Keweenaw Heritage Center reaches quarter-century

The doors of the Keweenaw Heritage Center, the former St. Anne Catholic Church building in Calumet, features impressive architectural design constructed with locally quarried Jacobsville Sandstone. (Scot Stewart photo)

The Keweenaw Heritage Center at St. Anne’s will celebrate its 25th Anniversary with special events all this summer.  The facility, which serves as a museum, educational facility, and a venue for musical performances, meetings, weddings, receptions, and other gatherings, is located at 25725 Scott St. in Calumet.
The building, which originally served as St. Anne’s Catholic Church, has a long and eventful history.
In fact, the story of the church and the Keweenaw Heritage Center could be made into a film. The production would start in old-time sepia tones with Jacobsville Sandstone being quarried and moved to the site of the church. The switch to color would come in 1900 as St. Anne’s Church was constructed.  If not then, certainly when the many large stained-glass windows were installed. Those who donated funds for windows had their names crafted into the bases of them. The names still shine brightly when the sun comes through the glass.
Next, the film might show montages of the church at work:  weddings, baptisms, funerals, festivals, Christmas, Lent and Easter services.  Included would be shots of the massive entrance doors swinging open for all of these events and more.
During the region’s mining boom, which began in the 1800s, workers in the copper mines were organized by ethnicity. New Englanders owned the mines and Cornish immigrants (mostly) ran them. Finns, Italians, Croatians, French Canadians and others worked in the drifts and stopes underground. The system minimized language difficulties underground and lasted for years.
Likewise, area churches were also organized by ethnicity. St. Anne’s was the French-Canadian church and French language classes were taught there. A church located behind St. Anne’s was Carmel Lutheran, “The Swedish church.”  Carmel was smaller and less imposing than St. Anne’s, but it was also made of Jacobsville sandstone.
St. Anne’s was active as a church for 65 years. Then, mining declined and the population did as well. Until 1966 there were five Roman Catholic churches in the Calumet area. Then the Catholic Diocese of Marquette closed three of them, including St. Anne’s.
While the film would not have to switch back to sepia at this point, the colors would be muted for a while after the church’s decommissioning.

A scene from the 1991 movie “Children of the Night.” A portion of the horror movie was filmed at the St. Anne Church building during a time when it sat unused. The building, which was beginning to deteriorate, was later restored to become the Keweenaw Heritage Center. (Columbia Pictures photo)

St. Anne’s was purchased in 1971 by an antique/junk dealer. He lived in the altar area of the church while the rest of it deteriorated, filling with debris. Pigeons came and went, leaving deposits in the building.  The stained-glass windows were in poor shape.  (It eventually took a grant of $75,000 from the Michigan Council for the Arts and Cultural Affairs to repair them.)  One of the lowest points of the building’s life was when part of a low-rated horror flick, the vampire movie “Children Of The Night,” was shot there. One scene in the film features a set showing the church basement filled with water.
A rumor also circulated that the estate of the antique dealer was considering selling the building to a buyer who might have planned to strip out the stained glass. That did not happen, and in 1994 the musical score for this hypothetical film would suddenly turn from sinister to optimistic.
That year Calumet Township acquired the building for $38,000, and the rescue began. There were structural problems to be dealt with, and truckloads of debris had to be hauled away before any repair work could be done. Much of the glass block in the basement windows was broken. Over the years, many grants were awarded and, according to board member Jean Ellis, 80,000 volunteer hours were spent in the rescue and restoration of the building.
In 2007, after 40 years without one, a wedding was held in the building.  At this point in the film there could be a montage of old photographs of weddings, suddenly seguing to the one in 2007. Then shots of the regular musical performances could be added.
Several local groups perform as part of the Musical Mondays series (which the Heritage Center shares with the Calumet Theatre.)  The Organists of The Keweenaw offer organ “matinees.”  Other concerts have included the annual celebration organ concert; a mixed music, art and poetry event; hymn festivals; an appearance by Maple Sugar Folk—a French Canadian inspired group—and more.

Above are a couple of scenes from special events that have taken place at the Keweenaw Heritage center. “This is a beautiful, beautiful place,” said Keweenaw Heritage Center Board Co-Chair Phyllis Locatelli. “It’s a treasure and we would like everyone to come see what’s here and enjoy it.” The center opened for the season June 24 and is hosting several performances and activities during its season, which runs through Labor Day. (Photos courtesy of KHC)

A short attached to the Keweenaw Heritage Center film might be entitled, “Well-Traveled Pipes.”  It would feature the Barckhoff tracker organ, which now resides in the balcony at the Heritage Center, but had originally served the congregation of the nearby Carmel Lutheran Church.  The organ had been installed at Carmel Lutheran in 1899.  When Carmel closed in 1964, the pastor, Rev. John Simonson, acquired the organ.  He built a place to house it on his property in Dollar Bay. He and a local piano tuner, the late Tom Mueller, got the organ back into playable condition. When Rev. Simonson died in 1991, another home was needed for the Backhoff; eventually, it came to the Keweenaw Heritage Center.
Many volunteer hours were spent moving the disassembled organ from the main floor of the church into the loft, cleaning and reassembling it. Visitors to the heritage center can now hear the Barckhoff being played on summer afternoons and may have the chance to see the organ’s pipes up close, or even to play it. This film could show children intrigued with their introduction to the historic pipe organ.
As with any old building, problems still occur.  There have been some minor leaks in the roof, and some windows were broken last winter. Lightning struck the steeple and wind damaged the roof in 2011. Making the building self-supporting through rentals is an on-going challenge.  However, the kitchen was recently updated, a movable bar as added this year, and lifts make access to the lower and main levels easier for those with mobility challenges.
The Keweenaw Heritage Center Board is working with a local artist, Carrie Mohn, to develop new posters and flyers. Mohn is also scheduled for some artist-in-residence days at the center this summer.
Thinking about the heritage center as a film makes it hard to end this article. From the day the rescue began to the present, the story has been a continuing one. This article has to end, so envision a scene showing the facility’s stained-glass windows lit up by the sun. An arrangement of Beethoven’s “Ode to Joy” resounds from the Barckhoff tracker organ and the names of board members, other volunteers, organizations that provided grants and individuals and groups who have made donations scroll vertically in front of the windows.
A note at the end of the credits would say, “Thanks to the Board of the Keweenaw Heritage Center who provided the booklet, ‘Keweenaw Heritage Center: A Return to Honor.’  The history of the building and various dates and times were taken from the booklet.”
The screen should not fade to black …

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