Ghost Towns & Sites
It is serenely quiet as you cautiously walk into the deserted towns located up and down the Keweenaw Peninsula. Standing in the overgrown grass, it is hard to imagine that these were lively, often raucous communities in the mid-1800s to early 1900s. America’s first mining boom was roaring to life and unearthing copper produced 10 times more wealth than the California Gold Rush.
Tens of thousands of immigrants from Finland, Cornwall and other European countries “went West” to Michigan’s northernmost peninsula to seek their fortunes in the mines, forests, and towns. Most of that fortune stuffed the bank accounts of mine owners and lumber barons.
But one-industry towns are risky. Rising production costs, a failed miners’ strike in 1913, followed by the Great Depression caused jobs and people to vanish. Now, these phantom towns are vivid reminders of how fleeting natural resources … and prosperity … can be.
- Heed posted “Private Property” and “Keep Out” signage. If in doubt whether you can explore the property, contact the local Department of Natural Resources Customer Service Center or the Michigan Nature Association.
- Use extreme caution especially at abandoned mining sites. Dangerous, open mineshafts and wells are hidden by overgrowth. With 25+-foot drops, you won’t get out. Use caution near deteriorated townsite buildings, too.
- Look for old apple trees. Townspeople frequently planted these hardier fruit trees for a food source in their backyards. The trees will give you a sense of where children played, neighbors caught up on the news and rugged men soaked up the sun after spending hours in the dark earth.
- Talk to locals. Most are willing to tell you about the area and its history. Just ask.
- Visit (and stay at) Central Mine located north of U.S. 41, four miles north of Phoenix. This site has restored buildings, a Visitor Center with interpretive exhibits and a self-guided walking tour to introduce you to copper mining and town life. The town’s population peaked at 1,200+ in 1887 and dwindled to 100 by 1903 showing how quickly the pendulum of prosperity swung. Local Recommendations: Climb to the top of the upper rock pile for a magnificent view of the valley. Stay for a week at Miners house #8 and totally immerse in the story of this historically rich area. Rental details.
- Tour the Laurium Manor Inn. While the village of Laurium is not a ghost town, it is the site of large homes that rose up from the hey-day of copper mining and lumbering. The most opulent is the Laurium Manor, a 45-room mansion built in 1908 for Calumet & Arizona Mining Co. owners Thomas H. & Cornelia Hoatson. Today it is a bed-and-breakfast inn that in addition to being available for overnight stays offers daily self-guided tours between Memorial Weekend and late October. Visiting the Laurium Manor Inn is an excellent way to see the disparity of wealth during the height of copper boom-and-bust years. Self-guided tours
- Dig deeper at local museums. Whether you are researching your own family’s past on the Keweenaw or are simply fascinated by the abandoned towns and their stories, you can learn more from the Houghton County Historical Museum (Lake Linden), the Carnegie Museum of the Keweenaw (Houghton), Michigan Tech University J. Robert Van Pelt and John and Ruanne Opie Library archives staff (Houghton) and Keweenaw National Historical Park site volunteers (start at the headquarters in Calumet). Visit information
- Discover more about our ghost towns with the Michigan Tech University Keweenaw Time Traveler App. This interactive historical atlas allows researchers and you to contribute to the data and stories of the region’s past, particularly its industrial history dating from the late 1800s to the present. Explore the app here.
In addition to the ghost towns, the Keweenaw Peninsula has other places that draw people intrigued by paranormal sightings and campfire-worthy stories. Two to consider:
- The Calumet Theatre. Since 1958, several people have claimed to have seen the spirit of Polish actress Madame Modjeska in this still active, century-old theater at 340 Sixth Street. The Shakespearian star performed three times in the opera house’s first decade before she passed away in April 1909. Learn more
- Prospector’s Paradise. This large emporium at 59691 U.S. 41 in Allouez Township houses all kinds of local minerals, precious stones and an ancient copper culture museum with Native American arts and crafts. It’s also the site of the Keweenaw Vortex, a place some say is bursting with natural energy attributed to the underground rivers flowing in the area. A mystical, spiral-shaped tree growing above an underground river is said to have healing powers. Visitors stand inside the tree limbs and touch the tree knots to absorb the energy. Adding to the allure of this destination on your ghost town tour is the belief that this is also the site of a Native American burial ground. Talk with the owner of Prospector’s Paradise for more stories about this site and the area’s past. Learn more
Annual People’s Fair Metaphysical Gathering, Prospector’s Paradise, August
Quincy Mine Annual Haunted Tour, last weekend of October
Bete Grise, MI 49950 US
Region: Lac La Belle / Bete Grise
Houghton, MI 49905 US
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