Historic Smelter Buildings Destroyed in Fire
Contact: Tom Baker, Management Assistant, (906) 483-3016
(Hancock, MI) Two historic buildings burned Saturday night, September 25, at the historic Quincy Smelting Works site. The 30-acre site, home to a (now) 26-building nineteenth century copper smelting complex, is in the Quincy Mining Company National Historic Landmark District (1989). The Cooper/Carpenter Shop (1898) and Lumber Shed (1917) were contributing structures to the NHL, which is within Keweenaw National Historical Park.
The fire was called in by an alert citizen across Portage Lake in Houghton about 11:00 p.m., and drew response from five area volunteer fire departments as well as the City of Hancock. While the two buildings are a total loss, the fire fighters were able to cool the adjacent smoldering Cooper Stock building before the fire spread and caused further damage. No cause has been determined, although the State Fire Marshall is expected to inspect the scene soon.
The buildings were recently documented by Michigan Technological University (MTU) Industrial Archaeology students through mapping, drawings, and photographs. The detailed documentation will provide valuable information for the historic record now that the buildings have been lost.
The smelter site is considered to be the most intact late nineteenth/early twentieth century copper smelting site in the nation, and possibly in the world. Idle since its closure in 1971, the complex had fallen into severe decay and had been subjected to regular vandalism.
Recent efforts to preserve the 1895 smelter complex have been supported by a community-based smelter steering committee of Franklin Township, owner of the site, the Quincy Smelter Association, and the cities of Hancock and Houghton, and many other organizations. Assistance has been provided by the National Park Service, the Keweenaw NHP Advisory Commission, EPA, and MTU's Industrial Archaeology program. The smelter is also being considered as a potential site for the relocation of Isle Royale National Park's headquarters and boat operation facilities.
On a positive note, a building stabilization contract begins Monday, September 27, to preserve the Reverberatory Furnace Building complex at the smelter site. The contract is being funded through a HUD grant, which was supported by the park's congressional delegation, which includes Senator Carl Levin, Senator Debbie Stabenow, and Representative Bart Stupak. The delegation was also able to garner a $1 million Statutory Aid NPS appropriation to continue preservation work at the site after the HUD project is completed. The funding will also provide for safe public access and interpretation at the site.
Superintendent Jim Corless addressed the effects of the fire. "While the loss of these historic buildings is deeply lamented, the preservation efforts at the smelter site will continue, and perhaps even be strengthened by this. The National Park Service and the Keweenaw NHP Advisory Commission are already consulting with the steering committee and township on the next steps and the preservation of artifacts from the buildings. The greatest loss is what the Cooper Shop presented about the people who worked there – the writing in chalk on the wall and other messages left by the last workers."
Did You Know?
During the ice ages, glaciers ripped chunks of copper away from exposed rock outcrops and then carried the copper sometimes long distances before depositing them. These loose pieces are referred to as float copper.