One of the most remarkable things about the historic sites on the Keweenaw Peninsula is how often they’re barrier-free. Almost everywhere else you go in this world, someone is telling you to stay behind a chain, a fence, a roadblock, or a velvet rope. But more often than not, up here on the Keweenaw, relics of the copper-mining past are simply left out in the open. And there’s no better example than the Quincy Dredge #2 and the Quincy Stamp Mill.
Sure, I guess there’s someone who would tell you, “Don’t go in there!” or “Don’t climb on that!”. But it certainly appears that the mill, the dredge, and the big smokestack along M-26 is open for visitors. Is it completely safe? Nope. But is it prohibitively dangerous? I don’t think so. Is it the most memorable history lesson I’ve had in recent years? Definitely.
The Quincy Dredge and Stamp Mill are located along Michigan Highway 26, or M-26, about two miles south of Hubbell, Michigan. You’ll find the stamp mill on the west side of the road, and the Quincy Dredge across the street, in Torch Lake.
I love a good ghost town, and an abandoned building always welcomes me. Of course, most of the time, I’m stopped by a No Trespassing sign, which I (almost) always obey. But here, at the edge of M-26, was a giant, abandoned old building, with shattered windows and an open garage-sized door, and absolutely no signs placing it off-limits.
I didn’t even know what I was seeing at the time. Now, I know that this is the old Quincy Mill — or at least the newest part of it. Other, older buildings that housed the stamping machines and other equipment were made of wood, and have long since crumbled. But, “The Addition”, as it is known, was built to be fireproof, and almost time-proof as well.
And so I walked inside. It’s a big mess, of course. With this kind of easy access, plenty of people have taken the opportunity to leave graffiti or shatter some windows. But the most notable feature was the stalactites hanging from the ceiling. Yes, the same formations you’d find in a cave are quite rapidly forming inside this hulking old concrete shell. Rainwater drips through the roof, eats away at the concrete, and leaves mineral deposits as it drips onto the floor below. And yes, there are also some stalagmites forming. Remember, stalactites hold “tite” to the ceiling, while you “mite” trip over stalagmites because they’re on the ground. You’ll probably remember that forever. You’re welcome.
Almost a century ago, this giant, sun-lit room would have been filled with Wilfley tables — a shaking contraption that sifts out very tiny particles of ore, in this case, copper. Those other, now vanished buildings housed eight stamps, which pulverized a million tons of rock each year. Just imagine how loud it would have been here. But now, aside from the occasional drips from the ceiling, it’s eerily quiet.
I didn’t go very deep into the building, and I didn’t attempt the stairs that led up to the second story. I still had a feeling that I was somewhere I shouldn’t have been, so I stayed close to the exit. But I did go far enough inside to admire the view of a towering smokestack out the window. This smokestack is on the other side of M-26, near the edge of Torch Lake.
And there’s something else over there by the lake as well. That giant piece of equipment, partially sunken and listing about 20 degrees, is the old Quincy Dredge #2. It’s probably the most interesting abandoned machine I had ever seen. And much to my amazement, there were people over there, climbing on it.
Had I not seen those people, it probably would have never occurred to me that I, too, should climb onto a partially sunken, rusting, listing dredge in the middle of a lake. But, once such a thought is in my head, it’s hard to get rid of it. So guess what I did next?
Quincy Dredge #2
Now, let’s be clear about this. I’m not sure if I was supposed to be here. In order to get to the dredge, I had to drive back up M-26 a few hundred feet, to a turnout that led to a fence with an open gate. I stress… OPEN gate… and not a single NO TRESPASSING sign. Add to it, a couple of other people were already over there, so I went ahead and decided it was okay.
I parked my car at the turnout, and walked through the gate, then continued down a well-worn path past the smokestack (more on it in a moment) and down to the Quincy Dredge. By this point, the other people were gone, and nothing was stopping me…
… from climbing up onto it. This is, however, a very tricky maneuver. First, you must balance on some boards to get across the water and onto the dredge itself. After that, you’re walking on a round pipe, which can be slippery if your feet got wet crossing the boards. Oh, and you’re also fighting the constant disorientation resulting from the Quincy Dredge being tilted out of alignment with the horizon. Sometimes there’s something to hold onto, other times there is not. The penalty for losing your balance is a 10-foot drop into a shallow lake.
Once I was up there and had taken a few pictures, I realized that I was risking my personal safety and several thousands of dollars worth of camera equipment without any big payoff. I took a moment to enjoy the accomplishment of doing something that I had been dreaming of doing for an entire 30 minutes or so, and then I got the heck off of there.
Before leaving the old dredge, I walked around to the other side, to see if the view was any better, or if there would be a good place to photograph the sunset. It didn’t look very good from this side, so I turned my attention…
… to that smokestack surrounded by a tiny forest.
Once again, there were no barriers or warning signs, and I was easily able to walk right up to the smokestack. This 175-foot tower was built in 1916 for the boiler house.
Not only are there no signs telling me to stay out, there’s graffiti taunting me to go inside!
There’s much more than just a smokestack hidden in this little patch of forest.
There are plenty of concrete walls and foundations, hinting at the operations that used to be located here.
One remaining structure looks a lot like a silo that you’d find on a farm. Instead of grain, it housed coal, used to fire the boiler. There’s a hole in the floor, through which coal would be dumped, then raised up into the silo…
… by a chain-driven bucket conveyor system.
Once again, the graffiti was taunting me.
I didn’t know whether to believe “it’s fun!” or “meh”, but at least the graffiti was giving me some options.
It was getting close to sunset, which was a beautiful time to be surrounded by these old ruins and young trees. But, I knew I needed to get back to the car and wrap-up my day of exploring. I just needed to find a good place to photograph the sunset. And I had a pretty good spot in mind.
Here’s a look at the drive from Calumet, through Lake Linden and Hubbell, and out to Hungarian Falls, then on to Hancock and Houghton:
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The Bottom Line
This stop was certainly the most memorable part of my entire trip to the Upper Peninsula. Exploring the old stamp mill building and the Quincy Dredge was a wild adventure. If you do some exploring of your own, please be careful. And if you find any No Trespassing signs posted, please obey them.