Innovation helped Quincy Mine be a production leader

The iconic shafthouse and ruins of early mining efforts sit atop Quincy Hill.

IN THE OUTDOORS • Story and photos by Scot Stewart

“In a very basic way, a prominent landmark … tells you where you are. They let you know
that you’re not the first person in a place” —Tracy Kidder

Drive up the Quincy Hill from Hancock in the Copper Country, and a huge silver apparition gently leans forward beckoning all who come to join in the past. It is a mineshaft house developed after a 10-year search for a large deposit of copper.
Early geological explorers searched for prehistoric native copper pits and other copper explorations promising larger copper holdings. The Quincy Mine turned out to be one of those, eventually yielding 424,000 tons of copper. A good portion of it was nearly 97 percent pure.
Founded in 1846 when excavation exploration began, the Quincy Mine was named by investors for Quincy, Massachusetts. (That town, in turn, was named in 1792 for Colonel John Quincy, maternal grandfather of President John Adams’ wife, Abigail Adams. Adams, his son John Quincy Adams and John Hancock, president of the Continental Congress, were all born in Quincy.) Due to communications problems, two different mining companies—the Northwest Mining Company and the Portage Mining Company—had both purchased the same land where the Quincy Mine began. To remedy the problem, the two merged to form the Quincy Mining Company, which was organized in 1848.
It became one of the few mines in the Copper Country to be owned by only one company and was one of the most profitable, paying out dividends every year from 1848 until 1920. The Quincy began as a fissure mining operation, extracting veins of nearly pure, native copper. The process of extracting rich deposits was, ironically, extremely costly because the pure copper masses had to be chiseled down to manageable pieces to be transported up the mine shafts. Chiseling a large mass could take months of back-breaking work in the early days when all labor was done by hand.
In 1856, a layer of ore (also called a stratiform) containing amygdaloid deposits was found to cross through the company’s property near the Pewabic mine site. The ore in this layer was of a lower grade, but the rock contained small pockets, called amygdules, which in turn contained copper.
The rock was easily blasted into smaller pieces, removed from the mine and stamped into pieces to separate the copper pieces and the massive rock into coarse, sand-sized particles. The Quincy was the first area mine to begin this type of mining, and due to the size of the deposit, it was a huge success. The company expanded by purchasing three adjacent mines—the Mesnard and Pontiac in 1897 and the Franklin in 1908—and produced profits every year until 1920.
The Quincy Mine is known not only for its production records but also for its extensive workings. It contained nine shafts, and two of those were driven 9,280 feet long on an incline going 6,800 feet deep. One shaft alone is nearly one and three-quarters miles long. The Quincy operated continuously from 1848 until 1931. The mine opened again in 1937 and ran through the end of World War II, when it finally closed. From 1947 until 1968, stamp sand from the mine was processed at Torch Lake using more modern techniques, and another 50,000 tons of copper was extracted.
The Quincy Mine was a trendsetter in other ways besides its production totals, ownership and amygdaloid deposit mining. Because of the depth of the mine, new technology was needed to bring the ore up from the ever-deepening shaft. Men, ore and water seeping into the mine were originally pulled up the lengthening shaft with a thick steel cable. Better, faster systems were needed as the shaft deepened.

Visitors to the mine can ride on the cog rail tram.

