Railroads in L'Anse History

The Very First Railroad is Built to L'Anse

In 1872 the Marquette, Houghton, and Ontonagon Railroad built a railroad that reached L'Anse from the Marquette area. We then read that this same railroad then constructed a very impressive iron ore dock in L'Anse. So why did the Marquette, Houghton, and Ontonagon Railroad invest so much money at this point in history?

This initial phase of railroads within L'Anse History needs placement into a broader picture of the time's history. Since the mid-1840s, two major mining explorations took place, with L'Anse being right in the center of the experience. To the east of L'Anse, the great iron ore discoveries and mining explorations on the Marquette Iron Range were developing very quickly.  To the northwest of L'Anse, the extensive copper ore discoveries and mining explorations and development were vigorously expanding.  

The problem of moving all this ore from the mining shafts to the rock crushers and the smelting plants was itself daunting.  The mining companies' problem of moving the product to the industries at the southern ends of the Great Lakes – along the south shore of Lake Michigan in northern Indiana and on Lake Erie's south shores in Ohio and Pennsylvania, needed drastic solutions.  Transportation was crucial, especially since Lake Superior was closed for 3-6 months out of the year due to ice.

While steamers on the Great Lakes were necessary, the transportation of all material, including the merchandise that the miners and supporting communities would need, could not always guarantee the supplies getting through before winter set in to prevent starvation during the long northern winter months. 

Besides the logistical issues of transporting merchandise and ores to and from the mining shafts to the rock crushers and smelters, another significant event happened four years prior in Marquette. Sawyer (1911) reported:

The ore docks of the Iron Mountain Railroad in Marquette and of the Marquette and Ontonagon Railroad were destroyed in the Great Fire of 1868.  The merchandise dock of the Marquette and Ontonagon Railroad also burned. (p 412)

Other interests at this same time were preparing to build a line from Ontonagon to Lake Michigamme via L'Anse. This group succeeded in forming the Houghton & Ontonagon Railroad during January of 1870, and there ensued many legal battles between this company and the Marquette and Ontonagon Railroad. While the two railroads were involved in these legal actions, they were already building the rail lines towards L'Anse.  Each railroad worked on separate portions and together completed the railway to L'Anse by the end of 1871.  Monette (1993) reported that the two railroads resolved their legal conflicts in May of 1872 by "consolidating as the Marquette, Houghton & Ontonagon Railroad."  (p. 10)

About the year 1870, attention focused on L'Anse as the best, safest, and most beautiful harbor on the north end of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan.   

Impact of the Marquette, Houghton, and Ontonagon Railroad upon L'Anse.

The L'Anse High School Senior Class of 1922 published a history paper that caught the impact of the new railroad on the L'Anse community.

In 1871 the Marquette, Houghton, and Ontonagon Railroad was built. With this and the other advantages of the place [L'Anse], the prospects were so promising that people rushed in here from all parts of the county in anticipation of the future wealth that would come of the investment. So intense became the excitement that large houses were loaded on scows and floated thirty or forty miles to this point; people could not wait to build. In 1871 the railroad was completed.  In July, a settlement (L'Anse) was platted by S. L. Smith, Charles H. Palmer, and Captain James Bendry.  Several hundred inhabitants flocked in with the hope that this town would become of considerable importance and possibly a rival of Marquette. The first hotel to be established in L'Anse was the L'Anse House, in 1871, by Samuel Lloyd. A stone foundation fronting Main street was built and the house placed upon it. The Lake Linden House was moved here from Lake Linden in 1872 by Prosper Roberts. (pgs. 10-11)

After completing the railway to L'Anse, in 1872, the Marquette, Houghton, and Ontonagon Railroad built the iron ore dock at the head of Keweenaw Bay. The Senior Class Paper (1922) described some of the details about this ore dock. 

A large freight and ore dock was built by the railroad company in 1872, which had eighty-three pockets with a capacity of six thousand, six hundred tons. The iron ore was hauled by rail from the mines of Ishpeming and Negaunee. The cars were taken out on the dock, the ore dropped into the chutes and slid into the holds of the big boats, which came to take the ore away. (p. 11)

While the L'Anse community was excited by the new buildings, the new railroad, and the new iron ore dock, the Panic of 1873 happened.  The Panic ended many dreams, and the entire economy of the nation skidded to a halt. The Panic's cause was due to a lack of money in circulation, not just in the United States but also throughout Europe. The Marquette Iron Range returned to using the rebuilt ore docks in Marquette destroyed in the 1868 fires. 

The iron ore dock in L'Anse never really was utilized to its full potential even though, as Sawyer (1911) noted: 

The discovery of iron ore in Baraga County in 1872, about the time that the stone quarries were opened, increased the hopes of the promoters of L'Anse.  The most westerly mine on the magnetic range was called the Spurr, which was operated by the Spurr Mountain Mining Company and opened in September 1872, although no ore was shipped until the following year. 
Ore was also discovered in 1872 still further west in the county and resulted in exploratory work in what was known as the Taylor mine from 1878-1881 when about 6000 tons were produced. (p. 445)

As a result of the failure to become the shipping center for the massive amounts of iron and copper ores, the Marquette, Houghton, and Ontonagon Railroads continued to move forward with their plans to reach Houghton, MI, and the rest of the Copper Country with its continuing development of the copper mines. Their hopes resided in moving merchandise and passengers and becoming more involved in the lumber industry. 

On February 19, 1875, politicians carved Baraga County out of Houghton County. It was divided into five townships, including Arvin, Baraga, Covington, Spurr, and L'Anse. A county courthouse had a temporary residence in a wooden building moved down the bay from Hancock in 1872.  The voters in 1882 voted for the necessary funds and built a new courthouse.

