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The Mighty Minesota

During the Michigan Copper Rush, Keweenaw Point did not hold a monopoly on lands waiting to be explored. On the southern end of the range, the Ontonagon River was also attracting its share of prospectors and explorers.

Among them was a young man named Samuel Knapp, who was exploring the south side of a long ridge in 1847, some twelve miles upstream from the mouth of the river. Discovering a series of depressions in the forest floor, Knapp opened them up to find the remains of ancient open pit mines that had been worked by some prehistoric race of miners. At the bottom of each pit Knapp found large masses of solid copper. Knapp reported his discovery to his employers, and a few months later, in 1848, the Minesota Mining Company was organized. The missing N was due to a clerical error created while filing the papers organizing the company.

That summer, Knapp sent seven and a half tons of mass copper down the Ontonagon River, to “the mouth” for shipment to Detroit. Just four years later, the company paid its first dividend of $30,000.

Like all pioneer mines, the company needed to build housing for its labor force and their families, and built dwellings near the mine site. The little community contained some forty houses and shops by 1858, when the company finally platted out the village it called Rosendale. Rosendale sat on the southern end of another village that had been established by the nearby National Mine in 1849, called Webster. Two other settlements in the immediate area were the Rockland Mine Location and Williamsburg, a town set off and platted on his farmland by a man named William Davey.

In 1853, the first Catholic Church in the area was built nearby, and a cemetery was established that was named Irish Hallow Cemetery. It was one of the original cemeteries in the Rockland area. After 1855, the church was tended by a Father Martin Fox, who was needed in the area for his ability to speak both English and German, indicating a multi-cultural settlement around the mines of the Minesota, the Rockland, and the National.

The first religious services were held in a private residence near the Minesota mine by a Reverend named Coe in 1848. Two years later, he was replaced by a Reverend Day. The company also built and operated a school across the road from their general store, and in 1858, they built the Methodist Episcopal Church on a high bluff above the store that overlooked the mines and the village. The Methodist burial ground, the Rose Cemetery, was established nearby, on the road running from the mine to Rosendale. The road would come to be named Victoria Avenue. By 1860, the company had some four hundred acres of agricultural land under cultivation, from which it produced 2,200 bushels of potatoes, 1,200 bushels of turnips, and one hundred, seventy tons of hay and oats. The population of Rosendale, according to the 1860 Annual Report of the company, was 1,215 persons, seven hundred, twenty-two of whom were mem, one hundred, ninety-six were women, and two hundred, ninety-seven were children, in a village comprising eighty-six houses, shops, and boarding houses, having more than doubled in size in just two years. A Lutheran Church was built in the village in 1866.

The largest mass of native copper ever discovered in the world was mined at the Minesota. Discovered in 1860, it weighed over five hundred, twenty-five tons. That was the year of its greatest production. The Minesota focused almost entirely on the production of mass copper, largely neglecting its ore deposits due, in part, to lack of water needed to operate the steam engines and stamp mill. After 1860, the mine’s production began to drop off quickly, until in 1870, the pumps were shut down, allowing the mine to fill with water. The National mine suspended operation that same year.

The Minesota had become one of the two most legendary copper mines in the Michigan copper district, second only to the Cliff mine, near Eagle River; both had worked fissure veins of mass copper. In its twenty-two year life span, the Minesota paid out some $1,920,000 in dividends, against assessments of $60,000.

In 1864, the villages of Rosendale, Webster, Williamsburg, and Rockland Location, were merged to become the town of Rockland. As mining in the area decreased, so did the population of the area, as workers were forced to leave to find employment at other mines.

Today, there is not a trace left of the Minesota mine. Aside of the usual rock piles, there is very little evidence that the mine existed. Rockland is still there, however, as is the Methodist Rose Cemetery. Although the Catholic Church in “the hollow” is long gone, as is the Methodist Church on the bluff, the Irish Hallow Cemetery is still there. The sleeping residents of the two cemeteries bear silent testimony to life and death at the once Mighty Minesota mine.

Editor’s note:?Graham Jaehnig has a master’s degree in English/ creative writing with a focus on nonfiction from Southern New Hampshire University and a B.A. in history from Michigan Technological University.