The Keweenaw Peninsula owes its modern-day development to the rich veins of copper that run through its hills. The mining operations that were established here to pull that ore from the mountains created numerous towns and communities up and down the peninsula. These days, those communities and mining operations are preserved in a National Park like no other — and it’s centered around the town of Calumet, Michigan. If you want to understand the Keweenaw’s history, Calumet is the place to start.
Calumet, Michigan is located on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. From Houghton, take US 41 north 13 miles. Downtown Calumet is a few blocks northwest of 41. The National Park Service visitor center is located where Red Jacket Road curves onto 5th Street.
Most National Parks preserve a big chunk of land filled with natural wonders. It’s pretty easy to know when you’re in, and out of, the park. But that’s not the case in the Keweenaw National Historic Park. It’s also run by the National Park Service, but up here, the park is made out of a patchwork of public and private land, scattered throughout the Keweenaw Peninsula. It’s all designed to protect and preserve the rich history of the area, which was largely a result of enormous copper deposits — some of which was recovered and traded by Native Americans, long before Europeans arrived.
In addition to all of the tiny parts, Keweenaw National Historic Park has two major units: Calumet and Quincy. Calumet is big because it includes much of the town.
I didn’t know all of this, as I drove into Calumet. Mostly, I was interested in exploring a neat little town filled with old buildings and businesses. So, on the drive up the peninsula from Houghton, I detoured into town and had a look around.
The National Park visitor center in Calumet is a good place to start.
Inside, you’ll get an education on the copper-mining history of the area — as well as the various cultures of people drawn here by the availability of good jobs. There are three stories of exhibits here.
Directly across the street from the visitor center, you’ll find St. Anne’s Church, built in 1899. It now serves as the Keweenaw Heritage Center. Unfortunately it was not open during my visit. When it is open, you’ll likely hear organ music coming from inside.
Take a walk up 5th Street, and you’ll find plenty of local businesses, including some good souvenir shops.
A block away, 6th Street is also quite interesting. Here, you’ll find the old Calumet Fire Station. It was built in 1898, and now serves as the Upper Peninsula Firefighters Memorial Museum. It’s also part of the National Park — but it wasn’t open during my visit.
The twin spires of St. Paul the Apostle Church are a prominent feature of the Calumet, Michigan skyline. On this day, they were made even more noticeable by those dark clouds that had suddenly appeared behind them. When I had left Houghton, just a couple of hours earlier, the sky was completely clear. Within another hour, I would be facing a downpour of rain.
Even the old police station has some character! This formerly neon sign over the door is a nice relic of the past.
Some buildings in Calumet, Michigan are faring better than others. I didn’t realize this was just the shell of a building until I realized that I could see St. Anne’s church steeple through the window.
Here’s a look at the drive up the Keweenaw Peninsula on US 41 …
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…from Calumet to Hancock and Houghton, via M-26…
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… and the drive from Bare Bluff into Calumet:
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The Bottom Line
A stop in Calumet, Michigan is an essential part of the Keweenaw experience. Allow an hour or two to explore the streets and check out the park visitor center and other historical sites.