There are about 20 turn of the century buildings that sit quietly along the lakeside in Houghton. You can't help but be drawn to this patch of land that time seemingly forgot. It's prominace along the shoreline whispers of a story to tell.
We can attest to this magnetic urge to rummage through those old buildings looking for their hidden secrets, wondering what could have prompted the building of this small city many years ago. Luckily for us we came upon this treasure during a rare chance that tours were being conducted. The stories of a once bustling area that employed well over a thousand people and the hard hot labor that went in to producing high quality copper ingots which were sold the world over had us intrigued. The imigrant peoples that built the surrounding towns and villages were made out of a grit they call SISU. This is never more apparent than at the smelter site where they worked in groups of two sharing responsibility for one another unless one should succumb to the heat or catch fire and not know it.
The tour guides take you through the grounds and many of the buildings that have been stabilized. The remainder are still under reconstruction but imagination can fill in where time has stolen their glory.
If you enjoy hiking, there is a lovely 1.4 mile hiking trail a few miles east of Chassell. Drive east from Houghton and through Chassell. A few miles outside of Chassell you will see a sign on your left for the Sturgeon Sloughs Wildlife Area and a lookout platform. From here you can take the pleasant, short walk that will lead you through a grassland, marsh, and forest to the Sturgeon Sloughs where you can stand on a deck and look out at the river. If it is a warm, sunny day and you have binoculars you may spot turtles resting on the downed trees and logs along the shore.
Warning: Sadly the last time I walked this area, I found that the various groups that established the trail were no longer maintaining it. The boardwalk is becoming more overgrown (see my 3rd photo), and there are also a few loose boards. In one section the boardwalk is tilted at an angle, and there are areas where there is only a footpath made by others walking before you. The grass around this narrow footpath can be quite tall, so don’t wear shorts. Also a bench along the river has been taken over by large ferns growing through and around it. Hopefully in the future, one of these organizations will again take up the chore of maintaining the trail.
The Houghton Waterfront Trail is a paved path, with a boardwalk section that is wheel chair friendly and runs along the Keweenaw Waterway, sometimes called the Portage Shipping Canal. This walk is about 1.4 miles one-way, and is an easy, level stroll. You can begin this walk from either end, but I will describe it from the west end, which begins at Waterfront Park. This park is located off of highway 26 on the west side of town. You will find a parking area at the park, along with a pavilion and restrooms. You will have a great view of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge, as this walk will take you under and past the bridge. From the parking lot the trail runs to the left, and parallel to Memorial Drive. It will run along the waterfront for the entire route. When you get to the board walk area, continue along this, and when it ends at a boat ramp, continue along the black top path. At the eastern end of this walk you will find a picnic area with grills, benches, and a nice view of the bridge and waterway. Bridgeview Park, located on the east end has a sign that will give you historic information about the Portage Shipping Canal, and the bridge, as well as the Copper Boom. This sign includes historic photos. You will pass a public city dock, where you may see private yachts tied up. There will be two entrances to parking areas along this section that you will cross. One is for the Isle Royal National Park Headquarters. On the east end you will find the East Houghton Waterfront Park. Across the Waterway is the old, historic, Quincy Smelting Works.
Along the Keweenaw waterway on the west side of Houghton, you will find the Waterfront Park recreation area. This park offers a shelter, picnic area with barbeque grills and tables, public restrooms, a concession stand serving snacks, a small beach, and a playground with Chutes and Ladders. Chutes and ladders is a play area composed of various sizes of ladders and slides, which my son enjoyed even as a teenager. Photo two is of the Chutes and Ladders playground.
Drive across the bridge to The Quincy Mining Company, a cooperating site of the Keweenaw National Historical Park. This was organized on March 30, 1848 after the discovery of copper in the Keweenaw Peninsula, the “Copper Country” of Michigan. A visit here will give you a first hand glimpse of what our Nation’s first mineral boom was like. As part of your visit to this museum you will see the steam hoist building, the Number Two Shafthouse, and experience a short underground copper mining excursion. The Quincy Steam Hoist is the world’s largest steam driven mine hoist and was first operational in 1920. Occupying a four-story hoist house, this hoist could lift 10 tons of copper ore at 36.4 miles per hour. The museum contains the largest display of artifacts and photos in the area. Surrounding the Hoisthouse are a number of mining and railroad artifacts. The Quincy Number Two Shafthouse is the symbol of the “Copper County” and is recognizable from miles around. This Shafthouse is 150 feet tall, was built in 1908, contains all of its original workings and is part of the guided tour. The East Adit and the Quincy Mine was begun in 1860 as an exploratory horizontal tunnel for copper and later provided access to the other Quincy shafts. In 1975 Michigan Technological University began using this as an experimental mine in its related engineering studies and research. As part of your tour you will proceed 2000 feet through the side of Quincy Hill into the original mine workings from the Civil War era. Here you will view numerous mining displays and actual underground mined-out rooms called stopes. This museum is open Mid-May through Mid-October.
My third photo shows a landscape view of the mine, sitting atop the hill over the Hancock Marina.
If you enjoy rocks and minerals visit the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum, a cooperating site of the Keweenaw National Historical Park. It is located on fifth floor of the Electrical Energy Resource Center at the campus of the Michigan Technological University in Houghton, Michigan. There are over 20,000 mineral specimens on display in this museum, and it is considered to be one of the best university mineral museums in the world. They also have one of the best fluorescent minerals exhibits that I have seen. Pick up information and directions for this at Keweenaw Peninsula Chamaber of commerce, located at 902 College Avenue in Houghton.
