Points of Interest in Our Local Area
The Champion Mine was among the largest producing underground mines on the Marquette Iron Range. Geologically, the nature of the deposit is interesting in that it includes about fifty different minerals, including gold, in addition to the various forms of iron ore.
The Humboldt Surface Mine, established in 1951 as a joint venture of Cleveland Cliffs Iron Co. and the Ford Motor Co., was the first integrated beneficiation (froth flotation) and pelletizing plant. The technology developed there provided an important part of the basis for the later Republic, Empire and Tilden Surface Mines, the latter two of which are still in operation. Also, Thomas Edison verified the effectiveness of the magnetic separation process for concentrating magnetite-containing iron ores in a small plant in Humboldt in 1888.
Beacon, located on the hill south of Champion, is the highest elevation village in the State of Michigan. Its name is said to have resulted from the comment that the panoramic view from the top of the No. 3 Shaft House, looking across a wide region including Lake Michigamme with its many islands, the Huron Mountains, and several river valleys, was unmatched in beauty and also served as a beacon of the local mines.
The region has been served by as many as three railroads simultaneously. For several decades there were four depots operating with two in Champion (DSS&A and M&N) and one each in Beacon (C&NW) and Humboldt (DSS&A). Over a period of time in the 1880s there was a train passing the Humboldt Depot every 15 minutes, or less, all day long.
The Iron Range and Huron Bay Railroad that ran from the Champion Mine in Beacon to a dock at Huron Bay east of L’Anse, MI was built between 1890 and 1892 at a cost of $1.3 million dollars. It was a speculative project that never carried one passenger or pound of cargo over its length before it was sold and dismantled in 1901. The grade developed formed much of the current CR 607 and provided important access to the Huron Mountains region.
Much of the local area is forested and managed as timberland. Logging in the local region began with the harvesting of the white pine in the latter 1800s and continued some decades later with the Northern Hardwoods and the pulpwood stands of conifers and aspen. The largest white pine tree cut in the Upper Peninsula came from the Peshekee River area, which was also the site of some of the last river log drives in the Upper Peninsula. On reaching Lake Michigamme those logs were either sawn at the F. W. Read sawmill in Michigamme or the mill on the Champion end of the lake, with a large fraction being sent from the railhead at the east end of Lake Michigamme to large mills in the south central part of the UP near Menominee.
The Champion end of Lake Michigamme has one of the finest sand beaches on an inland lake in the Upper Peninsula. It has served as a “swimming hole” for well over a century. Early development of “Champion Beach” by Champion Township began about 1914, followed a few years later by about forty years during which Marquette County operated the park. Finally, in 1956 it became a Michigan State Park that was formally dedicated as Van Riper State Park in 1964. As early as the 1930s the park commonly hosted 5,000 visitors (including 1,000 or more swimmers) on some weekend days. In recent years the Park has hosted about 10,000 “camp nites” during the camping season from mid-May to mid-November (with an average of 4.5 persons per camping group) and just over 50,000 day use visitors over each year.
Dr. Paul Van Riper served as the Physician for the local area (and often beyond) during 1901 to 1970 from his location in Beacon. He began as Mining Company Doctor for the first decade and continued his practice for most of six decades after the mine closed. During his tenure he delivered about 3,000 babies and attended to the medical needs mostly by means of “house calls” across the area reaching homes on foot, snowshoes, horse and buggy, cutter or sleigh, motorcycle or in an automobile. It was his initiative as Township Supervisor serving on the County Board of Supervisors that led to the establishment and development of the Champion Beach/Van Riper State Park.