The White Pine Mine gets a second chance

Copper Country Past & People

When Calumet and Hecla Mining Company President Alexander Agassiz selected James MacNaughton to superintend the mining properties in Houghton County, his intention was to employ college-trained men who embraced modern methods to make the Michigan holdings a modern enterprise. MacNaughton’s views and ideas squared perfectly with Agassiz’s.

Agassiz was a Harvard-trained scientist and college-trained mining engineer. MacNaughton, born at Bruce Mines, in Ontario, and raised at the Calumet Mines, had grown up in the mining world. His father, Archibald, was in charge of the incline that mechanically lowered rock cars from the top of Lake Linden Hill down the stamp mills in Lake Linden. James “Big Jim” had, in fact, funded his own college education by working for C&H while he completed his high school education. He continued working at C&H through his college years, then worked briefly for the company in the drafting department until he was hired to manage the Chapin iron mine, in Iron Mountain, MI.

Agassiz became a student of MacNaughton’s managing of the Chapin Mine and was impressed. To make a long story short, MacNaughton joined the C&H management team in July 1901 as superintendent. When he retired, 45 years later, at the age of 82, he was the president of the company.

Modern management practices, along with modern engineering, modern technology, such as the use of diamond drilling, and employing geologists to examine the drill core samples, became the norm at C&H. It was through all of these that at the turn of the 20th century, company management already knew that the mineral body of the Calumet Conglomerate Lode was reaching the exhaustion of its mineral reserves. Viewed from one perspective, Edwin Hulbert discovered the Calumet Conglomerate Lode in 1864, the same year MacNaughton was born. To survive, the company began looking for ways to extend its life.

This included looking beyond Houghton and Keweenaw counties. C&H began focusing on properties in Ontonagon County, first looking at an old mine just over 25 years before, on what was called the Nonesuch Lode.

In the company’s Summary of Operations for the year 1906:

“At the ‘Nonsuch’ our work has been most disappointing,” the summary reported. “We drilled a number of holes on the dip of the lode below the old workings, and, after unwatering the Mine made a mill test of the rock from the old Stopes. The results do not warrant our making any further expenditures on the property.” When the Nonesuch Formation was first explored, it was actually a rich lode, according to geology records. The problem at the time was that nobody knew how to successfully mine the Nonesuch Formation. The Nonesuch Mine traces its corporate history to the mid-1860s.

In the winter of 1865-66, Frank Cadotte discovered copper-bearing rock in the bed of the Little Iron River, near the base of the Porcupine Mountains. In 1867, the Nonesuch Mining Company was organized. In 1876, operations were suspended. The two biggest financiers of the mine were two brothers named Wade, from Cleveland. According to James K. Jamison, in his book, “The Mining Ventures of This Ontonagon Country,” They were not good men to business with. They bought 20,000 of the available 40,000 shares, later gaining controlling interest. R.P. Wade then elected himself president, called in assessments few others could afford to pay; their forfeited shares were bought by the Wades, who became the sole owners. In 1874, the mine produced 14 ingot tons of copper, and in 1875, the product increased to 25 ingot tons. But it had cost more to produce the copper than it sold for.

In 1876, R.P. Wade died and the Nonesuch mine was closed. Then the stamp mill burned. The Wades had done something right though. They had engaged Thomas Hooper as agent at the mine. It was not the first mine he had managed.

Some 12 years earlier, Hooper had been contracted to reopen the old Union Mine, in 1864 when the Union Mining Company was organized.

Hooper, according to geni.com, was born on March 1, 1842, in Chacewater, Cornwall. Althought Chasewater itself was not a mining village, it was three miles east of Redruth and housed miners and their families who worked at surrounding mines.

Hooper, apparently, was not happy living there, because when he was 17 years old, he ran away from home and immigrated to the United States. He worked at the Quincy Mine for about a year and afterward worked in the old Minnesota and National mines. He must have possessed a superior nature of mining beyond that of even the legendary of the Cornish, because when he was hired to superintend the Union mine, he was only 22 years old.

The Union mine was originally owned by the Isle Royale and Lake Superior Mining Company. First operated in 1845, the I.R. &L.S. mine did not survive the development stage. It was abandoned in 1846 for lack of mineral content. Nineteen years later, with the Civil War still raging, the price of copper had risen to the point at which investors gave the Union venture a second look. In 1864, Thomas Hooper was tasked with the responsibility of getting the mine working again. The war ended a year later, and in 1867, the Union mine was closed.

According to C&H’s 1906 Summary of Operations, that company had secured an option on the Nonesuch mine in 1905 for $25,000, which was to expire in June 1907. As stated in the report of 1908, they abandoned the property a year later, in 1906.

“On adjoining property to the East near the White Pine Lands,” the report of that year stated, “the drill holes show much better ground, but the surrounding country seems much disturbed and faulted; a careful examination will determine the value of the remaining lands we have under option in that vicinity.” Drilling in that area must have been encouraging.

On April 30, 1909, C&H President Agassiz in preparing the documents for the August 1909 Directors Meeting, wrote:

“We are organizing the White Pine Copper Company to develop the lands which carry the Nonesuch lode, to be conveyed to that Company by the Keweenaw Association and others.”

C&H would own, Agassiz continued, about half the shares of the new company, at a cost of $100,000 spent in explorations and on the condition of advancing funds for the mine’s development.


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