Forward-thinking leaders needed to preserve history

It wasn’t just a wall that was damaged. It was history.

Ishpeming city officials were looking into the circumstances behind a damaged stone wall along Jasper Street that, at 120 years old, is reportedly tied to the region’s mining history.

Although a portion of the wall was removed during construction of the city’s $10 million U.S. Department of Agriculture Rural Development water project, the damage, discovered July 30, wasn’t a result of that project.

A project manager said the old mine pit behind the wall was being used by the contractor to dump construction spoilage. To put that spoilage in the former mine pit, the contractor had to get permission from the Michigan Department of Environmental Quality, city leaders and the mine inspector.

Unfortunately, the wall was damaged in the course of filling the pit with spoils. The construction crew began to run out of room and ways to access the area as more dirt was piled up.

The wall is believed to have been built in the early 1890s by Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company President William G. Mather, a giant in the mining world. That in itself would make the wall invaluable.

The damage was so upsetting to some residents that they expressed their concerns at a recent Ishpeming City Council meeting.

City Manager Mark Slown said he was to continue to investigate the incident and already had issued written instructions to city staff, contractors and engineers to not damage a historic structure. Barricades also have been erected to prevent further damage.

However, what’s done is done. As Councilman Karl Lehmann said at the council meeting, the wall cannot be restored to its original state. Even if the contractor’s plans — to restore the wall, make a pocket park out of the filled area and install a fence to prevent people from accessing the drainage area — come to fruition, a part of Ishpeming’s history is lost.

What should not be lost is being proactive.City leaders should ask contractors and engineers the proper questions. If there’s even a small possibility a structure like the wall could be damaged, discussions should focus on avoiding that potential incident.

Considering damage might be hard to avoid, perhaps barricades can be put up before and during an ongoing project to further lessen the chance of damage, because history is too priceless to lose.

Mining Journal (Marquette)

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