KHC preserves Calumet history

Daily Mining Gazette/Kurt Hauglie The Keweenaw Heritage Center is located in the former St. Anne’s Catholic Church in Calumet Township just outside the village of Calumet. The KHC board displays exhibits, which show various aspects of life during the copper-mining era and beyond.

CALUMET TOWNSHIP — The Keweenaw Heritage Center came into existence in 1994 partly to preserve the former St. Anne’s Catholic Church in which it’s housed, and since then the KHC board members have also worked to research and present the history of the Calumet area, according to Jean Ellis.

Although many people think the KHC is in the village of Calumet, Ellis, who is a member of the KHC board, said it’s actually in Calumet Township on Scott Street, with the boundary between the two government entities running down the middle of the sidewalk in front of the building.

A French-Canadian congregation had St. Anne’s built, and it opened in 1901, Ellis said. In 1966, the Diocese of Marquette deconsecrated the building, and in 1971 it was sold for $4,000 to a man who used it for a resale shop. That person owned it until he died in the early 1990s. In 1994, Calumet Township acquired it for $38,000, and still owns it.

Ellis, who has been involved with the KHC from the start, said since the township acquired the building, about $1.75 million has gone into it’s renovation, which came from grants and donations.

“No tax money goes towards (the building),” she said.

Daily Mining Gazette/Kurt Hauglie The Keweenaw Heritage Center has been located in the former St. Anne’s Catholic Church on Scott Street in Calumet Township since 1994, when Calumet Township purchased the building. The KHC board is trying to determine if the red Jacobsville sandstone can be cleaned without damaging it.

The exterior of the building is Jacobsville red sandstone, which in places looks like it’s almost 116 years old, but it’s uncertain how or if it can be cleaned up without damaging the blocks, Ellis said. There are plans to point tuck some of the joints of the sandstone blocks and repair some areas that are crumbling. The frames around many of the stained glass windows in the building need repair, also.

On the interior of the building, Ellis said a new kitchen was constructed in 2015. Lifts to make the building handicapped accessible were installed, also. A new concrete floor was put down in the basement.

Besides preserving the building, Ellis said the nine-member KHC board is involved with projects highlighting the history of the Calumet area. A current exhibit features the contributions women made in the area during the mining era. That exhibit required 4,000 hours of work by five people.

There was much research done for the project, Ellis said.

“I took the 1910 census and put it onto a spread sheet,” she said.

Every female in Calumet Township between the ages of 0 to 90 years old was recorded for the project, Ellis said.

“One in four (females aged 16 to 80) was generating income,” she said.

Also available for viewing at the KHC is a video of the history of Fifth Street in Calumet created by Calumet High School students in 2015.

One of the misconceptions many people have about the Calumet area during the mining era was that because there were so many ethnic groups from different countries they couldn’t communicate with each other, Ellis said. However, most of the residents from non-English-speaking countries could speak at least some English, and many were fluent in English.

“What we’re looking at is a diverse population,” she said. “It’s the whole spectrum of the community.”

The KHC building is used for various community events, Ellis said, such as musical performances and, craft shows, and meetings. Many people have weddings or wedding receptions in the building.

Nobody in KHC gets paid, Ellis said.

“It’s all volunteer,” she said.

The KHC takes donations from individuals and foundations, Ellis said. In 2016, the Keweenaw Community Foundation gave the KHC a grant, and a $25,000 grant from the Novi, Michigan-based American Foundation.

About 55 percent of the money raised for the KHC comes from private donations, Ellis said, and about 45 percent comes from grants.

Ellis said she’s glad to be a part of the Keweenaw Heritage Center and the efforts to preserve the former church building.

“This is a beautiful building,” she said. “It deserves to live.”