Michigan Copper and Iron Mining History May 4, 2011Ontonagon County Museum


The Ontonagon County museum houses a variety of eye appealing exhibits based on the county’s unusual heritage. The museum is home to early michigan mining history artifacts, as well as Lake Superior minerals, lighthouse, and maritime historical logs.
The lighthouse, owned by the Ontonagon Historical Society since 2003 has been steadily undergoing renovations is now open to tourists. It is surrounded by the gated grounds of the huge Smurfit-Stone paper mill, which only allows visitors who come on tours conducted by the Ontonagon County Historical Society.
Over the years, south shore currents on Lake Superior have piled up silt so that the lighthouse now sits a quarter of a mile inland. No longer of use for ships on Lake Superior, the light was deactivated in 1963 after an automatic foghorn was installed on the west pier and a battery light was located at the end of the east pier, providing entrance into the Ontonagon harbor and marina.
The lighthouse is furnished with period furnishings obtained by the Historical Society showing visitors what it was like in the early 1900's. The present Ontonagon Lighthouse was built in 1866 to replace the original wooden structure built in 1851-52, one of the earliest lights built on Lake Superior. The Ontonagon Light originally guided sailing vessels into the harbor as they came to pick up copper and lumber from the area and bring much needed supplies. The lighthouse was built "schoolhouse" style, similar to Sand Point Lighthouse in Escanaba and the Copper Harbor Lighthouse, with a cream colored brick that was also used for the Peninsula Point Lighthouse on Lake Michigan. Originally a 1 & 1/2 story rectangular building, an 18" square gallery kitchen was added in 1890.
Along with our tour guide, Bruce Johanson, our group was able to walk through the lighthouse, even up the light tower, and learn all about light keepers and their families. It was a great hands on exhibit and is highly recommended to anyone. -Amber LeClear

Class Photos:
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Replicas of float copper are shown here on display at the Ontonogan County Museum. Also shown in the photo is an old White Pine Mine sign. Photo by Jeff Fisher.

This is a photo taken in the restored Lighthouse at the Ontonagon Museum. The importance of this photo is to demonstrate one occurrence of life without modern technology. This is also closely associated with gender roles at the time and the duties of an everyday household.-Ashley Holloway
This is a photo taken in the restored Lighthouse at the Ontonagon Museum. The importance of this photo is to demonstrate one occurrence of life without modern technology. This is also closely associated with gender roles at the time and the duties of an everyday household.-Ashley Holloway

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The lighthouse owned and maintained by the Ontonagon County Museum, one of the oldest lighthouses on Lake Superior. – David Eggleston

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This is an image of the “washing machine.” This piece of equipment was used by the wife of the light keepers to do laundry. The wife would spin the handle in the front and the bucket and clothes would rotate. Then she would rotate the handle on the side and move the clothes through the “drying” system which is located by the man’s hand. This was a common task for the wife of the light keeper along with making dinner. -Heather Bartels

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This is the Lighthouse at Ontonagon County. The building was built in 1866 out of cream brick and a square light tower at the North end. The light tower is three stories high. Such structure accommodates the lighthouse keeper and his family. Although a small structure the building was a complete house. It has a dining room, a kitchen, a laundry room, and bedrooms very well equipped to make it functional for welfare of the family. -Judith Tellez-G


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- by Jeff Dewaters


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Lake Superior hosted light houses along its shore so boat captains could locate the next location in the horizon. This guided the boats to their destination along a water highway while being close enough to shore if a problem arose. The Ontonagon River was one of the largest south shore rivers that flows into Lake Superior. - Jeff Janofski

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The lighthouse in Ontonagon - Andrew Shaver