So, a new hoist was developed to pull the cable. A giant, 250 ton steel drum acted as a spool, winding up and feeding out the 2.5-mile long cable using a Nordberg steam-powered engine, the largest in the world. The hoist house was built with reinforced concrete, eliminating the need for support columns. The cables ran from the hoist house over supports to the No. 2 shaft house and then down into the mine.
It is these two structures, the shaft house and the hoist house, that visitors see and can tour when they arrive at the site on Quincy Hill, which is owned and operated by the Quincy Mine Hoist Association. The Quincy Mine is part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park system, which was established in 1991 and covers 21 sites in Ontonagon, Houghton and Keweenaw counties.
When mining activities dried up in the Copper Country, it became apparent the area was filled with history: mining structures, equipment, offices and homes. Poor rock piles—rock removed to gain access to copper-filled fissures—are found across the area.
Chunks of copper-rich ore from Pewabic and other lodes are everywhere and draw scores of rock hounds and mineral collectors. Logic dictated the need to preserve the historic value of the region, which had been so important to the early development of the country, as well as to industrial efforts during World War II. A national historic park was created to help preserve the history of the area and also provided a boost to the local economy. It was named the Keweenaw National Historical Park and featured the Quincy Mine as its crown jewel.
Visitors to the Quincy Mine are struck by the sheer size of the shaft house as they drive up the Quincy Hill. The shaft house can be seen in a self-guided tour facilitated by a video display, which explains the mine operations there.
The site also includes a dry house, where miners changed and dried their wet, muddy clothes at the end of the day; the Martin family home, a restored mining family home occupied from 1913-1925 and also serving as a miners’ memorial; several steam locomotives and rail cars; the old company store now used as the tour center and gift shop; and a number of other structures, some of which are still undergoing restoration and some of which are just the remnants of stone walls and foundations.
After walking through the shafthouse, visitors move on to the hoist house to see firsthand just how big the drum is for the hoist cable. It weighs 500,000 pounds and took 11 months to assemble. Imagine two miles of 1 5/8” steel cable wrapped around a spool that size. 12,000 feet of cable were held on this hoist. This cable system was not needed in the early days of the mine when kettles filled with tons of copper were hauled up the shafts, but as the shafts were sunk lower and lower, the need to move men and materials over longer distances dictated the new technology, and the steam hoist was installed to work on multiple longer shafts. In shaft No. 2, the first hoist was installed in 1882, and it worked well for 12 years. In 1894, the shafts had sunk to 3,000 feet, and a stronger hoist was needed. A two-cylinder hoist with 7,500 feet of cable was installed. By 1915, shaft No. 2—now 7,700 feet deep—needed yet another improvement.
In 1917, a new hoist was requested, but developments coinciding with World War I led to delays.
The hoist house was one of the first concrete-rebar buildings at the Quincy, a structure needed to house such large machine. The hoist house contains a number of engineering achievements of the day: the huge hoist, telephones to communicate with the workers deep in the mine and a well-oiled double boiler system to power the entire operation. The outside walls of the hoist house were trimmed with fancy green-glazed terra cotta tiles imported from Mexico and a veneer of red brick. To impress potential investors, white Italian tiles covered the walls. The hoist, however, did not arrive until 1919.
The hoist house also contains a museum with display panels showing how the site developed, how mining operations were run and the community was built to support the operation. The hoist, steam engines, communications equipment and other artifacts are on display, too, and are fully explained on the surface tour of the site. While working around the drum and steam engine, visitors can also view models of the ingenious inventions created to move men and material through the mine, and even more importantly, how above-ground workers communicated with miners more than a mile and a half below the surface.
Several tours are available at the Quincy. The shaft house and hoist house tour lasts a bit over an hour, depending on the time visitors spend on the tour self-guided portion of the tour. The surface/tram portion of the tour extends it by about half an hour. The full tour includes a walk through the mine itself, extending the time by nearly an hour more.

Inside the mine visitors can see old mining equipment that was used such as the drills that were bored holes for placing dynamite, and a mining car filled with native copper.

After completing the hoist house tour, visitors can head out into the bright sunshine, board a cog-rail tram car and head down steep Ripley Hill nearly half a mile. The view of the Portage Canal and the Lift Bridge connecting Houghton and Hancock is spectacular. Passengers disembark in front of the entrance to an adit for shaft No. 5, a horizontal tunnel built to help drain excess water from the mine and improve ventilation. On a warm day, a strong, cool breeze pushes out of the tunnel. It is startlingly cool and refreshing.
Inside the shaft No. 5 adit, the temperature stays around 43oF. The temperatures inside the mine are one of the more difficult concepts to understand about the process of digging deeper after the copper. For a few thousand feet down, the below-ground temperature remains cooler than that of the surface, usually a rough average of the area’s year-round temperatures. But as the shafts continue deepening, the temperatures start to increase. At the 9,000-foot depth (1¾ miles), the miners began to work at temperatures in the 60s, which likely created an incredible transition for miners in winter months who at times went home in frigid, blizzard-like conditions.
In the adit, visitors get a chance to see old cars used to carry ore, a mine classroom once used by MTU students, and power drills used to create the holes for dynamite that blasted out the ore. The tour guide will also demonstrate how the early miners hammered the first holes into the rock for the charges. Further down the tunnel, visitors will view a stope, an area where a large deposit of copper was removed from the upper area of the mine, creating a cathedral type ceiling where the ore was blasted down into the shaft.
The tour concludes with a trip back up the Quincy Hill on the cog tram. Visitors can continue to wander around the grounds, examining the remains of the finely built structures that once supported this operation, the surrounding area and the piles of rock removed to get to ore bodies across the Copper Country.
Visitors are left with a true appreciation for the hard work, ingenuity and scope of the work completed at Quincy. Removing tons of valuable copper with equipment of incredible size and mass, miles underground was an impressive accomplishment, even by today’s standards. Considering the work was started with picks, sledge hammers and sticks of dynamite, it is truly amazing to comprehend!
Nearly 20 other sites from Ontonagon to Copper Harbor complete the historical park and include everything from mansions to opera houses to a restored ghost town at Central to several other mine tours. History lives in the Copper Country!

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