My newest book, Faces, Places, & Days Gone By, is now available. The book contains over 100 historical pictures from my personal collection of Upper Peninsula images. The book is similar to what I’ve done over the years on this website with the historical pictures featured here. Each picture in the book features commentary and a look into Michigan’s past. Through the use of Stereoviews, cabinet cards, postcards and photo prints, there are photos from all corners the U.P. I will be carrying copies at my upcoming events including this weekend in Escanaba. This is one you won’t want to be without and it is suitable for all ages.
“With his book Faces, Places, and Days Gone By, historian Mikel B. Classen has achieved a work of monumental importance. Drawing from his collection of archival photographs, Classen takes readers on a journey in time that gives rare insight into a vanished world.” —Sue Harrison, international bestselling author of The Midwife’s Touch“
Mikel Classen’s Faces, Places, and Days Gone By provides a fascinating and nostalgic look at more than a century of Upper Michigan photography. From images of iron mines and logging to Sunday drives and palatial hotels, you are bound to be in awe of this chance to visit the past.” — Tyler R. Tichelaar, award-winning author of Kawbawgam: The Chief, The Legend, The Man
“Mikel Classen’s new book, Faces, Places, and Days Gone By, belongs in every library in Michigan. And when I say every library, I’m talking about every public, high school and college storehouse of knowledge.” — Michael Carrier, MA, New York University, author of the award-winning Jack Handler U.P. mystery series.
We all like to take a walk in the woods. Trees towering over our heads and the wonderful smell of pine needles as the sun fights through the dense leaves creating the dappled light of the deep forest, is unlike anything else. Then add in some of the oldest trees in the Midwest, the legendary White Pines that were sought to near extinction by the lumbering companies. In the Upper Peninsula of Michigan there is such a place.
The Keweenaw Peninsula has no shortage of trees, their presence is everywhere their roots can gain a hold. Tall pines and oaks line the ridges and valleys throughout. Though breathtaking in their own right, 150 years ago much of the forest was removed for the progress of man and very little of the original forest remains. What we see now is the offsprings of the original wilderness. But, in a tract of land near Copper Harbor, Michigan, a small part of that original wilderness remains.
The Estivant Pines is one of the last stands of old growth pines left in the State of Michigan. Deep within the 500 acre tract which is administered by the Michigan Nature Association, are the much sought after towering old White Pines. There is a double loop trail that winds beneath these monsters of the wilderness making this walk in the woods unforgettable.
The first trail loop is 1 mile long and is called the Cathedral Grove loop. This hike goes through hardwoods and then meanders through 500 year old giant White Pines. Some of them are 125 feet tall. It is hard to comprehend the majesty of these trees until one is standing beneath them, looking up seemingly touching the sky.
The second loop, the Bertha Daubendiek Memorial Loop is 1.2 miles long. Bertha was the founder of the Michigan Nature Association. Pine, maple and oak grow along this trail with one of the pines having germinated as far back as 1695. Hiking both trails is about 2.5 miles, none of which is very rough. There are some ups and downs, but not overly strenuous.
Other attractions of the Estivant Pines is over 85 identified species of birds make the tract their home. This place is a bird watchers paradise. Also, this is a hiking only trail so meeting vehicles on the trail such as bicycles, isn’t happening here. There has been a recent boom in bicycling in Copper Harbor and many of the trails around the area are now multi-use.
To get to the Estivant Pines, drive to Copper Harbor in the Keweenaw Peninsula. In Copper Harbor, turn on 2nd street. This road will turn into Manganese Road. Follow this for 1.2 miles. On the left just out of Copper Harbor is Manganese Falls, it is well worth checking out. Turn left on Clark Mine Road. Public access to Lake Manganese is to the right, a beautiful spring fed lake, also worth checking out. Continue on Clark Mine Road for approximately 1.2 miles and turn right on Burma Road. Another half mile and you are at the parking area for the Estivant Pines.
