Ontonagon County


Size: 1316 Square Miles
Elevation: 600-1800 Feet
Physiography: Lake-border Plains, hilly uplands
Growing Season: 60-120 days
Annual Precipitation: 31-35 inches
Average Snowfall: 110-180 inches
Forest Type: Aspen-Birch, Maple-Hemlock
Fall Colors: Late September

Ontonagon River played a major role for explorers, missionaries and Indians. In 1843 the first white was at the mouth of the Ontonagon River. On the river was found in 1830 a huge copper rock known as the Ontonagon Boulder. This boulder is now at the Smithsonian Institution in Washington DC. A lot of mines were opened but didn't do that well. Most prospectors left in 1849 for California. The lumbering industry at that time was destroyed by a fire in 1896. Slowly the lumbering production came back.

A Brief History of Ontonagon

Legend says Ontonagon (Nantaonagon) is derived from the Chippewa Indian Language meaning "Lost Bowl". A young Indian girl washing dishes at the mouth of the river, had a bowl swept away by the current.

Although there is speculation of men working the copper hills of Ontonagon County as long as 4000 years ago, the first Europeans recorded visiting the Ontonagon Country was in the 1600's when the French trappers came into the area. In 1765 a English fur trader named Alexander Henry visited the region and found large masses of copper. The next year he again visited the Ontonagon area and the Indians showed him a solid mass of copper weighing an estimated 5 tons. In 1771 Henry in search of the mother lode which the Copper Boulder came from organized the first mining venture in Ontonagon County. When the venture failed Henry wrote in his journal "The copper-ores of Lake Superior can never be profitably sought for but for local consumption."

In 1843 James K. Paul removed the Copper Boulder from its resting place and brought it to the mouth of the Ontonagon River. In a dispute over ownership he was paid $1365 for his efforts. He
purchased a stock of whiskey and opened the Deadfall Saloon at
the mouth of the river, thus founding the Village of Ontonagon. The Copper Boulder which weighed 3,702 pounds is now in the Smithsonian Institute in Washington D.C.

The word was out about the abundance of copper in the hills 12 miles south of the river mouth. As mining ventures begin in the copper hills the Village of Ontonagon, as the only outlet for the copper to market, boomed. Ontonagon was named the county seat for Ontonagon County, formed in 1848, which encompassed much of what is now Gogebic County. In the 1850's, at the height of the copper boom, the Village of Ontonagon reached a population of 6,000. The Minnesota mine which operated near Rockland 1846-1865 paid out millions of dollars in dividends.
By the 1880's the copper boom had gone bust. Ontonagon County would again find prosperity in one of its natural resources, the vast stands of giant white pine. Over the next two decades millions of board feet of lumber were cut and shipped to markets in the big cities to the south. With the logging came the development of the South end of the county. Ewen became a large boom town rivaling Ontonagon for the county seat. One can still see some stands of White Pine and virgin hardwoods hiking in the Porcupine Mountain State Park.

Over the years Ontonagon County has survived with mining and the forest product industry. Today Ontonagon County again relies
much on one of its natural resources, its beauty, as tourism becomes a very important part of the County's economy. Each year millions of visitors come to Ontonagon county for many recreation and tourist activities.

Ontonagon County is broken up into 11 different townships.  For specific information on the individual townships please click on any of the following for more information concerning government offices and population stats.

Carp Lake

2000 Census Figures for Ontonagon County

Population Males Females 65+ under 5 over 18
7818 3961 3857 1690 341 6241