Take a scenic boat tour down the Keweenaw waterway aboard the Keweenaw Star . The Keweenaw Star is a 110 foot excursion boat capable of carrying 149 passengers along the waterway that served the miners in their heyday. You will enjoy both the history and the scenery of the Keweenaw waterway. They have a full bar, snacks, air conditioning and heat with a dining room for dinner cruises, and an upper deck.
You will enjoy viewing homes, cabins, and the natural environment. Watch for blue herons, bald eagle, cormorants, ducks, Canadian geese, and other birds along your way. At the end of the waterway you will see the working lighthouse that still guides boats safely from Lake Superior to the waterway entrance.
Some of the cruises available are sunset cruises, dinner cruises, lighthouse cruises, color cruises, sightseeing cruises, and special events such as viewing the fireworks in Torch Bay on July 3rd. The Keweenaw Star operates from May through October, departing at 7:00 P.M. May through Labor Day, and 6:00 P.M. Labor Day through October.
The Star is also available for private groups and afternoon charters.
Purchase your tickets at the Dee Stadium, which is located at the corner of E. Lakeshore Drive and Portage Street.
We had lots and lots of fun jumping into the river, even though my friend Aaron got attacked by leaches. No worries, though, he just pulled them off. You have to be careful, though, because if the river is moving too fast or is too rough, then you could get seriously hurt. We tried going two times, and the first time a girl who went before us came back all scratched and bruised.
Take a drive to the shores of Lake Superior, sometimes called the unsalted sea. When we took a friend from Japan to the shores of Lake Superior she could not believe that this was not an ocean. She had to taste the water to be sure it wasn’t salty before she could believe it. Here are some interesting facts about Superior. This lake covers 31,280 square miles, which is equal to the combined area of the states of Massachusetts, Connecticut, Rhode Island, Vermont, and New Hampshire. Lake Superior stretches 350 miles east west and 160 miles north south. It takes the sun 30 minutes to arc over the lake. This is the deepest of the Great Lakes with a maximum known depth of 1,333 ft. This lake filled with glacial melt water 10,000 years ago. It holds three quadrillion gallons of water which is enough to cover all of North and South America with a foot of water. Waves of up to 30 feet high have been recorded during storm conditions on the lake. 1979 was the last time the entire surface of the lake froze in the winter. Water temperature averages 40 degrees Fahrenheit, although bays and inlets can warm to 60 or 70 degrees in late summer. Lake scientists call Lake Superior an “ultra-oligotrophic body” meaning that it has few nutrients, sediments, and other material in its waters. Lake and brook trout are native to Superior. Humans have put Brown and rainbow trout, Coho, Chinook, pink, and Atlantic Salomon into the lake. 89% of the Lake Superior basin is forested. The lake has 2,730 miles of shoreline.
The highest point in the Keweenaw Peninsula is Brockway Mt. It is located about an hour north of Houghton, just outside Copper Harbor. There are hiking trails up to the peak, or you can drive up to the top (it's rather flat on top, and not very high). A small gift shop is located at the top, and you get great views of the area. It is highly recommended to go during the fall colors.
Just find some roads that take you out of the city and take them. You can find some really neat things out there. Follow the channel as far as it goes. If you follow it to the North you will go to breakers. Breakers is where the channel meets Lake Superior and there is a huge rock break wall going out into the water. It is also a huge area where the mine dumped stamp sand out into the lake.
If you are in Houghton during the fall color season, I highly recommend taking the hour drive north on US 41 to Copper Harbor.
On top of Brockway Mountain, yellow, red, orange, and green trees paint the the land as far as the eye can see. Pick up some homemade thimbleberry jam (thimbleberries only grow in 3 places in the world and the U.P. is one of them!) from the Jam Pot in Eagle Harbor, feast on succulent Marinated Trout at the Harbor Haus Restaurant located on the Lake Superior waterfront, and take a sunset cruise aboard the Isle Royale Queen. If you are around during the right time of year you may even catch the northern lights in the night sky.
When traveling to Houghton there are several parks that are nice to visit. One is McClains State Park which is inbetween Hancock and Calumet. The park is right next to Lake Superior and has nice beaches to walk on or you can swim in the lake if you can brave the cold water. Also you can see a great sunset at this park. Another park to visit is Twin Lakes State Park which is west of Houghton on M-26. Twin Lakes is a pretty park and has a nice lake to swim in. Also when visiting Houghton you can go to the Houghton Beach which is along the Portage View Canal. You can walk from the park to downtown Houghton along the canal, which is really pretty.
Some general and completely unreleated must see's... Visit Michigan Technological University (Go Huskies), especially for an ice hockey game. Check out the 'Snow Thermometer' - a record of snow depth. The most snow in one year was 230 inches!
And, there are plenty of hiking and camping oppertunities.
The Upper Peninsula was a major location for Copper Mining... in fact, the Keweenaw Peninsula is known as Copper Country. The mines are not still in operation, but visiting is still pretty neat. And if it is a hot summer day, it is a good way to get cool... we had to wear hard hats and heavy jackets in the middle of July!