This tract of land was originally owned by Edward Estivant who was from Paris, France. It was originally 2400 acres when Estivant purchased it. He eventually sold it to the Calumet Hecla Mining Company in 1947. Then in 1968 it went to the Universal Oil Company who purchased the land for logging and proceeded to cut 300 acres of it. The Michigan Nature Association stepped in and bought 200 acres of the remaining old growth in hopes of preserving a small portion of it. Local citizens worked with them to raise funds and organized a “Save the Pines” campaign. Even local school kids fund raised. In 1973 the Estivant pines was created. Since then more of the tract has been purchased and over 500 acres of the original 2400 is now in the hands of the Michigan nature Association.
The Estivant Pines is open to hiking and snowshoeing. This is a day use area, so there is no overnight camping of any kind. There is no cost to hike other than time. It is a worthwhile experience to walk among these old giants and is something that shouldn’t be overlooked while in the Copper Harbor area.
In my collection of old photos, I occasionally come across portrait style pictures, Unfortunately many of these are unidentified and we don’t know who these individuals are. Maybe somewhere along the way, someone may know who these individuals are. The first picture was a lucky one because we have part of the name for these three ladies. The back of the photo says “These ladies probably were Lypsinmaas.” of all of the pictures on this page, it is the only one that has some form of identification.
What this does do, is give us a look into the faces that walked the streets of Red Jacket / Calumet in the 1880s and 90s. Walking along the streets one could easily encounter any one of these folks going about their daily business. The second picture is completely unknown though by looking at their faces, it appears that they are related. My guess would be brothers but it is impossible to be sure. It does illustrate the importance of labeling photographs of families. We don’t normally think of ourselves as historical but as time moves on all things become historical by their representations of days and people gone by.
The next picture, which is a typical Red Jacket couple, seem to be economically reasonably well off. If nothing else we know they are probably wearing their “Sunday best.” Most of the locals worked in the copper mines where the companies paid low wages and worked long endless days of hard labor. The early days of living on the Keweenaw were hard and cold, yet Red Jacket / Calumet thrived with art and culture. A dozen nationalities converged on the region all in pursuit of wealth from the copper deposits. Cornish, Irish, Italians, Finns, Swedes, and Slavs, all became the backbone of the copper community of the Keweenaw.
Like many communities, there were those that put on uniforms. Our fourth picture shows an unknown soldier from Red Jacket / Calumet. (For those that are unaware, Red Jacket is the original name of the town of Calumet. Calumet was the original name of Laurium. In the 1920s, they moved the name of Calumet to Red Jacket and Calumet became Laurium.) Not being an expert of the military, I’m not sure what this uniform is from. I believe he has a bayonet holder on his belt. It is his English style bobby hat he has next to him that has me guessing. It would be really great to put a name to this guy. Actually it would be really great to put a name to any of these pictures.
As I stated earlier, these are all people that one would have met on the streets during daily life. This last picture shows a pair of unknown women that still seem to have an old world connection. The embroidery on the dress of the woman on the right seems Scandinavian or Slavic. It is hard to tell if they are related. These pictures are around 150 years old. They depict the faces of those that came to one of the harshest places on Earth to establish their places in the American Dream. These are the pioneers of the Upper Peninsula. These are the faces of the U.P.’s past.
Pictures courtesy of the Mikel B. Classen Collection of Historical Pictures
The display I created in the entrance case at Bayliss Library
For those of you that like the history that I post, must realize I have a sizable collection of Upper Peninsula historical items. Many of these are pictures that often are posted here, but I do have other items as well as some picture haven’t made it here yet.
2022 Great Michigan Read – The Women of Copper Country
Here’s a chance to check some of these items out. In conjunction with the Great Michigan Read – The Women of Copper Country, at Bayliss Library here in the Sault, I have displayed some Copper Country history in the glass case at the entrance of Bayliss Library.
Stereoview pictures of the Italian hall Disaster in Calumet, shipwreck and local scenes.
These will be on display throughout the month of February. If you are in the Sault, stop by the library and take a look.
This image is of miners washing the tailings from copper mining ore as it was brought out of the mine.
A while back I acquired an old magazine from 1860 that had a few drawings of the early days of mining in the Upper Peninsula. These were printed when the copper boom was rising giving us in this century, some of the earliest images of the beginning of this era of our history.
Mining in the early days was intensely dangerous, even more so than today. The rock was blasted with dynamite and the miners only had a single candle to see what they were doing. The guy holding the chisel has to have a lot of trust in his co-workers.
