1997 Mining History Association Tours
Michigan Copper Country
Houghton, Michigan
June 6-9, 1997

 (Reconstructed 2020)

The Michigan Copper Country extends from the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula to Ontonagon and White Pine in the western end of the Upper Peninsula.  The greatest concentration of copper deposits and mines were located from just south of Houghton to the eastern end of the Keweenaw.  The copper was in the form of pure native copper, found in ancient volcanic rocks formed during the Mid-Continental Rift (1.1 billion years ago).  Native Americans had long ago discovered lumps of float copper left behind from the glaciers of the Ice Age.  Indian trade goods made of Michigan copper have been found at many locations throughout the Mississippi Watershed.  Early explorers and the Cass Expedition, 1820, were aware of the copper deposits.  This was the Michigan Territory until Michigan became a state in 1837.  The Pittsburgh and Boston Mine was opened in 1844 when the area was still a wilderness.  The Army established Fort Wilkins near the current town of Copper Harbor in 1844 to provide protection for the early miners and prospectors.  Transportation by water on Lake Superior was the only access to the area.  There was no access to the area during the harsh winter weather.  Until the opening of the locks at Sault Ste. Marie in 1855, it was necessary to portage incoming supplies and outgoing copper shipments around the rapids of the St. Mary’s River.

The Mining History Association tours of the Copper Country included historical sites from the earliest mines at Fort Wilkins down through the major mining areas along the copper lodes to Houghton and Hancock.  A special post-conference tour visited the Caledonia Copper Mine in Mass in the southwestern portion of the Copper Country.  Many of the sites visited are associated with the Keweenaw National Historic Park, formed in 1992 to preserve the area’s rich mining heritage.

1997 Mining History Association Field Trip

Quincy Mine and Smelter

Hancock, Michigan

June 6, 1997
(Reconstructed 2020


The Quincy Mining Company was formed in 1846 from two predecessor companies, the Portage Mining Company and the Northwestern Mining Company.  It was named for Quincy, MA, in recognition of its Boston investors.  Its operations were located across the Portage Canal from Houghton in the city of Hancock.  The Quincy Mine was located in a hill above the town and followed the copper lode in a northeast-southwest direction.  The first shaft began production in 1852.  Eventually a series of inclined shafts and rock houses were located along the lode.  The Quincy No. 2 shaft, rock house, and hoist house are preserved as part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park and open for tours.  The Nordberg mine hoist at the No. 2 was the World’s largest at the time it was installed in 1920.  The shaft itself was 9,260 feet deep, the World’s deepest at the time the mine closed in 1945.  CLICK HERE for a map of the Quincy Mine workings.

An inclined tramway connected the mine to the Quincy Stamp Mill located at the base of the hill.  The concentrated copper was supplied to the Quincy Smelter built in 1898 and located a short distance away along the Portage Canal.  While nothing remains of the original stamp mill, the extensive buildings of the smelter have been stabilized and are occasionally open for special tours.  The Quincy Mining Company continued to produce copper until its closure in 1945.  It operated continuously with only a short closure from 1933-1937 during the Great Depression.  It was called “The Old Reliable” for its long period of paying dividends to shareholders.


Miners at the original Quincy No. 2 Shaft Rock House/Headframe, ca1906.  It was replaced by the current No. 2 in 1920 (see photo below). (Library of Congress)

The operations of the Quincy Mining Company are shown in this 1873 pictorial map. The mine shafts and rock houses are on the horizon; a tramway runs to the stamp mill at the lower left; and the smelter is to the right of the bridge.  (Library of Congress)

Quincy Mine No. 2 Rock House/Headframe operated from 1908 to 1931.  (2008 Photo)

Quincy Mine No. 2 Hoist House. (2008 Photo)

(Above)  The Nordberg steam hoist at the Quincy Mine was constructed in 1920.  It was the world’s largest at the time it was installed.

(Left)  The Quincy Mine No. 2 inclined shaft was 9200 feet in length (6400 feet vertical).  A water bailing skip in the left shaft compartment was used to remove water from the mine.  The miners’ man car in the right compartment transported the men to their assigned level of the mine.


MHAers riding the Quincy and Torch Lake Cog Railway downhill from the rock house get an excellent view of Houghton, Hancock, and the lift bridge over the Portage Canal (AKA Portage Lake).  It follows the path of the historic tramway to the stamp mill.

Disembarking from the cog railroad, the MHAers head for the East Adit (7th level) of the Quincy Mine and an underground tour.

MHAers follow the East Adit nearly half a mile to the underground mining areas.

A tour guide demonstrates underground drilling and blasting.

MHAers explore the southern side of the Quincy Smelter site.  The local Quincy Smelter Assn. worked for several years to stabilize the site.

View of the Quincy Smelter from the eastern end.  In 2012, the National Park Service and the Keweenaw Historical Park took control of the site to eventually begin preservation.

A locomotive sits on the north side of the Quincy Smelter.

A slag button at the Quincy Smelter.

Photo Credits: Johnny Johnsson, Mike Kaas and  and Library of Congress



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