like a selection of Chinese laundries, Greek candy stores, Syrian fruit stores and more.

Stuart Baird, the museum's manager for more than three years, says that the museum is "as far North of Michigan as you can go", but well worth the trip.

"The Coppertown USA Museum began in the mid seventies with the goal of preserving a collection of mining equipment and copper samples that have been around for many years," he says. "When the mines closed, they scrapped most of the equipment, but we managed to get much of the equipment and copper samples from the Assaying office - where they test the core samples to see how much copper is in there. Over the years, we've received a lot of donations of mining equipment and samples of specimen copper that we have on display in our museum."

Interior of Coppertown Coppertown exhibit

Photograph courtesy of the National Park Service

According to Baird, they also have a series of displays where they show how copper was mined from the ground and processed in the smelter, until it became the final product.

"We had an open house on August 12, and we're going to have a miner's reunion in conjunction with the Calumet Heritage Days," he explains.

Some of the exhibits at the museum include a two-man drill, the replacement for hand drilling in the 1870's which was so heavy that it took two men to carry it, and a foundry of casting metal products that denote casting in a sand mold where the foundry men used a pre-existing pattern that was placed in a flask box. Another display is the hospital where an Electric-Therapeutic Treatment Machine (called a Waites-Bartlet machine) was used to help patients with a hand-cranked generator. At that time, it was touted that anything from warts to cancer could be cured or relieved with a certain amount of treatments. The machine also produced X-rays.

Other exhibits include the Sheffield Pump Car, manufactured by the Sheffield Car Company of Three Rivers, Michigan, in 1880. The Pump Car was constructed so four men could lift the car off the track and away from oncoming trains. The Loading Ore Car display shows tramcars that were loaded by hand, using chutes and loading platforms that were put into operation in 1915. This display shows a scraper that was used at that time, before air driven engines and later electric, pulled the scraper that was designed for local mining conditions.

Open June through mid-October (because of the large amounts of snow in that area), Coppertown USA continues to bring the fascinating history of America's copper mining towns to life.

Resources:

Coppertown USA, 1197 Calumet Ave., Calumet, MI, (906) 337-4357

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