History of Historic South Range
While the beginning of South Range was officially platted in 1902 by the Wheal Kate Mining Company, the history of the south range of the Michigan copper range actually begins many years prior. In the mid to late 1800s, Slovenia, Finland, England, and Italy were mired deep in poverty. Rebellion broke out in the 1860 and 70s and left large areas of Slovenia ravaged. Then in 1895, a large earthquake struck the area around the major city of Ljubljana, leaving much of the area devastated. Many immigrated to Trimountain, Michigan and the men began to work in the mines of Trimountain.
Rich Religious History
When the Slovenes arrived in America, they were primarily Catholic people. Shortly after the Protestant Reformation in Europe, many of the Slovenes joined the Protestant Church, but the Hapsburgs were committed to the Holy Roman Empire, and with the help of the Jesuit order, the Protestants were eliminated, either by forced removal or murdered. After a period, the people joined the Catholic Church, and by the time immigration to America occurred, several generations of Catholics adhered to the Catholic Church. Catholicism was a strong bond in the Slovene community in the range area, and Catholic Churches were built both in South Range and in Painesdale. Holy Rosary, which anchored one end of the main streets in South Range, burned down but was rebuilt and today still stands and serves the Catholic community of the entire Range area. The Elementary School anchors the west end of Trimountain Ave in South Range.
South Range is the only town in Adams Township that is in the census records with a separate recorded population. All of the other communities are recorded together in Adams Township. South Range, in 1910, according to the census, had 1,097 people. As the mines in the area expanded, the population of South Range rose to 1435. By the time the depression hit in 1930, the population had dropped to 1,120 and has dropped to the present number in 2010 of 758. South Range was the center of life for the four communities of the south range. Baltic, Trimountain, Painesdale, and South Range constituted almost the entire population of Adams Township. Atlantic Mine, also part of Adams Township, was separated from the major population and was closer to the population center of Houghton.
South Range and the surrounding communities had a large population of people from Slovenia. Along with many of the Slovenia families that settled in the community, many Italians were also located in the area. In Painesdale, there is a little community called “Little Italy” that still has some remnants of grapevines and flowers unique to Italy that were brought over by the newly arrived immigrants. The entire area was built around the mines of the Baltic range and the Campion Mines along the ridge just south of Trimountain and Painesdale. The last mine of the Campion Mines closed in 1967.
The Immigrants of Finland in the early 1900s and were primarily involved in agriculture, though several of the men also worked in the mines in the south range area. Like many Finish families, they were either strongly religious and committed to either the Apostolic Lutheran Church or to the mainline Lutheran Church. Both religious groups have their churches located in South Range and in Painesdale.
The major ethnic groups in the south range communities were primarily Finnish, Slovene, Italian, and some French and a few English. Each ethnic community tended to congregate together based upon their language barriers. As a result, besides local churches that catered to the different language groups, there were also fraternal organizations that developed. The Finish population developed around the Kaleva epic poem and formed the Kaleva Temple, which was completed in 1910, according to Clarence Monette’s book South Range on pages 92-98. The Temple housed many groups and was dedicated to education. The Finnish Temperance Hall was also built in 1905 for the purpose of advancing the groups’ spiritual efforts of the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran Church, a reform movement to address the problems of alcoholism within the Lutheran Church in Finland and carried over to America. Even to this day, the Finnish Apostolic Lutheran movement strongly advocates for an alcohol-free lifestyle. The Knights of Kaleva stressed the preservation of the Finnish literary tradition. Finlandia University in Hancock today continues to carry its cultural influence and continues to have an interactive relationship with Finland.
South Range has long enjoyed parades and has loved to celebrate the national holidays. The Fraternal Order of Eagles and the American Legion have longed played roles in the South Range community, contributing to the military history and tradition of the range communities. They established a war memorial just outside the Post Office and Jeffers High School in Painesdale. (See insert in war memorials) The Fourth of July has been especially raucous with drinking and dancing and parades. During the prohibition era, there were many underground alcohol distilleries. The federal agents were continually seeking to bust up these illegal operations.
Edward Siller, had an orchestra that played in the South Range area, much to the delight of the residents, also owned the Painesdale Hotel.
Today South Range looks very different as the State Highway Department re-routed M-26 away from the main part of town in an effort to eliminate all the infamous and dangerous S-curves. While they created a beautiful new road, the main street of South Range looks empty without the M-26 traffic. Today, the elementary school stands at the West end of the town, and the Catholic Church stands at the East end of town. In between, few businesses are open. The bank and the fire hall are still open. The many bars that used to line the main street are nearly all boarded up or torn down. The Cozy Corner is remodeled, but nothing like the belly-up bar it was famous for. The Eagles Hall remains open for dancing at times. The Lutheran Church on M-26 remains a vibrant community. The Apostolic Church is still thriving. But the community of South Range today is a sleeping community for the community of Houghton. Most of the buildings are unused, and many are in serious disrepair.
The Wheal Kate Mining Company, which was organized in 1851 by Walter W. Palmer and Dr. S.S. Walbank for the purpose of mining copper and to “acquire, hold, and dispose of real estate,” never developed a successful mine, but did end up selling much real estate. Today, the name “Whealkate” is primarily known for the 1,500-foot-high bluff, which continually is a challenge for snowmobilers and dirt bikes, and four-wheelers to conquer. Every year, competitions are held to see if a person can climb the hill and just how fast it can be done. Few make it, but there are always winners.