Quincy Smelter's Blog

News and Notes about the Quincy Smelter

Wanted: Family stories of the Smelter

   When my husband in I moved here in the summer of 2001, our attention was immediately drawn to the darkened and tired looking architectural remnants along Franklin Township’s water front. The ground was rough, black, gravel and the buildings crumbling but there was something magnetical about the site. We couldn’t have been in our house 2 days before we made the short distance across the street to investigate the then completely accessable Quincy Smelter.

     Walking through the age torn fragments of buildings, you could almost hear, the echos of the past and the  friendly exchanges of exhausted men who found themselves united by the need to forge a living in almost unbearable conditions. Each of these men have a story to tell. Many of these families still walk the streets, and live in the homes, that their grandfathers built. Many people understand the dry facts behind the Smelter site: It was called “Old reliable”, it is the most complete site of its era, in the world, it is found among the National Registry of Historic Places, but do you know about its people? Where did they come from? Why did they come here? How did they come to work at the Smelter?  What did they do at the site? Does their families still live here?

   These are the questions that most interest me. The smelter itself is a great work, and stands as a testimony to the Copper boom in the Keweenaw, but it never would have been if it weren’t for the fortitude of these amazing people. My goal over these next few months is to bring those people to life and I need your help to do that. Please write in and tell your stories of the  smelter workers and visitors. Your story can be  as long as you would like  and if you have pictures, all the better.  Sincerely, Mary Sears, Quincy Smelter Association

February 13, 2010 Posted by | Uncategorized | 1 Comment

Machines of the Smelter- The Last Post

All good things, as they say, must come to end. As of today, I will no longer be posting to this blog. This has been a great experience for me and I’d like to thank all of the regular readers who stuck with me for 59 posts and nearly 3,000 hits in just over 6 months. Your continued interest in the smelter made this blog very worthwhile, and I hope you’ve all learned a bit more about the site and the work to preserve it. Keep that interest going, do research on your own, attend meetings and events,  get involved with a preservation group, or make a donation! You’re the ones the smelter is being saved for (and by!) so be sure to make your voice heard and lend a helping hand. I’m not sure when or if this blog will be restarted by someone else, but feel free to check back to see what’s happening.

In the meantime, fear not, smelter machine enthusiasts! I’ve accelerated the timetable to bring you one last blowout post about the machines of the Quincy Smelter. Again, I hope you’ve enjoyed these posts, and thanks for visiting!

Craig Wilson, Quincy Smelter blog author

Joseph T. Ryerson & Son Lathe

Putnam Planer

Edwin Harrington Sons Lathe

The Pump Room


January 31, 2010 Posted by | Machines of the Smelter | , , , , , | 2 Comments

Machines of the Smelter- Canedy-Otto Radial Arm Drill

Manufacturer- Canedy-Otto Manufacturing Company

Location- Chicago Heights, Illinois

Model- Unknown

Year- Unknown


All photos by S. Gohman.

January 27, 2010 Posted by | Machines of the Smelter | , , , | Leave a comment

Machines of the Smelter- Lodge & Davis (?) Lathe

Manufacturer- Unknown, tentatively identified as Lodge & Davis

Model- Unknown

Year- Unknown

All photos by S. Gohman.

January 25, 2010 Posted by | Machines of the Smelter | , , , | 1 Comment

Machines of the Smelter- Cochrane-Ely Company Circular Saw

Manufacturer- Cochrane-Ely Company

Location- Rochester, New York

Distributor- Marshall & Huschart Machinery Company

Model- No. 2B

Year- Unknown

All photos by S. Gohman.

January 22, 2010 Posted by | Machines of the Smelter | , , , | Leave a comment

Machines of the Smelter- American Tool Works Drill Press

Manufacturer- American Tool Works Company

Location- Cincinnatti, Ohio

Model- Unknown, likely one of the “Standard” models

Date- Unknown, likely 1890s

All photos by S. Gohman.

January 20, 2010 Posted by | Machines of the Smelter | , , , | Leave a comment

Machines of the Smelter-The Machine Shop Revisited

Today we begin a new series, Machines of the Smelter, which will focus on the well-preserved machines which remain in place inside the Quincy Smelter. This series grew out of discussions on the Practical Machinist “Quincy Smelter” forum, which has given us a way to communicate with historic machine tool enthusiasts around the world. Enjoy these posts, take a look at the forum, and if you have anything to add, please speak up. Your comments are always welcome!

To begin our series, we’ll start in the 1907 Machine Shop. As discussed in one of our Virtual Smelter Tour posts, the concrete machine shop was constructed in 1907 and significantly enlarged around 1920. The Machine Shop likely continued to serve the smelter after it reopened in 1948, and evidence inside shows that it was actively occupied by smelter employees when the smelter finally closed in 1971.

Panoramic view inside the Machine Shop, looking west from the doorway. The original machines and tools are still in there, buried under modern trash. Click for a much larger version. Photo by S. Gohman.

