Hunts' Guide to The Upper Peninsula

Cliffs Shaft Mining Museum

Cliff Mine
Named the "Barnum" when first drilled in the 1870s, this became the legendary "Cliff" and was worked until 1967, the longest operation of an iron mine in the world.

Mining retirees and aficionados have created a museum space in the light-filled space of the former Cleveland Cliffs Iron "dry" building. Here miners donned their helmets before going down into the mine and cleaned up afterwards. It is right next to the two obelisk shaft houses that mark Ishpeming's skyline.

The centerpiece is the CLIFFS SHAFT MINING MUSEUM, a grassroots organization made up of enthusiastic former miners, mine managers, and other volunteers, eager to share their history with others. They are still in the process of gathering many thought-provoking artifacts. They have moved a huge production truck from CCI's open pit mine to the museum site.

In 1919 the old head frames of the Cliff shafts were replaced by the now iconic obelisks, designed by a famous architect ot the time named Maher.

In meticulously creating the large model of the Cliffs Shaft Mine as it was in 1960, modelmaker Mark Dryer even diecast his own cars. A working forge might be demonstrated. Some weekends a volunteer shows a rock saw in action.
Many exhibits change each year, depending on area events and on the interests of museum members. A huge truck used in the open pit is the latest addition to the museum's growing collection.

The underground tour goes into the access tunnel to the shaft, where the cage took miners deep underground. Most tour guides have actually worked in this mine, so they can field questions from first-hand experience. A number of them are in their 70s and 80s, so they speak from long experience. If you're lucky enough to get former mine inspector and mining historian Leo LaFond as your guide, you're in for a wealth of interesting information, such as the sinking of parts of Negaunee from undermining.

The tour incorporates some dramatic stories, especially the details of the Barnes-Hecker mine disaster west of Ishpeming, when water entered the mine and 51 men lost their lives - the worst single disaster in Michigan mining history. The Cliffs Shaft tour would be of great interest to people who already knew something about mining - enough to ask good questions and put into perspective the many comments, mining details, and terms like "hydrostatic pressure" tossed off by the very knowledgeable tour guide.

The museum opened in 2002, and it's still a work in progress, but there's already a lot to look at, in addition to taking a tunnel tour (not an underground shaft) of this famous mine. Signage about worker safety has been left in place from when the famous Cliffs Shaft mine closed in 1967, ending 99 years of production.

THE ISHPEMING ROCK & MINERAL CLUB along with the museum have filled many display cases in the main exhibit area with specimens of a quality to impress any rockhound. Surrounded by mining relics and rock piles, kids who grew up in the area developed a natural interest in rocks and minerals as they roamed around their neighborhoods in mining locations. So Ishpeming has serious collectors who have never been near a college geology course. The club's literature publicizes collecting expeditions open to all. To be informed of their numerous collecting trips, join for $10 a person and get on e-mail list.

For anyone interested in Ishpeming history, the ISHPEMING HISTORICAL SOCIETYcertainly an interesting place to poke around. Sometimes the room is staffed. Visitors who are only interested in local history and genealogy can be admitted free by telling the desk volunteer that that is the purpose of their visit

The Cliffs Shaft Mine created a large component of CCI's wealth. Today it is "the best preserved, most complete example of an underground mining site. . . in the Upper Peninsula," wrote mining historian and professor William Mulligan, a former area resident, in his interesting paper for a mining history symposium, found at "It was the largest and longest-operating underground, direct-shipping, hard ore mine in the . . . United States. . . . Its hard, specular hematite ore [had so many desirable qualities] that for many years it was the bench mark against which ore prices were set."

The "lens" of ore here, one mile by two miles, went under all of Ishpeming. Fortunately the rock structure was so hard that no cave-ins occurred in Ishpeming, as they did in Negaunee. A lot of ore is still there, but the mine was abandoned because as the mine went deeper, operating costs increased for many aspects of mining. It cost more to lift ore to the surface, pump out water, and move miners. By 1967 the mining industry had developed the technology to mine low-grade ores in open pits like the Tilden and Empire mines and turn them into concentrated, easily shippable taconite pellets, and CCI ceased operating underground mines.
The museum is on Euclid at Lake Shore, just south of Lake Bancroft on the west side of Ishpeming. From U.S. 41, turn south onto Lake Shore at the stoplight by McDonald's, and turn left onto Euclid just past the lake. From downtown Ishpeming, take Division west to Lake Shore, go north to Euclid just south of the lake, turn right and park. (906) 485-1882. Open from Mem. Day weekend thru Sept. Tues-Sat noon to 5. Adults $5, ages 13-18 $3, 12 and under free. Wheelchair access: all rooms and exhibits in the dry house, but not currently the tunnel.
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Return to Ishpeming

Downtown Ishpeming. Unusual historic buildings house a large antiques store, a longstanding outdoors store, a classic Italian grocery, a specialty homebuilders' store with an upstairs gallery of art and home accessories, and a vintage Carnegie library ... more

Tilden/Empire Iron Mine Tour. This highly populr tour of the vast open-pit iron mine and taconite processing plant shows industry on an awesome scale. ... more

Cliffs Shaft Mining Museum. See where miners dressed, walked through tunnel to cages to be lowered down in mine. Retired miners tell tales of work life, cave-ins, tragic accidents. Engaging mine model, artifacts, mineral specimens from Ishpeming Rock & Mineral Club. ... more

Lake Bancroft Park. In dramatic surroundings, you can picnic while enjoying good views of Ishpeming and its monumental mining headframes ... more

Jasper Knob, Cliffs Cottage and vicinity. Climb a huge outcrop of deep-red Michigan jasper (“the world's largest gemstone”) and get a nice view of Ishpeming's southeast side ... more

Country Garden Quilts. Formerly an anchor of the Michigamme cluster of shops, this nifty quilt shop on the highway features bright, upbeat fabric colors ... more

U.S. National Ski Hall of Fame & Museum. In a ski jump-shaped building, the story is told of how U.S. skiing developed from a minor sport brought by Scandinavians, enhanced by Hollywood, Sun Valley, and the illustrious WWII ski assault team ... more

Artisans Gallery & Clay Studio. A working pottery studio and quality crafts gallery showing U. P. pottery, painting, weaving, wood, and glass works ... more

Da Yoopers Tourist Trap & Museum. The roadside attraction from a popular satirical U.P. comedy group combines free outdoor exhibits like the world's largest chain saw and deer playing cards at deer camp with Yooper novelties, books, and a good rock shop ... more

Al Quaal Recreation Area. This woodsy 300-acre city park offers a 1,200-foot iced toboggan run and swimming on Teal Lake ... more

Our new interactive map to U.P. motels that offer exceptionally low rates. See also our useful detailed maps to U.P. TOWNS. These custom-made maps locate landmarks and attractions.
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Michigan's Upper Peninsula - Hunts' Guide to the U.P.

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