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Copyright 1996-2006
Kevin E. Musser


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Mining Company Houses on the Copper Range

Structures of the Keweenaw
Part V


 

I came across this structure five years ago when I started surveying the mainline of the Copper Range. Coming down out of Atlantic Mine on the Copper Range mainline, near the crossing tracks at Mill Mine Junction, appears this long abandoned house that seems to shrink into the surrounding weeds. I have since tried to find out more about it, but all I have discovered is one picture that shows the house standing behind the Mill Mine depot. I would imagine that this was a section house for the Copper Range, but I can't be sure.

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House at Mill Mine Junction

The stationmaster and his family lived on the second story of the depot, so it would not have been their home. Maybe someone could help me out on this one.

Until two years ago there used to be two structures at Mill Mine Junction.The second was a section crew shed on the Copper Range mainline out in front of this house. Luckily I took the dimensions and photos before it succumbed to the snow and collapsed. Other than these two structures, all you can do at Mill Mine is pick pieces of coal from the ground around where the football field-sized coal bunker used to be, find the footings for the water tank, and stand amazed that so many large trees are standing in the same place today.

This is called Industrial Archeology and people actually get PhD's to do this at Michigan Tech. However, I think they get paid the same as I do for this - just pleasure.

The Model

The model was constructed of basswood clapboard siding and Grandt Line windows. It was painted Antique White and weathered with pastel chalks. The trim is light green. This is the same color as the prototype. The roof was painted light gray and dry brushed with Antique white to highlight the shingles. The rear entrances are covered with imitation brown brick asbestos siding. I used a Model Hobbies product, but don't look for it - mine is from about 1950. But it looks great if you can find it.

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Model of the Mill Mine Junction House

The model is small and fits in very tight locations. The model in the photo sits a half inch from the backdrop. The mockup for this structure was shown in the last issue.

The Trimountain house

When Trimountain was first built 50 houses were to be erected. Chief engineer John Knox went to the top of the hill where the Hospital stood. Capt. Jim gazed out over the place, swung his arm in a wide arc and said "All right, Knox, put the 'ouses in 'ere". Then he walked away leaving it all to us.

This story was related by Harry Mercer, long time employee of the Copper Range. I like this description because it reminds me in general of the industry-based mentality that built all of these company homes. Homes were only built when they were really needed as the companies rarely made any money off them. The employee was only required to cover maintenance costs.

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Typical Trimountain Company House (Duplex)

The Trimountain example was typical at the turn of the century, as companies scrambled to complete as many homes as possible before the first snow. In 1899, Painesdale camp #1 was a small group of log structures centered around the "first strike", located on the future site of the Painesdale depot. By 1902 the company had constructed 100 homes and a public school. The hospital in Trimountain was used by all Copper Range employees at the cost of $1 per month and every mine had a dispensary with a doctor and ambulance on duty.

The Sarah Sergent Paine Library, named after William Paine's mother, was built in Painesdale. In addition to the library the building contained a pool room, card room, meeting rooms, public baths, ballroom and a stage,all of which were heated by excess steam from the mine hoist engines. The building, made of Jacobsville sandstone, cost the Copper Range $40,000 in 1903. Hundreds of baths per day were recorded from 1903 until t 1946, when plumbing was finally installed in company homes.

The library stood until 1962 when it was condemned. By this time all of the company owned homes of Painesdale were being sold off to the public for around $775 a piece.

In the South Range region the "Trimountain house" was a standard, containing six rooms. Since many families rented rooms to boarders, the rooms were arranged so that each bedroom could be accessed from the central entrance. The homes were 21' by 25' and were covered in clapboard or wood shingles, with a mine rock foundation. Typical construction costs were from $1,000 to $1,500. These homes rented for about $5 per month in 1913.

The Trimountain-style house can be found in Atlantic, Winona, Painesdale, Baltic and South Range. I will publish plans for this house one day as I have to build 10 or so of them. The double-houses can be found most easily in Trimountain today, but were also a favorite among mining companies as they could be built for as little as $1,200. These homes generally went to smaller families.

Mining Communities

Interlaced with all the data regarding the building and removal of company homes is the story of the mining communities which have developed out of these frantic building sprees. Although it is hard to imagine today, all of these communities were self supporting and thriving with local bands,hockey and baseball teams, church societies, temperance halls, movie theaters and bowling alleys.