Today, the interior of the Machine Shop is quite the mess. Spare parts, stored items, and general trash cover almost everything, but a quick removal of some of the largest pieces let us get a clear view of the machines inside. Buried under everything, we found three lathes, a planer, two drills, and a circular saw, all set up to draw power from overhead line shafts. Take a look at the drawing below to orient yourself to the various machines and their locations in the shop (don’t look too close, though…you’ll notice I forgot a few windows when I made the plan).

All of the machines in the shop were powered from an overhead belt drive system that ran east-west just under the roof trusses. You’ll note in the first panoramic picture that you can’t see the pulleys and shafts because of large sheets of plastic hanging from the ceiling. It’s unclear why the space was subdivided with this makeshift drop ceiling, but it’s likely that the last occupants of the building wanted to economize on heat and sealed off the upper loft space. In any case, when we ventured up into the small loft that hangs at the east end of the building (just over the door), we discovered that all of the shafts and pulleys were intact.

The small storage loft at the east end of the building. Note the small grinder and electric motor/generator at left. Photo by S. Gohman.

The original line shafting streching away to the west. Photo by S. Gohman.

Based upon the orientation of the machines below the shafts, it appears as if nearly everything is in its original location. Everything is set up to draw power from an east-west shaft, so it seems like the machine shop we see today is not too different from the machine shop of 1920. Only the large American Tool Works drill press seems out of place, as it appears to prevent access to the lathe behind it.

It’s unknown if the drill was moved from another location or was always situated there, as later occupants of the Machine Shop modified the interior to fit their needs. The long beds of the Putnam planer and the Harrington lathe, for example, were carefully covered with planks to create extra work and storage tables (we removed most of the boards from the lathe for pictures, but there was too much piled on the planer to remove it all). In any case, it appears unlikely that the larger machines were in use when the smelter closed down. There was a variety of evidence (including a pile of car horns) to suggest that the Machine Shop was used as a sort of automotive repair shop by 1971, with workers fixing the various forklifts and other vehicles still in use at the smelter at that time. 

Work order chalkboard on the back of the doors, outlining automotive repairs at the smelter in 1970/71.

With some of the larger peices of trash and modern debris cleared away, we were able to get some very nice shots of the individual machines. Be sure to check back regularly, as we’ll cover each of the machines in the Machine Shop before moving on to the Pump Room and Engine House. We’ll start with the American Tool Works drill press on Wednesday. Again, if you have any information about these machines, please let us know. You might be the expert, so we need your help!

January 18, 2010 Posted by | Machines of the Smelter | , , , | Leave a comment

Winter at the Smelter

Welcome back blog readers! Things have been a little slow around here in the past few weeks, but that’s about to change. Today, we’ll look at the smelter in winter. Thanks to Glenn Ekdahl and the administrators of Franklin Township, we were granted permission to enter the smelter site and take advantage of a beautiful January day. Our main focus was to get detailed images of the machines and tools in the Machine Shop, Pump Room, and Engine Room, but we were treated to great exterior shots under a bright blue sky. Check back in the next few days as we look at those machines individually, but for now enjoy these snowy images!


Remember to stay tuned in the next few days, as we’ll be beginning a new “Machines of the Smelter” series based on reader imput from the Practical Machinist “Quincy Smelter” forum. This just goes to show that our readers can and do influence the content of this blog!

January 17, 2010 Posted by | Smelter News | , , , | Leave a comment

An Invitation and A Request

We hope you enjoyed the holidays and the long break that accompanied them (we did!), but as 2010 begins we get back to work at the smelter. Today we come to you for help with two things.

First, we need help with this blog. People are clearly interested in regularly reading about the Quincy Smelter, and we have remarkable research resources at our disposal, but what would YOU like to hear more about? As a reader, what sort of topics would you like to see covered here? Since winter is in full swing here in the Keweenaw, we won’t have much actual on-site work to discuss. In the meantime, this is your opportunity to help everyone learn more about the Quincy Smelter. Please let us know what sort of things you’d like to see here. We’re considering running short series on the following topics-

  • The Cost of Copper (an economic look at smelting)
  • Rails to the Smelter (brief histories of the Quincy & Torch Lake, Mineral Range, and Copper Range Railroads)
  • Great Lake Shipping                           
  • Women at the Smelter

Great Lakes shipping may be the focus of future posts. Please let us know what you think!

This list is be no means complete, and there’s no guarantee we’ll get to everything. So, PLEASE let us know what you would like to see discussed here. Drop us a line at quincysmelter@gmail.com, or better yet leave a comment. This blog is for readers like you, so help shape its content!

Second, we would like to extend an invitation to our readers to attend the next meeting of the Quincy Smelter Association. If you live in the Keweenaw and are interested in the smelter, please stop by at 6 PM on Thursday, January 21. We’ll be meeting in the Academic Office Building Annex on Michigan Tech’s campus. This building is a little out of the way, so please use to map below for reference. The public is always welcome at our meetings, but this month we’re making a special effort to have new people stop in and learn about the group on a more personal level. If you’re able, please join us for the meeting!

The AOB Annex is at the west end of MTU's campus, just off of Cliff Drive near the Alumni House and the Administration Building.

