Deserted copper towns of Michigan show an unfamiliar side of America
By Christian Ruewekamp Sep 27, 2011, 3:06 GMT
Calumet, Michigan - The roof of the explosives bunker has long since collapsed but the thick walls remain, while, by contrast, there is nothing left of the school that once stood a few metres away. A small wooden sign in the middle of the wood is the only indication that children were once educated here.
Between 1854 and 1898, upwards of 1,300 people lived in Central in northern Michigan, having been drawn to the area by the chance of employment in the town's copper mine. The mine has long since closed and Central has been reclaimed by nature with the town's remaining ruins covered by undergrowth and surrounded by birch trees.
Central is located in the Keweenaw Peninsula on Lake Superior which during the second half of the 19th century was one of the only places where pure, workable native copper was found in commercial quantities. Miners from Europe, China and the Middle East were all drawn to the area by the prospect of work but left once employment opportunities began to dry up. The last mine closed in 1968.
Today, the entire peninsula of what was once called Copper Country is dotted with ruins of abandoned mines and buildings. Many of the once thriving mining towns are all but deserted, leaving just a few old mineshafts and some deserted houses.
The decline is especially noticeable in Calumet, which in 1900 boasted a theatre that could hold 1,200 people. 'Calumet had a population of 30,000 at that time and was at its zenith. There wouldn't be that many people in the entire county today,' explains theatre director Laura Miller.
Calumet's broad streets seem too generous for the small number of vehicles that use them while many businesses in the town centre have been forced to close their doors for good. The windows of the service station at the exit to Highway 41 have also been boarded up and the forecourt is overgrown with weeds.
The peninsula's mining history has drawn some tourists to the area with two former mines now offering tours. The larger of the two is the Quincy Mine Site near Hancock in the south of the peninsula, which was in operation until 1945. Visitors taking the full tour ride on a cog-rail tram car down the hill to the mine entrance and then ride by tractor-pulled wagon into the mine, seven levels underground.
'There was once 400 kilometres of tunnels,' explains mine guide Nick Clark, who reveals that 282 miners lost their lives in accidents in Quincy alone.
Mine operators had to offer incentives to attract qualified workers to Quincy. 'There was cheap accommodation, public libraries and church donations,' says Clark.
'On the other side, the millions of dollars earned during the copper boom flowed for the most part to investors on the US East Coast. When the mines finally closed all that remained were ruins and environmental damage.'