Monday, June 21, 2010

The Baltic Mine

The Baltic Amygdaloid Lode was the last major native copper ore body to be discovered in the Copper Country. A local mining captain named John Ryan found a promising copper ore outcropping near this bluff in 1882 and began exploratory mining.

One can only imagine what went through Ryan's mind when he saw the copper vein in the rock at his feet.

Eventually four shafts were sunk in the vicinity, and mountains of rock removed.

These rock piles have special significance to me. My grandfather, Heikki Kilpela, whom I have never met, worked in these mines.

I once spent a day piling mine rock by hand along an embankment (for erosion control) and gained a great appreciation for the work both of my grandfathers did underground. After blasting, the fractured rock had to be loaded by hand into tramcars. These men handled many tons of rock every day, and the larger chucks can easily weigh well over a hundred pounds. Heikki Kilpela was laid off from the Baltic Mine when he was 60 but said that he was in the best shape of his life. He died of a stroke at 75, while my father was serving in the US army in Europe. But I look forward to meeting Heikki for the first time in eternity.

These rock piles were actually much bigger. Much has been hauled off as crushed rock for road construction. In a few more decades perhpas all the piles will be gone.

The old powder house still stands.

What impresses me about the stone mine buildings and structures that still stand is that they were built to last, and that the mining companies cared to make them beautiful.

I spent the longest day of summer exploring old ruins. The sun was warm, the birds were singing, and flowers were in bloom everywhere.

Many of the buildings were constructed of Jacobsville sandstone, quarried near Portage entry and shipped to a railhead in Houghton. This building was later used as a cheese factory. Today it is a favorite site for the local kids to conduct paintball wars.

The foundation of the boiler house near Shaft No. 2. The forest is reclaiming the mine.

Remains of the No. 2 Shafthouse.

A concrete cap covers the actual No. 2 shaft. It took me awhile to realize what I was seeing. These rails, which protrude out of the concrete less than a foot, extend 3000 feet down. The ore body here was steep, 70 degrees, which is why the rails are almost vertical. Because it was so steep, the miners had to cover the horizontal drifts with timbers and planks and pile "poor rock" on top of it continually for a floor to stand on as they mined up into the ore body. The ore was hand-sorted and the copper-bearing rock was dropped to the drift below through round chutes that stonemasons - many from Italy- built with the poor rock.

Concrete walls of what may have been a tunnel for steam pipes. This extends several hundred feet. A damp, shadowy place.

A mystery. There were two of these in line and I don't know what they are.
There is sadness in ruins. You find yourself imagining what the site looked like when it was being developed. Investors risked enormous capital sums to build great industrial works to mine the ore. Thousands of workmen built the buildings, the railroads, the shafthouses and rockhouses, and thousands more worked underground. You needed to believe in the future to do these things. In the ruins you also see that many who took pride in their workmanship, and you feel a sense of sadness that it all has passed away.
But amid ruins, flowers bloom. Here, as in a cemetary, flowers give me a sense of peace and hope. They speak of resurrection. Our works, despite our greatest efforts, will fall in disrepair and decay, but that will change after the resurrection. Death will be swallowed up in Life.

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