January 11, 2010 Posted by | Smelter News | , , , , | 2 Comments

2009-The Year in Review at the Quincy Smelter

As 2009 draws to a close, we examine the projects and events that have transpired in and around the Quincy Smelter over the past year. Thanks to the interest and efforts of several groups, local, state, and federal government, and readers like you, t’s been a busy 12 months! We’ll start a year ago, in January 2009….

January 16- The Environmental Protection Agency, working with the Keweenaw National Historic Park and E Squared Consulting, held a public comment and review meeting to discuss the remediation plans for the land surrounding the smelter. The meeting was well-attended, and the EPA revealed plans to cover much of the loose stamp sand around the smelter with topsoil and grass while leaving the three iconic slag piles uncovered.

The smelter, seen across the slag piles at the east end of the site. The EPA will leave these piles uncovered due to their significance to the site.

March– The U.S. Department of Housing and Urban Development grants Franklin Township $285,000 for stabilization at the smelter. Senators Carl Levin and Debbie Stabenow sponsored the legislation.  

May 23- The Quincy Smelter Association hosted a Historic Smelter Cruise aboard the Keweenaw Star. Nearly 40 guests joined the group for a tour of Portage and Torch Lakes, viewing the remains of numerous smelters, stamp mills, and other industries from the water. The 3.5-hour cruise raised over $1000 for the group.

The Keweenaw Star on Portage Lake.

June– This blog is launched! The QSA now maintains the regularly-updated blog, a formal website, a Facebook group, and a presence in many online history-of-technology forums.

July 28– As a follow-up to the public meeting in January, the EPA partnered with the QSA, the KNHP, E Squared, and Franklin Township to host public smelter tours. The tours, limited to 80 participants, quickly filled up. A total of four tours took visitors in and around the smelter, marking the first large-scale public viewing of the site. Another public meeting, focused on the preservation and reuse of the buildings at the smelter, followed in the evening and was attended by over 100 people.

Visitors and tour leaders mingle outside the smelter at the EPA open house. Photo by S. Gohman.

QSA board members Craig Wilson and Bode Morin examine the No.3 furnace during a planning tour for the EPA open house. Photo by S. Gohman.

AugustA series of grants are awarded to begin work on security systems for the smelter. Franklin Township recieves a Keweenaw Heritage Grant from the KNHP to fund the installation of a lighting system. The QSA recieves a $1,000 grant from the Walmart Foundation, faciliated by the Houghton Walmart store. The QSA donated this money to the township to meet the match requirements for the KNHP grant.

September– A partnership between Michigan Tech, the Isle Royale Institute, the KNHP, and Nautilus Marine Group allows a small group of researchers to use sonar to capture images of the smelter waterfront. Equipped with a new sonar imager aboard Michigan Tech’s research vessel Agassiz, the group spent the day creating high-resolution scans of the Portage Lake shoreline near the smelter.

Crewmembers aboard the R/V Agassiz off the west end of the smelter. Photo by S. Gohman.

September– The QSA used funds raised from the Smelter Cruise and other activities to purchase 25 personalized hard hats with the group’s logo on the front. These hats continue to be used whenever the group needs to take visitors inside the smelter.

QSA hard hats used for smelter tours. Photo by S. Gohman.

September-December-A group of graduate students from Michigan Tech’s Industrial Archaeology progam documented structures at the smelter. Focusing on structures overlooked by HAER in 1978, the grad students researched and documented the Ice House and Dockside Warehouse with photographs and measured drawings. Their final product was donated to KNHP.

October 3-The QSA, the KNHP, Franklin Township, Michigan Tech, and the Keweenaw Chapter of the Michigan Tech Alumni Association partnered to host another public open house at the smelter. Over 220 people attended despite rain and cold, making the tours a resounding success. Nine tours allowed visitors to look inside the smelter, which is normally closed to the public for safety reasons. As a result of the highly successful tours, the cities of Houghton and Hancock each donated $5,000 to Copper Country Preservation, Inc., for the preservation of the smelter.

A tour group visits the Machine Shop on their way into the smelter. Photo by S. Gohman.

Another tour group in the Reverberatory Building. Photo by S. Gohman.

October 16– A group of artists from the Copper Country Community Arts Center visited the smelter to sketch and photograph the buildings. Their work was featured in the 16th annual SHAFT exhibition, which was on display at the Arts Center in Hancock throughout November.

October 30-President Obama signed the 2010 Interior, Environment, and Related Agencies Appropriations Act into law. The bill, which spent most of the year in deliberations between the U.S. House and Senate, contains a $1,000,000 earmark for the stabilization of the Quincy Smelter! The money will be used by the KNHP in the near future to stabilize and otherwise preserve the buildings at the smelter.

November-December– The QSA partnered with Copper Country Explorer to offer a Virtual Smelter Tour. The ongoing blog series originated from a special photo tour offered during the open house on October 3. The QSA plans to hold similar tours again in the future.

December 25-This blog recieved it 2,000th hit!

As the year draws to a close, please remember that none of the events listed above would have taken place without YOU! It’s interested site visitors and blog readers like you that keep work at the smelter moving forward. Stay tuned for more updates and activities at the Quincy Smelter in 2010!

December 29, 2009 Posted by | Smelter News | , , , | Leave a comment


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