Calumet's Union Building
Within the windows and walls of Calumet's Union Building is a rich and vibrant history. Behind the glass and bricks was a place where business flourished and secret societies met. Whether they were whispered in beauty salon chairs or told by members of fraternal organizations, the stories of this place have one common thread – this building.
The Union Building illustrates the intertwined relationship between the copper mining industry and the community. Built in 1889 on land donated by the Calumet & Hecla Mining Company, the Union Building served as a transition between the company’s copper mines and Calumet’s commercial district. “Union” did not refer to organized labor, which C&H management despised, but to the partnership between two of the community’s oldest benevolent societies, the Free and Accepted Masons and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows.
Designed by architectural firm B.H. Pierce and Company of Hancock, Michigan, the Union Building is typical of lodge halls constructed in the late 1800s. In addition to the meeting facilities on the upper two floors, street-level commercial space was included. Tenants over the years included the Merchant’s and Miner’s Bank, a U.S. Post Office, a beauty salon and the Keweenaw Printing Company.
For nearly eighty years, the Union Building served as a meeting place for over twenty of Calumet’s fraternal groups and benevolent societies. Many of these organizations possessed elaborate and secretive rituals that forged strong connections between members and provided them with a level of security and acceptance in the local community. These groups, whose membership was often based on national identity and/or religious affiliation, provide a chronicle of Calumet’s past ethnic and religious makeup.
By donating land to certain groups, C&H attempted to shape the local community to foster its need for a stable, productive and loyal workforce. As a link between the community and company, the Union Building and the people who passed through its doors reveal stories of a copper mining town. This building, like others downtown, provides a window into Calumet’s past.