The danger of those days can’t be understated. There was poor lighting and high explosives were used on a regular basis. The threat of cave-ins and flooding were constant. Accidents abounded.
Getting ore out to where it could be shipped wasn’t easy. This shows Lake Linden in the distance as viewed from one of the mines. The entire track can be seen and it shows the extremes of getting the ore out. I’ve seen this as a photograph as well.
Getting the ore out of the Upper Peninsula wilderness was no easy task. The picture above shows not only that aspect, but the process of getting it to shipping. The track runs down the incline to a plant below. The copper ore was then smelted into large ingots (copper bricks) and then shipped south through the Great Lakes. Millions of tons were mined, smelted and then shipped during the copper boom, much of it like the picture above.
This is an early copper mine hoist. This is long before the immense steel hoists dominated the peninsula.
In the early days, wood was the only building material available to build the necessary structures for mining. It wasn’t until steel and equipment could be shipped into Lake Superior that the steel hoists came into prominence. This is just a small bit of our mining history.
Sunset over Lac La Belle after a long evening of paddling. The air is still, the water is glass.
Lac La Belle/ Bete Grise – Keweenaw County – Michigan
A Point North
By Mikel B. Classen
The Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan is a rough and rugged place. It is full of ghost towns, abandoned mines, lighthouses, waterfalls, and remarkable beauty. The discovery of copper there, turned it into a thriving region that made millionaires and then paupers of the same men. Communities were carved out of the Lake Superior wilderness and then died as quickly as they rose. Like many places in Copper Country, Lac La Belle rose as a community during the days of the copper rush.
But, long before the copper rush, the mineral had been mined and sought after. For thousands of years the natives had mined the soft metal, pulling it from the ground with their bare hands and then pounding it into ornaments and weapons. This early “copper culture” mined millions of tons throughout the Keweenaw Peninsula and Isle Royale. Near Lac La Belle, one of the largest archaeological finds of “copper culture” artifacts was discovered. Like those that came later, the copper of the Keweenaw was a commodity for the natives that gave them wealth and stature.
Lac, La Belle Marina. It is a public access for Lac La Belle and Lake Superior for the area.
Lac La Belle was dubbed “beautiful lake” by the early French trappers and lies south east of Copper Harbor on the Keweenaw Bay side of the peninsula. It is as far north as one can go on the east side of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The name “beautiful lake” still fits. Lac La Belle was probably long ago a part of Lake Superior because it sits so close the Beta Grise bay shoreline. It is overlooked by Mount Bohemia, one of the tallest of the Keweenaw mountains. Today the mountain supports a ski resort but over a century ago it supported much more.
A very grey Bete Grise bay on a very grey Lake Superior Day.
Bete Grise means “Grey Beast” and was supposedly given because of sightings of a strange unidentifiable grey creature that roamed the area. Another explanation for the name is that the Natives burned the blueberry bogs and the smoke hung over the lake and looked like a grey beast. My personal feelings are that it was given the name because on some days, Lake Superior can take on a dark grey look that can be frightening. I suspect that the “beast” is Lake Superior. Another legend of Bete Grise is that the sand at the beach here, “sings.” It is from a legend of a Native woman that lost her husband to Lake Superior and the noise from the sand is her calling to him. It is a kind of squeaking sound that the sand makes when you hit it hard with your hands or feet. I have noticed this phenomena along other parts of Lake Superior including Grand Sable Dunes and always thought it was pretty cool that you could make the sand squeak.
Lac La Belle is located on the east or “lee” side of the Keweenaw Peninsula. The west side, which includes Copper Harbor and Eagle Harbor, could see rough weather on a regular basis. It made it hard to ship copper from these ports due to Lake Superior’s unpredictability. Lac La Belle was connected to Lake Superior and Bete Grise bay by the Siby River, which no longer exists. A canal was dug and what used to be the river is now the Mendota Canal. It was an ideal port for shipping the riches of the Keweenaw.
Loading copper in the Keweenaw. This gives some idea of the amount that was being removed from the Peninsula. Though this wasn’t taken in Lac La Belle, it IS from Copper Country and Illustrates what Lac La Belle looked like at the time.
