Lake Linden: Another village created by C&H
Anything that Alexander Agassiz touched seemed to get big — at least, bigger than any similar thing it was compared to. Until Agassiz got control of the Calumet Conglomerate copper lode and opened it with proper shafting, even he was amazed at the richness of the lode. In 1867, two companies sat atop the lode: the Calumet Mining Company to the north and the Hecla company to the south. The Calumet property was developed first, which included a concentrating mill that no one in the district seemed to be able to make work. The machinery had been ordered by Edwin Hulbert when he was in charge of the mines, but when Agassiz had arrived to tour the property early in 1867, the mill parts were laying in piles about the mill site.
“I feel perfectly frantic and so helpless,” Agassiz wrote to his brother-in-law and fellow director, Quincy Adams Shaw, “no tools to do anything, no machinery on which any dependence can be placed, nobody on ground or in country who has any idea what can be done with rollers and what is best way of running.”
That is to say, Hulbert had decided on adopting some type of rolling method for concentrating mineral rock, rather than the standard drop stamps, and the rollers were not just sufficient to the task of breaking copper-bearing rock small enough for smelting.
“The utmost capacity of mill is three tons per hour,” Agassiz wrote, “and what is worse, when running at that speed we make 20 per cent raff and that raff we cannot finish (it runs about 40 per cent copper); the rollers are to unequal to crush copper, inequality in shells fully up to one fourth inch occur so frequently, and power is required to flatten out so much copper as in raff so immense that rollers open or choke, and either make raff or clog.”
After Shaw received the letter from Agassiz, he rushed to Calumet and the two men decided on a plan. Two Ball stamps were ordered for the Calumet mill to replace the rollers. Meanwhile, work on the railroad from the mine site to the shore of Torch Lake was pushed ahead as fast as possible, and a mill on the lake shore the Hecla Mine was constructed. The Hecla mill was equipped with two Ball stamps, with a capacity for two more when needed. Agassiz wrote again in August, saying: “I have no time for any writing just now. I am driven to death starting mill at Lake and no place to put men on account of want of shelter.”
On Sept. 25, 1867, Agassiz was finally able to send some good news to Shaw.
“At last,” he exclaimed. “Trial made this afternoon of one head successfully. Everything seems to be working well and I really believe we have made more copper in that time, we have run about one hour, than the whole mill running by rollers will.
While Agassiz at last got the Calumet stamp mill and the Hecla mill both operating as they were designed, his work on the railroad hinted at the extent to which he was pushing himself.
The Calumet & Hecla Semi-Centennial celebration publication, printed in 1916, stated:
“The railroad to Torch Lake should have been ready to operate in the winter of 1867, except for the minor detail that cars and locomotives were not ordered or were not made of the same gauge, so that it was March, 1868, that the first stamps began dropping along the shores of Torch Lake on rock brought down by the locomotive ‘Fluke.'”
Consolidations improved efficiency. In 1871, the Calumet and the Hecla Mines were consolidated into one company, because both companies were owned by the same investors and both had the same members of their respective Boards of Directors. In 1872, work began on removing the machinery from the Calumet stamp mill, at Calumet dam, to its new mill on Torch Lake, in Lake Linden. The Calumet Mill was completed in the spring of 1873, while the Hecla mill was increased to the four stamp heads it was originally designed to operate. The mills were now capable of keeping up with the production of the mines — for a while, anyway.
In 1877, the Calumet & Hecla demonstrated its prominence in the Lake Superior copper region, when the company installed one of the first dynamos east of the Ohio River, converting lighting from torches to electricity at the mills.
As had happened around the mines at Calumet, Agassiz struggled to keep up with construction of housing for the workers at the stamp mills. That did not stop the residents of the Torch Lake area from organizing themselves, however.
In 1867, while Agassiz was busily getting the Hecla Mill constructed, residents planned and constructed a frame schoolhouse, paid for by personal subscription and a tax.
The Hecla Mining Company was not the first company to open the Torch Lake area to industry. In 1859, Joseph Gregory arrived at Port Lake and began work as a contractor and builder. The following year, he bought pine and hardwood land on credit, and furnished the first logs for the saw mill at Ripley. He also furnished timber for the mines. He bought a small tug boat in 1865
In 1859, he came to Portage Lake hardly worth a dollar; he began work as a contractor and builder. In 1860, he bought pine and hardwood lands on credit; he furnished the first logs for the saw-mill at Ripley, on Portage Lake and he also furnished timber for mines. In 1865, he bought a small tug and contracted to furnish 7,000 cords of wood for the mines. In 1867, he built a saw mill across Torch Lake from the to manufacture lumber
In 1867, he became regularly established at Torch Lake, and, in company with Louis Deschamps and a Mr. Normandin, he built a saw-mill and engaged in the manufacture of lumber under the firm name of Joseph Gregory & Co. This connection lasted till 1872, when Mr. Gregory bought out his partners, and has since operated alone; he rebuilt the mill on a larger scale and with the modern improvements; he also built his large sash and door factory, which he had only just got in operation when his saw-mill burned, causing a loss of $20,000 above insurance.
While Agassiz raced to provide houses for Calumet’s and Hecla’s stamp mill workers, the village organizers and residents pushed ahead with creating a refined, civilized community in which to live. Lake Linden, like the area surrounding the C&H Mine, would grow up around the company’s mills.
Graham Jaehnig has a BA of Social Science/History from Michigan Technological University, and an MA in English/Creative Nonfiction Writing from Southern New Hampshire University. He is internationally known for his writing on Cornish immigration to the United States mining districts.