The Calumet area sees immigration rush

In 1866, when a 16-year-old Welsh girl came with her parents to Calumet, wrote author and historian Arthur Thurner in his book Strangers and Sojourners: A History of Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula, she saw only boarding houses built of logs as the forest gave way to shaft houses and mining equipment.

Thurner wrote that she worked in a boarding house where she tended a cookstove “whose huge iron, brass, and copper kettles, filled with beans, potatoes, pork, rice, and cornmeal mush, sat ‘forever stewing, day and night’ on twelve lids, providing food for up to sixty men.”

No one probably realized it at the time, but those were the last days of the Lake Superior copper region’s Portage Lake district’s frontier status. Just a decade later, the boarding houses and forest the Welsh girl described had become the communities of Red Jacket, Blue Jacket, Yellow Jacket, stretching toward Osceola to the south and Centennial Heights and the Centennial Mine to the north. The mines, the village, the housing communities, all came to butt up against each other, collectively became referred to as “Calumet,” and nobody quite knew where this ended and that began. Red Jacket’s mail came and went through a post office “In Calumet,” which records suggest was located near the industrial buildings of the Calumet Mine.

An 1874 visitor to the settlement, Thurner wrote in an article, Red Jacket/Calumet: The first Century, in 1975, described stores, shops, saloons and residences spread over quite an area of surface, but looking “as if they had been dumped in a swamp and among unsightly stumps without any regard to order and neatness.”

Edwin Hulbert, who was the man who discovered the Calumet Conglomerate Lode, had opened a mine on its northern extension in 1863, when he organized the Schoolcraft Mining Company. The mine worked on a small scale, but Hulbert was preoccupied with the Hulbert Mine (which became the Calumet Mine in 1867), and the Schoolcraft company went bankrupt in 1873. Three years later, the old Schoolcraft property became the Centennial Mining Company, which added more housing to the rapidly crowding area. But, Hulbert was not done yet.

In 1873, the same year the Schoolcraft went bankrupt, Hulbert again managed to find still more willing investors and he organized the Osceola Mining Company. This mine would operate on the southern extension of the Calumet Conglomerate Lode. Six shafts, numbered from north to south, were sunk, but only one, the No. 3, located near the Calumet and Hecla property line, proved profitable. Nos 1 and 2 were soon abandoned, according to the 1900 Copper Handbook. The housing area around the Osceola added still more to the “urban sprawl” of Calumet, and the area spreading from Centennial south to Opeeche became quite crowded by the end of the decade. South of the Osceola Mine, the Tecumseh Mine built housing, but never did hit paying ground.

The Osceola originally located its mill on the north shore of Portage Lake, in Hancock, which was beginning to stretch along the waterfront from Ripley, west. The Quincy, Franklin and Pewabic mining companies all located their mills on the north shore of Portage Lake, just west of the Detroit & Lake Superior Copper Works and Hodge’s Iron Works. On the northern edge of the village of Hancock, the Hancock Mining Company began mining, and the village began to expand to accommodate the rapidly expanding population. Across the lake, Houghton was experiencing the same boom.

The sudden explosion in population is noteworthy, because so much of the boom comprised immigrants from Eastern and Southern Europe. Not all of them came to work as miners.

Peter Ruppe, Sr. for example, was born in Slovenia in 1823. Emigrating to America in 1854, he left a wife and three sons behind. In 1864, he arrived in Hancock. There, he partnered with another Slovenian immigrant, Jozef Wertin (Joseph Vertin) in establishing a general store in that town. Ruppe and Vertin dissolved their partnership on friendly terms, both opening their own stores. Both opened branch stores in Red Jacket.

Joseph Wertin’s son established his family’s branch store in Red Jacket in 1868, the same year Peter Ruppe’s son did the same thing. Wertin,’s, according to a History of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Wertin, who later became Vertin, did an extensive business as dealers in general merchandise. Vertin’s boasted having eight employees in the Red Jacket store, and carried an average stock of $40,000; they have the main store at Hancock; have a half interest in the Lake Linden Brewery, and are large stockholders in the Grand Portage Copper Mine.

Wertin, Jr., was born in Austria in 1842, and emigrated to America in 1862; he made his home in Chicago till the following spring, and then came to Lake Superior. In 1867, he established himself in business at Hancock with his father, and in 1869 came to Red Jacket to take charge of the store at this place. Wertin has served as a member of the Village Council five years.

John Phillips’ was the quintessential immigrant story. Phillips was born at sea in 1855, between Liverpool and New York to English parents. After reaching New York, the family went immediately to the Lake Superior copper region, and when John was a boy, they settled in Calumet. John became an apprentice to a butcher named Shears in 1868.

Joseph Hermann was one of many immigrants who came from Baden, Germany. Hermann was a jeweler, born in 1842. In Baden, he learned the jeweler’s and watchmaker’s trade and emigrated to America in 1863, states the History of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He came directly to Eagle River, where he worked as a journeyman for two years before starting a business for himself. In 1868, he came to Calumet, where he bought out a man who was engaged in the jewelry business. Two years later, in 1870, he moved to Red Jacket and established his shop, where he carried a large stock of jewelry, watches, clocks, silverware, sewing machines and paints and oils. His stock averages from $14,000 to $20,000. While a resident of Red Jacket, he has served two terms as Township Treasurer, four terms as Village Treasurer and two terms as member of the Council.

These are just a few examples of immigrants from Eastern Europe who came to the Lake Superior copper district. As they grew in numbers, they would initiate significant changes to the area’s culture.

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.


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