Hunts' Guide to The Upper Peninsula

 
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LAURIUM

Region: Keweenaw Peninsula

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While Calumet was the business center of the northern Keweenaw mining range, its sister city of Laurium just across U.S. 41 developed more as a bedroom community of miners and higher-ups, with a smaller business district. Some tree-shaded blocks are lined with fine old mansions built by mining officials and prosperous merchants and bankers. Laurium was platted by a minor mining company of the same name, borrowed from a famous mining site in ancient Greece. Most of the town has simpler homes. The company housing nearby is mostly outside the village limits. Neighborhoods and locations of miners' homes had no sidewalks and no lawn extensions or yards for planting trees.
Downtown Laurium
Laurium's downtown, dead today compared with Calumet's. Yet the finest homes around here are in Laurium, not Calumet.

The main street, Hecla, has a fine red sandstone village hall, re-faced from its original brick fa'ade in 1914. Originally Osceola Street was the village's main thoroughfare. But late in the 19th century the Palace Hotel and assorted stores were built on less expensive Hecla Street. After the turn of the century Hecla began to rival Calumet's main commercial boulevard, Fifth Street. There were once three banks on Hecla, several hotels, and the sizable Vivian's department store, now the local hospital's fitness center, at Hecla and Fourth.

Yard Sale
A downtown Laurium anchor, the Yard Sale has several rooms stuffed with a vast variety of used stuff from local families and businesses, some of it antiques.

But Laurium's glory days began to fade with the bitter 1913 miners' strike. Its population once neared 9,000. But the turmoil of the strike prompted a sizable number of residents to move to Detroit, where Ford was paying $5 a day. In the aftermath of that long, slow decline, Laurium has become a commercial backwater compared to downtown Calumet. At Hecla and Third, The Yard Sale (906-337-5012), a well-organized resale store open Monday-Saturday 10-5 and occasional Sunday hours, has taken advantage of the inexpensive space and built a thriving business in two buildings on opposite corners of Hecla at Third. Yard Sale furniture and many, many LP records occupy the former bank space.

The entire village of Laurium is now on the National Register of Historic Places - from rooming houses to grand mansions, thanks to a lot of hard work from Julie Sprenger of the Laurium Manor. A grant from the Americana Foundation paid for a historic architecture survey to evaluate Laurium buildings for their contribution to the village's historic character. Now if the owner of any building deemed "contributing" invests in historic renovation/restoration façade and exterior work approved by the State Historic Preservation Office, he or she can get up to a 25% tax credit for the work.

Just east of downtown, along Tamarack, Pewabic, and Iroquois streets between Second and Fourth, is a lovely, settled, neighborhood of homes built around 1900. These were built with style and comfort to compensate mine managers for the hardships of living in this remote region. Some of these houses are quite grand, with rear carriage houses, low red sandstone walls along the street, and sweeping stair halls with large stained-glass windows (if they haven't been removed by the old-house strippers who came through the area several decades ago). More beautiful stained glass is around town in various churches, like the Methodist church on the 300 block of Kearsarge and the Baptist church at 26016 Depot (the western extension of Third).

For a takeout picnic, you can pick up pasties and other baked goods at Toni's Country Kitchen on Third at Kearsarge, and walk two blocks east to the pleasant, shady DANIELL PARK on the corner of Third and Pewabic. Free Thursday-evening summer concerts featuring an interesting variety of top local talent take place in the band shell here at 7 o'clock. On the northeast corner of this intersection stands one of the most sophisticated of the area's grand historic mansions, the 1898 Vivian House, built of red sandstone and shingles in the horizontal, asymmetrical Shingle Style.

The Laurium Manor Inn at 320 Tamarack is the showy mansion built in 1908 by a local investor in copper mines after he struck it rich in Bisbee, Arizona. Today the Hoatson house is a bed and breakfast inn. Interested people can take a self-guided tour between 11 and 5; the $5 book about the house makes the tour even more interesting.

The house's huge columns and white paint make it look like a Southern plantation house, but a look inside reveals that its design influences reflect that period when Victorian or Queen Anne was transitioning into Arts & Crafts. Its interiors today reflect the work owners Julie and Dave Sprenger have done in researching the house's original look and approximating it with original colors (olives, golds, and browns) and appropriate furniture. Tours, daily from 11 to 5, cost $5 for adults, $3 for children and students. Money goes to replace the stained glass window on the grand staircase, which a previous owner had removed and sold.

At the edge of this neighborhood, where Tamarack joins Lake Linden Road/M-26, the George Gipp Memorial commemorates Laurium's most famous native son, better known as The Gipper. The Notre Dame football star fictionalized deathbed scene gave Ronald Reagan his most memorable role. The memorial is made entirely of football-shaped fieldstones. Take time to read the interesting historical markers written by Gerald Vairus, a Notre Dame alum in Copper Country. (—April, 2008)

Northwest of stately Pewabic Street, fans of old houses may also enjoy seeking out the Paul Roehm House at 101 Willow at First. Roehm was "the region's preeminent stonemason and supplier," according to architectural historian Kathryn Eckert in Buildings of Michigan, He used Jacobsville sandstone here in his own 1896 house, a picturesque, simplified version of H.H. Richardson's Romanesque Revival.

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