Region: Keweenaw Peninsula
|Copper itself never made a lot of money for Eagle River, but as late as the 1930s the village had a 70-year-old blasting fuse factory that made 25,000 feet a day to supply mines across the Keweenaw.|
Driving through this little village and summer resort today, it isn't evident what a wild past Eagle River has had, going back to the beginning of the copper boom in 1845. Over a dozen copper mines sprang up to the east of here, including Cliffs Mine, the Keweenaw's first profitable copper mine. Although Eagle River doesn't have a good harbor, it became an important port for provisioning the mines and shipping copper. Long docks had to be built out to reach deeper water in Lake Superior. Earlier, French-Canadian voyageurs camping here had given the place its name, after the many eagles they saw.
Eagle River, Copper Harbor, and Eagle Harbor, all near the Keweenaw's eastern tip, are among the oldest European settlements in the western Upper Peninsula. (L'Anse is much older.) Many Eagle River houses and churches date from well before the Civil War. They're simple frame or log buildings - without any fancy trim of the late 19th-century buildings in Calumet or Laurium, Houghton, or Marquette.
|One of the U.P.'s very best restaurants, Fitzgerald's offers tasty entrees, great barbecue, and a dazzling selection from its bar.|
Eagle River soon became the county seat, first of Houghton County, then of Keweenaw County after Houghton County was split off. It grew to have two breweries and the well-known Eagle River Hotel that hosted American President James Garfield and influential newspaperman Horace Greeley, he who advised, "Go west, young man." Greeley was a shareholder and director of a Keweenaw mining company. By 1880 an Eagle River company that made fuses for mining explosives was making 25,000 feet of fuses a day.
|Just above Eagle River is the picturesque falls, with a great vantage point from the old bridge.|
Clarence Monette's interesting booklet on Eagle River tells how on Sundays the town attracted many workers from the surrounding mines. Lethal fights were common. Animosity between the skilled Methodist miners from Cornwall and the Irish Catholic laborers was tremendous. Eventually a sturdy attic jail was built in an attempt to quell the violence. But even that wasn't enough to hold a notorious brawler, a miner of Herculean strength named Jemmie Tresize. Desperate, the town council ordered a 200-pound ball from Detroit and attached it by chain to Tresize's ankle before he became too inebriated. He was left in a yard, but was later seen at a saloon, a drink in one hand, the iron ball in the other.
Here are some interesting places in Eagle River today:
• The worn monuments in the rustic EAGLE RIVER CEMETERY attest to the many dangers and accidents that cut short miners' lives. On M-26 south of town.
• DOUGLASS HOUGHTON MONUMENT. Douglass Houghton, Michigan's state geologist and an early Detroit mayor, first drew attention to the Upper Peninsula's mineral riches in combining the region's land survey with a geological survey. In a storm on one such expedition he drowned off the shore of Eagle River. He had ignored the recommendations of his French and Indian guides and decided to continue their canoe trip to keep an engagement. (His dog survived, and so did two guides, who told the story.) This dull monument commemorates his foolhardy death. The side street crosses the river to town and passes the 1874 Eagle River Lighthouse, now a private home, built in from the shore by the river. On a corner on M-26 at the south entrance to Eagle River.
|Sand Hills Lighthouse south of Eagle River. Now a B&B, it's one of the most unusual on the Great Lakes.|
• KEWEENAW COUNTY COURTHOUSE & JAIL. Extensively remodeled in 1925, the courthouse resembles a frame Southern mansion, with massive columns and portico and a fanlight over the door. Inside, you can get a useful map of county highways and byways and, for people with a serious interest in land use planning, a small plat book of the two counties.
Government in this tiny county is an exercise in small-scale thrift and ingenuity. The jail next door, behind the sheriff's pleasant frame house, was temporarily closed for remodeling to bring it up to code so that the tiny county would no longer be forced to pay to transport prisoners considerable distances and jail them at approved facilities. Here prisoners (mostly arrested on alcohol-related charges) still eat good food prepared by the sheriff's wife for family and staff. Where M-26 bends west after the falls and bridge, continue up the hill for one block. (906) 337-2229. Open weekdays.
• EAGLE RIVER FALLS. As you pass over the M-26 bridge across the Eagle River gorge, pull over to the right, walk over onto the old iron bridge, and look upstream for a view of the waterfall rushing down the steep hillside and the ruined dam of the Lake Superior Fuse Company. Downstream, see the dramatic wood arches supporting the new bridge.
• The EAGLE RIVER STORE was built in 1867 as the growing mining village's general store. After housing a string of summer businesses, it is not now open for business. On Main St. at M-26, just east of the Eagle River.
• TOWN BEACH. Just south of the Eagle River Inn and north of the Eagle River mouth is this simple public beach on Lake Superior. At the foot of Main St. Turn at the Eagle River Store and continue down to lake.
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