Keweenaw Time Traveler: Website takes users back to early Copper Country

Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette Dan Trepal, member of the group at Michigan Technological University that created the Keweenaw Time Traveler program, shows visitors how to use the website during the program’s launch party Thursday at the Carnegie Museum in Houghton.

HOUGHTON — It is now possible to see historic documents and photographs of a specific location and compare them with current samples with the click of a computer mouse thanks to the Keweenaw Time Traveler.

Don Lafreniere, Michigan Technological University assistant professor of historical geography, said the “Copper Country Historical Spatial Data Infrastructure,” aka Keweenaw Time Traveler program, uses geographic information technology to create a program allowing users to see what a particular piece of property or a historic building looked like when they were originally created or built and what they look like currently.

At a launch party at the Carnegie Museum in Houghton Thursday, the Keweenaw Time Traveler was introduced to the public. Visitors were watching some of Lafreniere’s staff explain the program on computer monitors as well as electronic notebooks.

Lafreniere said the idea for the Keweenaw Time Traveler came about after discussions between himself and other Tech faculty members about creating some way for people to view current geographic locations and compare them to the same locations in the past.

“We all have an interest in history,” he said.

Kurt Hauglie/Daily Mining Gazette Visitors to the Keweenaw Time Traveler launch party Thursday at the Carnegie Museum in Houghton watch a demo of the site.

Lafreniere said funding for the $450,000 project came from a $260,000 grant from the National Endowment for the Humanities, with the balance coming from Tech.

The project began about a year and a half ago, Lafreniere said. It’s a partnership with the Keweenaw National Historical Park. The first effort involved the Calumet area.

The Keweenaw Time Traveler can be seen at

Lafreniere said project documents had to be digitized to be uploaded to the internet.

“We make them digital and place them on a map where they are (in a particular location),” he said.

Lafreniere said the program uses Sanborn fire maps as a reference source.

“They have amazing detail,” he said.

On the fire maps, Lafreniere said 1 inch equals 50 feet.

The initial Keweenaw Traveler program includes locations in Houghton and Keweenaw counties, Lafreniere said.

The program allows viewers to add their own document or photographs, Lafreniere said. There are safeguards which prevent inappropriate material from being downloaded.

This is the first time such a project has been done anywhere in the world, and it is starting to get national and international attention, Lafreniere said.

“We’re very excited about it,” he said.

One of the visitors at the launch party was Bill Labell of Allouez, who said he was impressed with the project.

“It’s a great idea,” he said. “I think it’s going to be really great for people who live here and who have past generations (of relatives) who lived here.”

Labell said he expects he will use the Keweenaw Traveler program.

Carl Blair is a Tech faculty member in the Industrial Archaeology Department, so he was aware of the Keweenaw Time Traveler because he was involved with the creation of an early version of the program.

Blair said was impressed with the turnout for the launch party, which had between 50 and 60 people attending.

“It’s great when you look at the range of people,” he said.

The interactive part of the program is working well, Blair said.

Blair said the people in Industrial Archaeology are looking forward to using the Keweenaw Time Traveler program.

“We find the past fascinating ourselves,” he said.

Horst Schmidt, member of the Quincy Smelter Association, said he hopes the Keweenaw Time Traveler will include the smelter in Ripley.

Schmidt said the program is a useful tool for everyone, regardless of age.

“It makes the whole thing accessible,” he said.

He thinks high school students will better understand the history and social aspects of the Copper Country by using the Keweenaw Time Traveler.

“That adds to the whole mix of making them aware of the area,” he said.

There are no plans currently to add video to the Keweenaw Time Traveler program, Lafreniere said, but it could happen later if there’s enough interest in the site and another grant can be obtained.

There are plans to add rural locations in Houghton and Keweenaw counties to the site, Lafreniere said.

“Right this minute it’s only the towns,” he said.

Lafreniere said the Keweenaw Time Traveler program will grow over time.

“It’s a living thing,” he said. “We need the public to help us keep it going.”