The Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum in Ishpeming is open June - October. Walk back in history, via the Ishpeming Historical Society room, to see local historical artifacts representing the local community during the great mining era. View historical displays of miners and mines past and present, headgear & other safety equipment available to miners of yesteryear, and displays on blasting and diamond drilling equipment. Stop in the Ishpeming Rock and Mineral Club's room and view over 500 minerals from the local area, the Upper Peninsula, Midwest and the world. Take a guided tour of the tunnels that the miners walked to the base of the C-Shaft and listen to the history of mining from those who worked the mines. Follow up the stairs past old underground iron ore cars with a stop at the blacksmith shop. Go outside to view towers 97’ to 174’ high which were used to lower miners 1250’ into the bowels of the earth. Stand beside a 170-ton Iron Ore Truck with tires 12 feet high. Don’t forget your camera so you can have a memento of your visit standing inside the 30 ton shovel bucket in front of the Dry building or in front of the 170-ton Iron Ore truck. The museum is located at 501 W. Euclid Street, Ishpeming and open Tuesdays through Saturdays from 10 am to 4 pm with a nominal admission.
Have you ever thought about including a tour of an iron mine on your travel agenda? If so, I can strongly recommend the Tilden Mine Tour. The Tilden operates daily tours in the peak travel season, from June 1 to August 15. This is part of American history and life that not too many people get to see. The mines are the largest non-governmental employer in Marquette County, and they are a real living link to the origins of European settlement throughout the area. This mine is operated by Cleveland Cliffs, a corporation based in Ohio which also owns a number of iron pits in the Mesabi Range of northern Minnesota.
After touring Tilden, you'll understand why our local newspaper is the Marquette Mining Journal.
Currently, the pit at Tilden is more than 2 miles long, and about 1/2 mile wide. The depth of the pit is about 800 feet below the surrounding elevation. Operations remove ore from the earty in the form of solid rock (consisting of about 35% iron), which is then taken to a proceessing plant here on the site. On the tour, you see the enormous grinding and crushing mills which separate out the ore, as well as the concentrating "cobbers" and "cyclones" which shape the ore into marble-size pellets which are then shipped out to steel-makers around the midwest.
Things are big here at the Tilden. If as a child you liked to play with Tonka Trucks, you'll be delighted here: for me, there's something inherently fascinating about Great Big Construction Trucks. Generally, most of the excavators and haulers here are the same of large houses. One of the hauling truck's Firestone tires alone weighs 11,600 pounds, has tread which is 4 1/2 feet wide, stands 13 feet tall, and retails for $30,000.
Ishpeming is an outdoor lover's paradise. Just make sure the land you are on is secure - there are many "cave-in" grounds scattered around, on the sites of former underground mines. But there are plenty of "safe areas" and many interesting paths and parks and recreation areas to explore - especially in the "hilly" areas of West Ishpeming. Actually, many of the hills are slag heaps from disused mines, but many of them have been partially or mostly "reclaimed" by the forces of nature.
Now some people might be surprised that the premiere American skiing museum should be located in Michigan. And not, say, in Colorado or Idaho. But think "history," people! Ski-ing in North America originated in the late 19th century with local clubs dedicated to ski jumping and cross-country. The members of those clubs were overwhelmingly Scandinavian immigrants, specifically Norwegians. And now surprisingly, these clubs were concentrated in the Upper Midwest, in the well-known "Lutheran latitudes" stretching across Minnesota and Wisconsin into northern Michigan. The first ski-jumping tournament in North America was held in Hematite in 1904.
All this - and more - I learned at the museum. I learned more about ski jumping, X-country and downhill ski-ing in one hour in Hematite, than I had learned in all the rest of my life up to that point. Actually, I've lived in the area for 17 years now, but I have to admit that I've never been to a single ski-jumping event. Next winter!
(This museum originally just focused upon ski-ing, but due to popular demand, snowboarding has been included within its purview.)
The Cliffs Shaft Museum in Ishpeming commemorates an underground iron mine that was in operation on this site for a century, from 1867 to 1967.
One of the fascinating features of the old mine is the enormous monumental air shaft,, designed in the form of an Egyptian obelisk! Now, in the 21st century it's a familiar landmark in Ishpeming, and an easy locator for the Cliffs Shaft Mining Museum which is operated out of several nearby mining structures. Touring the museum also allows visitors to explore a portion of the extensive system of underground tunnels that criss-crossed beneath the surface of this community, and allowed for the excavation of untold millions of tons of valuabe ore - from the first iron mines in this region all the way through the 1950s and 1960s.
The walking tour takes visitors underground into one of the close-to-the-surface shafts; maybe if you are a little claustrophobic you might want to wait out this part. It's clean and well-lit with relatively high clearance, but you still know that you're underground. (The deeper parts of the mine have all been closed off.)
The Mine Museum also includes a large number of "static" displays of mining equipment. My favorite is the enormous dumpster truck that was used to haul rock and slag from the pit. Interestingly, it's been replaced by an even larger "tonka" toy!