Jutting out into the cold, blue waters of Lake Superior is the rugged and picturesque coast of the Keweenaw Peninsula. Better known as the â€œCopper Country,â€ this land of scenic beauty was endowed by nature with a treasure trove of pure, native copper. At the tip of this northernmost part of Michigan lies the village of Copper Harbor–the town where the Keweenaw’s fascinating history began.
In the mid-1830s, when Michigan was admitted to the Union, it received the Keweenaw and the remainder of the western Upper Peninsula as a condition of ending its hotly contentious border dispute with Ohio over the infamous Toledo Strip. Most Michiganians considered the U.P. to be a relatively worthless wilderness. (â€œA place of perpetual snows that would provide an endless supply of bear meat,â€ they said at the time.)
Dr. Douglass Houghton, Michigan’s first state geologist, was given the assignment of determining what riches–if any–were contained in the new and unexplored land. In mid-1840, Houghton and his party landed at the wilderness that is the present-day town of Copper Harbor. He discovered a lustrous green copper silicate vein straddling the
shoreline. Several feet away, particles of red native copper glistened in Lake Superior’s surf. His subsequent report set in motion the nation’s first mineral boom as prospectors and explorers poured into the region, traveling hundreds of miles by canoe.
Copper Harbor’s great mineral rush peaked in a few years, but as copper mining pushed further inland, Copper Harbor continued to be a Keweenaw crossroads. A fort was added to keep the peace and a lighthouse was built to guide boats more safely into the naturally fine harbor.
Almost 170 years after Houghton’s initial exploration, Copper Harbor remains an important tourist destination. The history of this scenic and unique community is featured in Michigan History magazine. For more information, visit www.michiganhistorymagazine.com or call (800) 366-3703.