Michigan Roadside Attractions: Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum, Ishpeming
Michigan Roadside Attractions is a periodic feature on Travel the Mitten that will explore the many interesting things that can be found on the highways, byways and back roads of Michigan, ranging from the interesting to unusual.
Mining in the Ishpeming area dates back to the 1860s, when the Iron Cliffs Company started mining at this site. A Michigan historical marker at nearby Lake Bancroft Park gives a brief history of the mine: “Opened by the Iron Cliffs Co. in 1879, the mine was acquired by the present owner, the Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Co., in 1891. The Cliffs Shaft was the nations largest producer of hard specular hematite, a type of iron ore. Over twenty-six million tons were mined and since 1887 ore was shipped every year but one. The mine was also one of the largest of Michigan iron mines, its sixty-five miles of tunnels running under most of Ishpeming and plunging to a depth of 1358 feet. As late as the 1930s, there were eight iron mines in Ishpeming. The Cliffs Shaft was the last of these, and its closing in 1967 marked the end of an era.”
Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum now operates at this site, with mining artifacts, historical photographs, equipment, rock and mineral samples and more. The complex consists of several buildings, including the obelisk-style headframes that date back to 1919 and the first Koep hoist (pictured above) in the western hemisphere. Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum is one of the main attractions on the Iron Ore Heritage Trail, a 47-mile multi-use trail that runs from Marquette to Republic (see our Photo Gallery Friday: Michigan Iron Industry Museum post to check out another great stop along the trail).
The lawn area features a wide range of larger mining equipment on display, as well as three plaques that give historical information on the area’s miners. One plaque tells visitors more about Italians on the Marquette Iron Range, noting that “by 1910 there were 1,251 Italians on the range. As the years passed some of them moved into the service industry operating groceries, bakeries, restaurants and taverns.” Another plaque honors Swedes on the Iron Range, who were recruited to help replace Irish workers who had moved West to work in open pit mines.
The Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum is located at 501 W. Euclid St. You can keep up to date with current hours and events on their Facebook page. Some other great things to check out in Ishpeming are the “Old Ish” statue downtown, Black River Falls south of town, and Da Yoopers Tourist Trap on US-41.