Exploring Michigan's Mining Heritage

Mining, once the largest industry in the Upper Peninsula, continues to have a significant impact on Michigan’s economy and local communities in the U.P. Its deep heritage is evident at three iconic Michigan Historical Center sites: Fort Wilkins Historic Site at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, the Michigan Iron Industry Museum near Marquette, and Fayette Historic Townsite on the Garden Peninsula. Together, or separately, these picturesque sites offer an exceptional way to get in touch with Michigan’s storied history and mining heritage.

Costumed interpreters help visitors step back in time to the 1840s
at Fort Wilkins Historic State Park in Copper Harbor. The historic fort
at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula features new exhibits in
2013 and has a planned archaeological dig this summer.

Fort Wilkins Historic Site, Copper Harbor

Located on the rugged coast of Lake Superior at the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula, Fort Wilkins was built by the U.S. Army to maintain law and order in what was known as “Copper Country” in Michigan.

“After soldiers accidentally found copper near Fort Wilkins 1844, the Pittsburg and Boston Copper Harbor Mining Company sank mine shafts which are still visible at the park,” said DNR historian Barry James. “Archaeology work has also identified the sites of the blacksmith shop and other buildings that supported the mine.”

Fort Wilkins was the northernmost post in a chain of forts that stretched from Keweenaw Point to the Gulf of Mexico. The isolated post was built in 1844 and abandoned just two years later. It was briefly re-garrisoned in the 1860s, after the Civil War ended. Ultimately, the expense and difficulty of supplying the fort led to is abandonment in 1870.

Today, Fort Wilkins is a well-preserved museum village in Fort Wilkins Historic State Park. It is bordered by water in a setting virtually undisturbed by modern intrusions. Nineteen buildings survive; 12 of them are original structures dating to the 1840s.

The preservation of Fort Wilkins, begun in the 1920s, continues based on research by historians, archaeologists and architects. Today, museum exhibits, audio-visual programs and living history interpretation evoke the solitude of military service on the Lake Superior frontier.

New at Fort Wilkins
  • Exhibit upgrade to married enlisted men’s cabin – including nine-minute introductory AV program, “The Fort Wilkins Story” and a children’s hands-on room (2012)
  • Archaeology survey of 490 acres that expanded the park’s boundaries in 1998 (scheduled for summer 2013)

Daily Attractions
  • 1844 copper mine site
  • 21 historic buildings
  • Costumed interpreters
  • Lighthouse boat tour (fee)

2013 Special Events
  • July 26-28 - Civil War-Era Artillery Encampment
  • Aug. 3 - Fort Wilkins Historic State Park Copperman Triathlon

Contact the Park:

Newly constructed interpretative trails at the Michigan Iron
Industry Museum continue the story of Michigan’s iron mining
heritage and offer visitors a pleasant outdoor experience.

Michigan Iron Industry Museum, Negaunee

Near Negaunee, the Michigan Iron Industry Museum overlooks the Carp River and the site of the first iron forge in the Lake Superior region. From 1848 to 1855, the Jackson Iron Company and others manufactured wrought iron there from local ore, demonstrating the high quality of Michigan’s iron ore deposits.

“From a business standpoint, the Carp River Forge was largely unsuccessful, but that pioneer enterprise was the seed of the Michigan iron industry that flourished for a century and continues to this day,” explained DNR historian Troy Henderson.

The Michigan Iron Industry Museum traces the industrial development of the Michigan iron ranges through exhibits and interprets the impact the industry had on communities and individuals. In addition to the exhibits, the museum offers newly constructed interpretive trails, stunning views from an elevated walkway of the Carp River forge site, and a 23-minute movie on the social history of the Marquette Iron Range.

New at the Museum:
  • Link and trailhead connection to the Iron Ore Heritage Trail (scheduled for July 2013)
  • Iron Ore Heritage Bike Tours (scheduled for July 2013)
  • Snowshoe-lacing workshops. (scheduled for winter 2013-14)

Daily Attractions:
  • Hands-on exhibits
  • Outdoor interpretive trails
  • “Iron Spirits” 23-minute high definition video
  • Museum store

2013 Special Events:
  • June 16 - Iron, Steel, and the Automobile: 24th Annual Antique Auto Exhibit
  • July 11, 18, and 25 - Iron Ore Heritage Bike Tours
  • Aug. 3-4 - Iron Ore and the Civil War event
  • July 9 - Aug. 20 - Tuesday Afternoon Program Series

Contact the Museum:

The Michigan Iron Industry Museum in Negaunee tells the
story of Michigan’s iron industry from its start in the mid-1800s
to the present day. Exhibits include a short film on the social
history of the Marquette Iron Range. (DNR photos)

Fayette Historic Townsite, Garden Peninsula

On the Garden Peninsula, between Manistique and Escanaba, is Fayette Historic Townsite in Fayette Historic State Park.

“For a historian, Fayette is an exceptional example of a 19th-century industrial community and company town, but what also makes Fayette a matchless destination is the stunning scenery of the site – the blue Lake Michigan harbor, the white limestone cliffs and the green forested hills,” Henderson said.

Fayette was a late 19th-century furnace town owned by the Jackson Iron Company. From 1867 to 1871, the company operated two blast furnaces that produced pig iron for America’s steel industry. Fayette’s population hovered around 500 when the furnaces and charcoal kilns that powered them were in production. When iron smelting ceased in 1891, the company town was abandoned.

Today, more than a century removed from the bustle and grime of its heyday, it is preserved as an outstanding example of a 19th-century industrial community and company town. Set against the picturesque harbor, 19 structures from the complex, business district and residential neighborhoods survive. Buildings include the restored furnace complex, reconstructed kilns and a three-story hotel. Nearby are remains of the docks, and the community racetrack and baseball field.

Historical, archaeological and architectural research continues at Fayette while museum exhibits, walking tours and special events interpret Fayette’s rich industrial heritage.

New at Fayette
  • Roof restoration of Fayette’s historic hotel (scheduled for summer 2013)
  • Interpretation of Fayette’s historic racetrack/baseball field (scheduled for summer, 2013)
  • Archaeological survey near the furnace complex and historic racetrack/baseball field (scheduled for summer 2013)
Daily Attractions:
  • Modern visitor center and museum store
  • 20 historic buildings, including a workers’ house built based on archaeological and historic research
  • Museum exhibits, outdoor walking tour and scenic overlooks
  • Guided tours (mid-June through mid-August)
  • Playground, semi-modern camping, picnicking and swimming available in the park
2013 Special Events
  • June 15 - Christmas in June
  • Aug. 10 - Fayette Heritage Day
  • Oct. 5 - Fayette Fall Fest
Contact Fayette Historic State Park