Funds help old town become self-sufficient

CENTRAL MINE — Keweenaw County’s Central Mine ended operations on Aug. 1, 1894, and miners and their families began leaving the company town for employment elsewhere, most commonly in Houghton County. Through the efforts of a handful of dedicated people, however, the town of Central, which was founded in 1854, refuses to become a ghost town like its former neighbors, Copper Falls, Delaware, Wyoming, and a small list of others.

The buildings that remain at Central are nearly all homes, and many of them are currently owned by the Keweenaw County Historical Society (KCHS), the members and board of which are quite resourceful in their efforts to provide funding to renovate, restore, and maintain those houses the society owns.

The KCHS recently completed rebuilding a former miner’s home in Central, which while it was equipped with a modern kitchen and bathroom, still retains nearly all of its 19th century appearance and charm. The home is now a vacation rental unit that provides money to the KCHS to continue restoration work on other buildings in Central.

This is not the only site owned by the society that contains rental units as a means of revenue. At the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse Complex, located on Lighthouse Drive in Eagle Harbor, the Light Keeper’s Cottage is available for rent during the summer months. The recently completed Miner’s Home is located in Central, just off U.S. 41 north of Phoenix.

Miner’s Home and the light keeper’s cottage provide income for the KCHS, but also at Central is Jazz Central, a fundraising music event that does not charge admission to attendees, but instead accepts donations.

“We’re trying to make Central as self-sufficient as we can and keep ahead of the maintenance issues,” Jim Vivian, Keweenaw County commissioner and KCHS member, said.

Vivian said Jazz Central has been an enormous success. The second year of the event in 2016, an estimated 400 people were in attendance and he expects it to continue to grow as it becomes more well known.

Jazz Central is not the only event of its kind that has been held in Keweenaw County to raise money for a preservation cause or to purchase property valuable to the county. Vivian said he and two or three others organized a similar event in Eagle River a number of years ago.

“We did this in Eagle River. There was Mark McEvers, myself, and Gary Bays. “You have a specific (demographic) in mind. ‘Jazz by the Sunset.’ We bought the beach at Eagle River. Then we had Bridge Fest. In the five years that we did it, we probably raised $80,000, and most of that money went to the bridge, otherwise the bridge would have been gone. The beach would have been gone.”