As early as the 1860’s Lac La Belle was looked at as an alternative harbor by the Mendota Mining Company which was mining copper and silver a few miles to the north. When it was dug, the lake became a hub of activity as a railroad was built connecting the area to mining throughout the Keweenaw. A smelting and stamp mill was built at the base of Mt. Bohemia and Lac La Belle soon filled with ships waiting to pick up loads of copper and lumber. Traffic was heavy enough that by 1870 a lighthouse had been established at the Canal mouth on Lake Superior marking the entrance to the harbor of refuge. The Mendota/ Bete Grise Lighthouse, it’s known by both names, still stands today. By the 1880s the region was thriving.
This is how the Mendota Lighthouse and and canal looked in its heyday. It still stands today with with a very different view.
Though mines were working in the surrounding hills, Lac La Belle was quietly being discovered for another reason. Fishing. The lake was teeming with perch, bass, pike, and walleye. Around the turn of the century, sportsmen became regular visitors to the area and as the mines played out and slowly died, Lac La Belle transformed. It became a place for sportsmen and tourists. Resorts grew up at the base of Mount Bohemia along the lake shore. It remains so today.
The tiny hidden community of Lac La Belle, is located in one of the most picturesque places in the Keweenaw peninsula. Nestled in the valleys of Mt. Bohemia and Mt. Houghton, the lake reaches towards Lake Superior. A channel allows the lake to flow out past the iconic Mendota Lighthouse located at Bete Grise harbor. Because there is no campground at Lac La Belle, few of the countless visitors to Copper Harbor venture down to this windswept point and see the eastern shore of the Keweenaw and of Lake Superior.
Outdoor Recreation Level: Expert. This pulled into the Gas pump at the Bear Belly Inn at Lac La Belle. I was impressed.
The small resorts surrounding the lake, some over a century old, are amazing places to stay. With private cabins and boat rentals, these places can provide a vacation that is comfortable and pleasant. I’ve found from experience, staying in these small resorts can be much less expensive than staying in a motel and in some cases less than a campground. Their comforts, most of them are fully functional cabins with baths, showers and dinettes, are those of a small home.
This is the cabin I stayin while in Lac La Belle. It’s a great place to come back to after a long day.
Haven Falls runs through the heart of the small community and is surrounded by a small but beautiful park. This little stop should be a part of any trip to the Keweenaw Peninsula. If nothing else, a picnic next to a waterfall and a lake is something you don’t get everywhere.
Haven Falls has a nice little park surrounding it that is an ideal place for a picnic.
Many of the resorts rent kayaks and boats. Lac La Belle is an incredible place to paddle. With both Mt. Bohemia and Mt. Houghton overlooking the lake, it is a sight only found in the Keweenaw. Through the canal and past the Mendota Lighthouse into Lake Superior is a memorable paddle. (Caution: the convergence into Lake Superior can be treacherous.) When I paddled it, there was little breeze and a calm sunny day. It was idyllic. I found myself periodically just floating, taking it all in.
Paddling Lac La Belle with Mt. Bohemia in the background.
When I got back into shore, I went to the Bear Belly Inn, next to where I was staying and had a cheeseburger and a beer. While I was in the area, I ate here a lot. An excellent place to eat and relax, it also sports a store and has gas. You can rent a boat or kayak here.
This is the interior to the Bear Belly Inn. Great food and beer here, especially their egg rolls.
The old railroad grades of the mining days are now ATV trails that crisscross through the peninsula taking riders into the depths of the Keweenaw wilderness through ghost towns and old mining ruins.
Instead of mining, Mt. Bohemia now supports a ski hill, resort, and an excellent restaurant. There is also a public beach along the Lake Superior shoreline. A drive to the end of the road, there is only one, will take you to the canal and face to face with the Mendota lighthouse on the other side.
The Mendota / Bete Grise Lighthouse as it appears today. Nearly enshrouded by pines it is now private property.
Lac La Belle has always been a favorite place of mine in the Keweenaw. The drive on the eastern shore of the Keweenaw, known as the Gay/Lac La Belle Road, is rarely traveled and reveals some of the nicest Lake Superior scenery of any drive. This tiny hidden place in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is one of the overlooked gems of Lake Superior.