CHAMPION, BEACON AND HUMBOLDT
By 1870 the total population of our communities reached 2,000 and grew to nearly 3,000 by the early 1890s. The Marquette and Ontonagon Railroad came to the area in 1865 and shipping of iron ore from local mines began at that time. There were ultimately about thirty active underground iron ore mines in our area of which thirteen were notable shippers of iron ore. For example, the Washington Mine in Humboldt shipped 1.1 million tons of ore over the periods 1865-1892 and 1908-1917. The largest of the local underground mines was the Champion Mine (located in Beacon on the hill south of Champion) that shipped a total of just over 7 million tons during 1867-1912 and 1949-1967. Generally, the ore shipped from these two mines was of high quality and grade, commonly containing more than 60 percent iron, and much of it was hard ore, specular hematite and magnetite. More recently, means for concentrating lower grade ores were developed. The Humboldt Surface Mine operated over 1953-1972 and produced about a million tons of iron ore concentrate by means of froth flotation up to 1959. In the subsequent years the mine shipped over 10 million tons of concentrated iron ore pellets from the first integrated plant for ore concentration and pelletizing operated in the state of Michigan.
Logging began in the area with the cutting of white pine in the late 1870s and then transitioned to the northern hardwoods and pulpwood in the early 1900s. One of the last white pine log drives in the Upper Peninsula took place on the Peshekee River north of Lake Michigamme. Logging is still a large scale activity in the region.
Agriculture involved mainly subsistence farming, particularly in Humboldt. However, for several decades significant commercial potato farming took place on Black Hill in northern Champion, such as that done by the Delongchamp and Hamel families.
By the end of the 1880s the area was served by three railroads largely because of its location at the junction of the E-W and N-S rail lines. Among the railroads operating at that time were the Duluth South Shore and Atlantic (DSS&A) running east and west, and from the south the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific (CMStP&P) and the Chicago and North Western (C&NW).
Finally, a major attraction in the area for about a century has been what is now Van Riper State Park centered on the beautiful natural sand beach at the east end of Lake Michigamme. It began as Champion Beach where the local folks swam, then was a very popular park operated by Marquette County for almost forty years, and ultimately in 1956 became a State Park that was formally dedicated to Dr. Paul Van Riper in 1964. Dr. Van Riper served as the physician for folks in the local area and beyond for almost seventy years.