Making History: Time Traveler project documents Copper Country’s past

Photo provided by Sarah Fayen Scarlett During the Scan-a-Thon on Aug. 9 at the Keweenaw National Historical Park Visitors Center, Time Traveler Gary Spikberg scans a visitor’s historic postcard.

CALUMET TOWNSHIP — History is not made until it is written down or recorded in some way, such as a photograph, and the purpose of the Keweenaw Time Traveler is to help people preserve their personal historic items.

At a June launch party for the program, Don Lafreniere, Michigan Technological University assistant professor of historical geography, said the “Copper Country Historical Spatial Data Infrastructure,” or Keweenaw Time Traveler program, uses geographic information science technology to create a program, which allows the user 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.

Also at the June event, 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.

The Keweenaw Time Traveler can be found online at The project also has a presence on Facebook at

Photo provided by Sarah Fayen Scarlett During the Scan-a-Thon at the Keweenaw National Historical Park Visitors Center on Aug. 9, Time Traveler co-director Sarah Fayen Scarlett talks to visitors.

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 is a partnership with the Keweenaw National Historical Park, and the first effort involved the Calumet area.

Starting July 19, Lafreniere said members of his Time Traveler team have been conducting a Scan-A-Thon at the KNHP Visitor Center at 98 Fifth St. in Calumet.

The second event was on Aug. 8, and the final one will be this coming Wednesday, Aug. 23.

“That’s all we planned right now,” he said.

Lafreniere said people can bring in just about any document, such as legal documents, personal correspondence and photographs. Some documents, such as current photographs of an area or a building, can be laid over historic photographs of the same area or structure to see how they may have changed.

The documents people bring to be scanned don’t have to be very old, either, Lafreniere said.

“It can be last year,” he said. “We will scan them and help (people) tell their story in the Time Traveler.”

Photos don’t have to be just buildings, Lafreniere said. They can be of locations, such as a favorite fishing spot or family vacations in Houghton and Keweenaw counties, which are the areas on which the program is focusing at this time.

“It doesn’t have to be official history,” he said.

Starting this autumn, Lafreniere said the Time Traveler will focus on such things as hockey and Michigan Technological University’s Winter Carnival.

Although the Scan-A-Thons are intended to instruct people in the use of the Time Traveler program, Lafreniere said the website is set up so people can download documents from their home computers. Photographs either need to be from a digital camera, or if the photo is paper, it would need to be scanned and digitally recorded so it can be downloaded.

“People can do this right now from home,” he said.

Participation by the public in the Keweenaw Time Traveler program is going well, Lafreniere said.

“We are seeing hundreds, sometimes thousands of people a day,” he said.

The “citizen scientists” in Laurium have finished classifying all the 1888 and 1900 buildings in the village, Lafreniere said.

The Keweenaw Time Traveler is intended to be a living program with constant updates and revisions, Lafreniere said.

“We see this as being a five-, 10-year ongoing living thing,” he said.