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Gold Mining in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula: Old Gold Mine Open As Late As 1937

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This is another in a series of articles about Gold Mines in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula written by my father(James M. Clem) in the early 1960’s and published in the Marquette Mining Journal.

The last time the Michigan mine was actually re-opened was June 27, 1937. A new mill was built and three shafts were run 24 hours until shut down by the federal government.

The primary cause for failure of the Ropes mine, other than the many machinery breakdowns experienced, was the same as that of the Michigan Mine, but it acted in a different way. Because of the lean ore the miners began complaining that a payday twice a month was not sufficient. The running expenses at this time were about $1000 per month. In the early part of July 1897, the miners succeeded in having the mine closed until they had a chance to state their case in justice court on the 27th of July. At this stage of the game, the mine had reached a total of 850 feet with 16 levels, although a report in the Ishpeming paper Oct. 9 1897 said the mine shows a strong vein at the depth of 975 feet. Assays at the 15th level then were from $9 to $12 gold. It was in 1897 that the mine was finally force into receivership. As of this date the mine had produced $647,902.37 in gold and over 10,000 in silver.


Sold at Public Auction

The mine stayed closed until Aug. 12 1898, when work was again resumed to see if the mine would pay. This was primarily at the insistence of Rood, who was general manager of the mine at the time. On Oct.1, 1898, it was found that Rood was right and work was immediately started. The water that has seeped into the mine was pumped out to the 11th level and it was ready for inspection on Jan. 7, 1899. In the early part of February the mine was inspected but the inspectors asked for an additional 6 days. In March they were employing men in the 7th and 11th levels but on Sept. 11 the mine was sold at pulic auction for a meager $7500, even though the value of the property and everything on it was placed at $70,000.

The new owners, the Rand Drill Co. of Chicago, sold the mine the following year for $12,500 to Corrigan-McKinney Co. These people planned to recover gold from the plates in the mill with a cyanide plant. This is a system of capturing gold with a weak solution of Cyanide. The ground ore is placed in a tank containing the cyanide solution and the gold is separated, or precipitated, by contact with metallic zinc. They had two tanks with a capacity of 11 tons each. From this they realized a profit of $30,000 without tailings of which there were 150,000 tons said to average about $4 a ton but obtained only about $1.50 because of high cost of processing. Altogether they recovered $54,949.38. There were going to start reworking the mine but became involved in a lawsuit with Rood who owned the land adjoining the Ropes mine, over working some of the tailings that had run onto Roods land, so operations halted.

Dismantling Begun

On Oct. 24 1914, a wrecking company, the Trebilcock Brothers, who had purchased the remaining 24 buildings, began dismantling. It was reported they made more money from gold they recovered in and around the buildings that they made from the sale of lumber.

In 1927 some Ishpeming men, through exploration on the property around the Ropes mine, proved there was sufficient gold so that an organizations called the Ishpeming Gold Mining Co. was formed in 1932. They were incorporated for $500,000 but nothing noticeable happened.

Almost Completely Forgotten

Then as late as 1937 the Ropes mine was considered for reopening by the Calumet and Hecla Consolidated Copper Co., the new owners, but here again fate stepped in. This time it was the federal government, the same as at the Michigan Mine, whose policy regarding gold mines, during World War II, prevented operation simply to save manpower, to release miners to work in copper mines where they were drastically needed. Today there is no gold mining being done in Michigan and the famous old mines have almost been completely forgotten. At the Ropes mine there is a battered rusty sign that was put up for tourists about 1927 and is now bullet pocked and hardly visible. There are great holes in the ground all over the area with wire fences and warning signs posted. At the main shaft there still remains a high tower of heavy timbers that supports a large pulley that was used to raise the ore.

Copper and Iron

Copper and Iron

No interest In Gold

Because of the tremendous amounts of copper and iron that is still mined in Michigan there is no interest in gold. That that there is still gold in the area to be profitably mined is of no doubt in my mind, because of may facts I have uncovered. At the Ropes Mine, for instance, the original and richest gold find by Ropes, was in a swamp 600 feet to the east of the main shaft. Never yet has there been a shaft sank here because they feared water which would be no problem with modern machinery.

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All through the files of the newspapers of Marquette and Ishpeming you can find reports that insist the mines never had a chance that was fair and it was criminal not to have given them an honest chance to pay.

Klondike Gold rush

Klondike Gold rush

Paralleled the Yukon Rush

Just before the Ropes mine was closed down because of labor troubles it was reported that the ore was beginning to run 75 percent richer than it ever had and Ropes himself found ore at the bottom of the mine that showed free gold and assayed at over $150. This was at the 15th level. The mine stayed closed for 13 months and during this time filled up with enough water so that when it was inspected to see if it would pay the inspectors never got below the 11th level.

All the big mining money was being put into copper and iron mine speculation and for this reason none of the smaller mining companies interested in gold, had or could raise, enough money to really handle a gold mine properly. Some of them didn’t even have enough money to buy a pump to keep the water out. They all hope to strike enough gold quick enough to make up for their small capitol.

Very little gold prospecting was done except in the limited areas near the Ropes Mine, yet Ropes said that seeking gold in the vast area north and west of Ishpeming will tax the energies of hundreds for years to come. You must remember though that this period paralleled the Yukon gold rush and most of the full time prospectors headed for Alaska.

Gold has also been known to be found in some of the many rivers flowing out of the hills, yet here again there was very little prospecting and as far back as 1848 Houghton hinted a gold source was the Chocolay River. I have found gold bearing quartz, rich with free gold, near here and at this same place the black sand, which is known to be gold bearing, sparkled with gold flakes. Some of the samples I have found are now at the Marquette County Historical Society and are in a showcase along with samples taken from the Ropes Mine when it was at its peak. Even more startling to me is the fact that the place where I found the gold was never mentioned as a gold bearing location.

Another interesting fact is that the in north part of Marquette, while grading a street, a large quartz vein was encountered and found to contain gold. It was talked about and tested slightly, but not thoroughly, then forgotten. This was in about 1884.

I am new in the Upper Peninsula and my accidental gold find started me in the research that led to this article. Very little had ever been written concerning the gold here and it amazes me that so little is known about it, evn by the people who have always lived here. They have gold at hand but nothing is done about it.

The possibilities of a great tourist trade in exploiting the old gold mines are excellent if a little money were spent to dress up the mines, but they are left to fade out of existence.

What is going to be done about the gold that still lies in these hills and abandoned mines is a question no one can answer but it is my hope that this article has stirred enough interest to cause some honest investigation. Who knows? The richest gold field in the world may be lying in these hills, waiting for someone to discover it.


jimmar (author) from Michigan on January 07, 2014:

Thanks for reading and voting up. I wanted to preserve what my father had written about these mines by creating this series of hubs. I can remember exploring the old Ropes mine with my father when I was a child. We actually found bits of silver and quartz with traces of gold by poking around in the piles of tailings. I've always wanted to go back and try some panning in the those rivers. Who knows?

John R Wilsdon from Superior, Arizona on January 07, 2014:

This is great reading for a gold prospector. I have no doubt that there are places like Michigan in this country where many ounces of gold lay untouched for one reason or another. And, I am not so sure it would be that hard to recover. Stories like these about the history of mines are irresistible to read. Thanks, and voted up.

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