Iron Mountain was first settled in about 1880 and reached its heyday soon after, when vast deposits of iron were discovered underfoot. The Chapin Mine—located near present-day U.S. 2 and Kent Avenue on the north end of downtown—helped boost the town’s population to almost 8,000 by 1890. Italian immigrants led the melting-pot mix working at the Chapin Mine, and Italian neighborhoods still thrive around the old mine on Iron Mountain’s north side—as evidenced by a mouthwatering supply of Italian restaurants and corner markets.
The long-abandoned Chapin Mine still serves an important role, this time as a magnet for brown bats. An estimated two million bats winter in the shaft, protected from predators yet able to enter and exit freely, thanks to bat-friendly grates installed at the mine entrance. As the weather turns cool (usually sometime in September), the bats congregate all around Iron Mountain before retreating to the mine, an amazing sight.
While iron mining seems to dominate the city’s psyche, Henry Ford added to the economic mix in the 1920s, when he bought up huge tracts of nearby forest and built his first company sawmill on land southwest of town, which he dubbed Kingsford (named for Iron Mountain’s Ford dealer, Edward Kingsford). Soon Ford’s Kingsford empire included the main plant for making floorboards for the Model T, residential developments for workers, an airport, a refinery, even a plant to make newfangled charcoal briquettes. All of it eventually closed or was sold off, including the briquette plant, which relocated to Oakland, California, and still manufactures the ever-popular Kingsford charcoal briquettes.
Iron Mountain’s Chapin Mine once led Menominee Range mining production, but was also one of the wettest mines ever worked. In 1893, an immense steam-operated pump was put to work, a 54-foot-high, 725-ton behemoth—the largest in the world at the time. Though electric pumps replaced it just 20 years later, the pump survives intact at the Cornish Pump and Mining Museum (300 Kent St., Iron Mountain, 906/774-1086, www.menomineemuseum.com, 9 a.m.–5 p.m. Mon.–Sat., noon–4 p.m. Sun. Memorial Day–Labor Day, $2).
Along with the impressive pump, this comprehensive museum includes a good-sized collection of mining equipment, photos, and clothing; a small theater; and, arguably the most compelling display of all, the story of the World War II gliders built by Henry Ford’s nearby Kingsford plant, used to quietly deploy troops behind enemy lines.
by Laura Martone from Moon Michigan, 3rd Edition, © Avalon Travel