Wednesday, April 17, 2013


As I'm sitting here in the Portage Lake Library in Houghton looking across the canal at the smelter, the water is open and the snow is beginning its meltdown.  This would be the start of the shipping season with lots of copper ingots to send out.  

There are the pilings of the dock sticking out of the water where ships and lake boats tied up to get their cargo.  The warehouse next to the dock had lots of the copper smelted during the winter.  The warehouse is the large wood structure on the east end of the site.  It also was where the workers cleaned up on the 2nd floor after their shifts.  

Originally, copper ingots were packed in wooden barrels made by the smelter's cooperage shop.  This would have been in the twilight years of sailing ships and the emergence of the lake boats we know today.

Presumably, the ingots would have been hoisted and tightly packed into the holds (as the cargo storage area is known) of the ships.  If you've been on a small boat or ship,  you know how much everything can shift around.  If the cargo got loose or they had just piled the ingots loose in there, it could have capsized or torn a hole in the hull during a storm.  The copper went to foundries in cities along the other Great Lakes to be turned into wire, cooking utensils and many other products.  

And this was also the time when the coal ships came in.  More later...

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