For relaxation, miners and their families had Electric Park in the north and Freda Park in the south for wonderful summer picnics. Access to the parks was by rail car on special extra trains that only ran on Sunday's. With the arrival of the automobile in the early teens, the railroad could no longer make money running to the resortsas so abandoned them.

What about railroads?

I enjoy modeling the mining communities of the Keweenaw because it provides something that you don't find most other places. You find extremely large mining structures built right alongside a row of houses, next to a railroad depot, or across from a warehouse. This is model railroad heaven, since the world has already been selectively compressed.

It is hard to get a sense of that today, except at Champion #4, of which I have hundres of photos. In any other town just look for the 100-yard wide section of ground on which no building stands and where homes are on either side and most likely you are looking at where the big shafts used to be.

Atlantic Mine is a good place to see that today. I enjoy researching and reading about the areas I am modeling as it gives me more insight into what I should be modeling. Like the farmer leading his herd of cows right through town, and the yearly grain harvest which was taken to the Atlantic Milling Company. And a Mr. Rawkin, of Painesdale, who used to keep a pile of rocks in his 1914 Dodge to throw at stubborn cows who would not yield the right of way. All are good scenes, completely historical, and will someday find a place on my Copper Range Railroad.

Mohawk/Wolverine House

The village of Gay was developed in 1898 on the site of a nearly defunct logging operation. This mill town was named after Joseph E. Gay, President of the Wolverine and Mohawk Mining Companies. The company obtained all the existing homes and built an additional 117 from 1901 until around 1920.

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The Prototype at Gay, Michigan

Gay is located on Lake Superior's Traverse Bay, east of Lake Linden. The town contained various company stores and a community building, which was required since it was 20 miles from the nearest town. A wagon road was built in 1903 and the Traverse Bay Red Sandstone Company Railroad was purchased by the Mohawk Mining Company. (It probably had to sell out to pay for all the box car lettering).

The Mohawk and Traverse Bay was operated by the Mineral Range until their contract expired in 1917, after which it was operated and later owned by the Copper Range Railroad. The 16.9 mile Gay branch carried mine rock to the Wolverine and Mohawk stamp mills until the mills closed in 1932. It continued to operate until 1963. By that time it only served the Dion Lumber Company.

The Dion's operated a sawmill just north of Gay starting in the 30's and produced up to 10 cars per week for the Copper Range right up to the end. Today two sites mark this village, the big two story school house built in 1927 and the Mohawk Mining Physicians house and office built in 1906. The schoolhouse, which once held 250 students, was reduced to 25 and one teacher by the 1950's and was known as the largest one room school house in Michigan. Now it sits abandoned with a few more broken windows every year. The Physicians house is now the Sherman Township Office. The Gay Bar is the butt of many local jokes, but was originally built for the Gay Stamp mill superintendent, Clement Adams.

Background for the model

The plans for this model were developed from the company homes in Gay but are slightly modified for model railroads. The modification is mainly to the entrance, which has been moved from the side to the front, and the front windows, which were moved off center to make way for the door. A door did exist on the original but looks more like an afterthought than a real entrance. The overall dimension of this structure make it perfect for model railroads, as it measures only 12 feet by 20 feet. A row of six houses will not take up more than one foot of "real" estate.

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Model of the Company Home at Gay, Michigan

I increased the pitch of the roof to make it a little more attractive than the squat prototype. I developed this plan for stamp mill communities on my railroad, although in the end I gave up the idea of a 19-mile branchline to one industry, a real space waster.

Company homes in stamp mill towns were almost always smaller than the ones built by the same company at the mine site. The mining companies always built their offices at the mine site, never at the mill, suggesting that mill life was second class, especially with all those steam stamps pounding day and night. A row of these houses along a backdrop of Lake Superior stamps would always remind me Redridge,Freda, or Gay.

The model

The model was built using basswood clapboard siding and custom made windows of basswood strips. Nothing commercial was used to construct the model, other than Campbell shingles. It is a rather straight forward model and can be completed in a couple of nights. I painted the model off white and weathered it with pastel chalks. The trim is green as is the roof and is also weathered with chalks.

Be sure to add the mine rock foundation, which was required with all that snow. High foundations are a must if you are modeling this area and really add a lot to the structure.

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