Keweenaw Peninsula and Houghton, Michigan
Sarah Fayen Scarlett, chair
Allison K. Hoagland, Sean Gohman, John Arnold, Hilary-Joy Virtanen
In June 2024, VAF members will venture “North of the Northwoods” to Michigan’s Keweenaw Peninsula. Known as the “Copper Country,” this three-county area on the southern shore of Lake Superior features buildings and landscapes that tell stories of copper mining boom and bust, immigration, urban growth, industrial labor, as well as post-industrial patterns of recovery, reinvention, and re-interpretation. The region is home to the Keweenaw National Historical Park and Michigan Technological University, whose program in Industrial Heritage and Archaeology has been studying the region’s built environment for over thirty years. Historic buildings featured on the tours date from the 1850s prospecting era, through the height of industrialization when the region supported sizable cities, to the rise of tourism with the Civilian Conservation Corps (CCC) and post-War automobile travel. Issues of environmental and cultural sustainability will feature prominently as we visit Finnish-American farmstead sites, Keweenaw Bay Indian Community landscapes, post-industrial downtowns, and Superfund remediation sites. Check out this special travel page made exclusively for VAF visitors by Visit Keweenaw here.
Conference attendees will stay in Houghton, Michigan on the beautiful Portage Waterway and attend paper sessions at Michigan Technological University. Everyone will do the same tour on Thursday to explore the story of copper mining, and then choose between two tour options on Friday. Tour attendees will all enjoy time on Lake Superior’s shores.
Explore the U.P.
The Keweenaw Peninsula is part of Michigan’s beautiful Upper Peninsula—the “U.P.”! Once you come north of the northwoods, you might consider extending your stay! This region offers incredible opportunities for outdoor recreation such as mountain biking, backpacking, camping, kayaking, ATV trail riding, cycling, and much more. The Copper Harbor Trails Club consistently gets ranked among the top ten mountain biking destinations in the country, and if you’ve always wanted to visit Isle Royale National Park, the boat leaves from Houghton. Check out Visit Keweenaw for more vacation ideas. Seriously, once you get here, it’s worth your time to explore more!
Check out the slide show from the banquet at Plymouth for good travel tips!
Wednesday Registration, Ala Carte events
Early arrivals to Houghton can participate in an Underground Mine Tour led by the Quincy Mine Association. There will be a $20 cost and the tour is limited to the first 26 people to sign up (on the registration page). There will also be a brief cocktail hour and then dinner on your own.
Thursday Field Bus Tour
Thursday Welcome Event, Keynote Address and lunch at the Calumet Theatre.
Thursday Afternoon Reception at the Quincy Mine Hoist Association
Mine Towns: Technology, Paternalism, and Memory
Copper-mining companies in the Keweenaw created landscapes of housing, commerce, and recreation, as well as mining, milling, and smelting. Our tour begins with a sampling of the Quincy Mining Company’s housing, built from the 1850s to World War I.
Then we move on to Calumet, home of the mighty Calumet & Hecla Mining Company and the largest population center at the height of industrialization. Besides housing, the town had a range of commercial and community buildings, including stores, bars, churches, a theater, and fraternal buildings, many of which will be open to us. On adjacent land Calumet & Hecla built its exceedingly profitable mines, as well as its office building and a flashy library, also open to us, to advertise its benevolence.
We then proceed to the shores of Torch Lake, where a remaining hydraulic stamp and the ruins of C&H’s stamp mills illustrate the second part of the mining process: stamping the copper rock into sand-like consistency so that the copper could be extracted. The legacies of these processes for communities and the environment will be explored at the Lake Linden Village Park.
We will end the day back at Quincy, this time to see the spectacular shaft-rockhouse and to enjoy cocktails and traditional Cornish pasties in the hoist building, which houses a steam-driven mine hoist that was the world’s largest when it was built in 1918.
Friday Field Bus Tours
Lunch and Dinner are included on the Friday Field Tours.
Keweenaw County: From Frontier Ports to Northwoods Resorts
Venture to the northernmost point in Michigan – the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula — to explore the remnants of the region’s earliest mining communities and see how they were consciously transformed into leisure landscapes in the 1920s-60s. The tour starts at the Central Mine Methodist Church, among this town’s only remaining buildings, where descendants of miners have been holding an annual summer reunion every year for over a century.
The tour goes next to Eagle River, where visitors will see 1850s log and frame structures,
remarkable outbuildings including a barn, a saloon-turned-garage, and the remnants of a German-style lagering vault. Visitors will lunch in the mess hall of the 1930s Gitche Gumee Camp. Up the coast, visitors will explore the Eagle Harbor Lighthouse (1875) and the nearby Lake Breeze Resort (1921), remarkably owned by the same family since the 1850s when it was a warehouse in the region’s most protected harbor. The afternoon stop is Copper Harbor to see several examples of 1930s cabin courts that have been updated over time to meet changing tourist demands including 1960s motel additions, and more recent accommodations for mountain bikers, climate refugees, and the up north tourism spike driven by COVID. Dinner is at the wonderful WPA-era Keweenaw Mountain Lodge and Golf Course.
Farm to Kitchen: Rural, Indigenous, and Urban Places
This tour’s focus is sustainability—both cultural and environmental—explored through changing relationships between people and the landscapes south of Houghton. The tour starts at Kemppa Farm, which features traditional Finnish-American structures including a log barn, two log houses, a hay barn, and a frame aitta (granary). Along the farm’s Lake Superior frontage, visitors will enjoy a rambling rustic vacation house hand-built by Hugo Kemppa (using skills he acquired working for the WPA) as a vacation house for three-generations of a Chicago family. After a stop at a one-room schoolhouse, the bus heads to Hanka Homestead to explore the decades-long preservation and community-driven interpretation projects at this Finnish-American agricultural museum (with an original sauna!)
The afternoon features an immersive visit to Sand Point, a place with important historical, spiritual, and resource significance for the Keweenaw Bay Indian Community. After lunch with members of the Tribe’s Natural Resources Department, explore the Pow Wow Grounds, a monument to treaty right affirmation, an 1878 lighthouse, and the Sand Point Restoration project, where Tribal members are working to ensure the survival of medicinal plants and ecosystems threatened by mine waste being deposited by Lake Superior from nearby copper mills. The tour ends up back near Houghton, where we will explore the experiences of diverse populations in the upscale neighborhood of East Hancock, with a visit to Temple Jacob Synagogue. Dinner will be at the Finnish-American Heritage Center catered by the Keweenaw Natural Foods Co-Op.
Paper and Poster Sessions will be held on Saturday on the Michigan Technology University Campus in the Memorial Union Building (MUB).
Lunch will be provided during the President's Plenary session.
Closing Banquet and Annual Meeting will be held at the Bonfire at the Continental Fire Hall, an 1883 fire company building.
The conference is headquartered at Houghton Hampton Inn. Lunch on Thursday will be part of the Bus Tours. Registration will open on February 20, 2024.
Please contact the conference organizer if you have mobility issues and may need more assistance at sites.
Contact Michelle Jones, VAF Conference Coordinator with questions about the conference.
We look forward to seeing you in the UP!