Lumbering becomes the following financial product for the Railroads to transport

According to a History of L'Anse township, by the American history class of L'Anse high school of 1922, the following information is learned about the beginning of the lumber industry in L'Anse and L'Anse Township.  

In 1877, Charles Hebard, a banker and businessman from the east, came to Michigan to speculate on the northern pinelands. He located at the place now known as Pequaming. The Hebard and Thurber Lumber Company was organized in 1879, operating under the laws of Michigan, with a capital of $200,000. It was organized as a stock company, but most of the stock was held in the hands of the two families. The mill site was leased from David King, chief of the Chippewas, and after his death, was sold by his heirs to Mr. Hebard. The town site was purchased from Mrs. Eliza Bennett in 1877. A large steam sawmill and shingle mill were erected in 1878. (p. 28)
 The Charles Hebard and Sons, Incorporated, employ a force of two hundred men in the mill and three hundred in the woods. It has a stumpage of a hundred thousand acres of timber lands located in Marquette, Baraga, Houghton. and Keweenaw counties. In 1884 the partnership with Thurber was dissolved, with Mr. Hebard purchasing his partner's stock. The company now operated under the name of Charles Hebard and Sons, Incorporated, under the laws of the State of New York. For the transportation of their- logs, supplies and lumber the company purchased two steamers, "Shrigly" and "Charles Lebard"; two schooners, "Allowa" and "Annabel Wilson"; a sailing vessel, "Annie M. Peterson"; two tugs, "J. C. Morse" and "D. L. Hebard." Later they purchased another tug named "Allington." The old steamer "Alpena" was chartered to carry lumber. The lumber boats each had a carrying capacity of a million feet. Logging was carried on at Tobacco River, on Keweenaw Point. Charles Heughens was one of the greatest loggers of the time. He alone cut as much as ten million feet per year. This work was carried on in winter, at camps which usually employed a hundred men or more. The logs were decked on the banks of a river or on a lakeshore and in the spring were rolled into the water, collected into rafts, and towed to the mill by the tugs. At times the bay was literally filled with these large white-pine logs. In later years the difficulty in rafting logs and the danger in towing them with tugs during bad weather were partially done away with when railroads were built for the purpose of hauling them to the mill. (p. 30)

Hebard quickly discovered the need to link up with the Marquette, Houghton, and Ontonagon Railroad with its terminal in L'Anse.  He had built a standard gauge railroad to help in the transportation of his logs and lumber.  This railroad eventually became part of the agreement in the Henry Ford Purchase of all the Pequaming area and the Hebard assets.  We will cover this agreement in another section.  

Lumbering grew dramatically for three reasons. First, Treaties with Ojibwe and other tribes made the timberlands available. Second, the agricultural frontier was advancing westward into the treeless prairies as waves of settlers arrived in Illinois, Iowa, Kansas, and Nebraska. Finding rich soil but few building materials, the settlers looked to the northwood timber for their lumber. Third, and most important, Michigan had an extensive network of waterways that flowed from the woods to the Great Lakes, which allowed loggers to ship logs and lumber from just about anywhere.  Also, the copper mines of the Copper Range of the Copper Country needed a tremendous amount of lumber to stabilize the shafts and drifts underground. 

The railroad connection into the Copper Country at this time and through the remainder of the 1800s and into the early 1900s was crucial for Baraga County's lumber success.

Mergers begin to happen with the railroads improving the future for L'Anse

Clarence Monette (1993) wrote, "In July 1883, the Marquette, Houghton and Ontonagon Railroad connected Marquette with Houghton." (p.11). Houghton's railway terminal was significant as the Mineral Range Railroad had already completed the railway connection between Hancock and Calumet, with its branch lines connecting the Lake Linden area.  This connection allowed passengers, mail, express, and freight to Hancock and all points on the line of the Mineral Range Railroad.

There was also a rumor that the Marquette, Houghton and Ontonagon Railroad was to consolidate with the Mineral Range Railroad. Though this did not materialize, another development was happening that would affect the railroad in L'Anse.  

In 1886, the Detroit, Mackinac & Marquette (DM&M) consolidated many smaller railroads in the Upper Peninsula and became known as the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic (DSS&A) in December of 1886.  According to MichiganRailroads, "In 1887, the Marquette, Houghton and Ontonagon Railroad was leased to the DSS&A." (Table M) 

The Wikipedia article "Duluth, South Shore, and Atlantic Railway" mentioned, 

The Canadian Pacific Railway (CPR), a transcontinental line, took control of the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic in 1888. (para. 3)

On June 11, 1888, the Canadian Pacific Railway then brought about a merger of the Minneapolis, Sault Ste. Marie & Atlantic Railroad and three other railroads to form the Minneapolis, St. Paul & Sault Ste. Marie Railway, commonly known as the "Soo Line." In essence, the Canadian Pacific Railway controlled nearly all of the railroad transportation in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan up to the Houghton terminal by the end of 1888. (p. 13)

DSSA Railroad Engine  in public domain

Monette (1993) reported, "In 1887, there were eighty-nine logging railroads operating in Michigan – more logging railroads than any other two U.S. states combined." (p. 12). Getting the logs to the sawmills was as crucial as getting the product to the user. Thus, railroads played a vital part in the life of the lumber industry.

With the railroad opening up connections to all points in the United States and good connections made, especially with Milwaukee and Chicago to the south, other sawmills sprung up around L'Anse during the next few years, including the L'Anse Lumber Company and the J.B. Smith Lumber Company.

The railroad was changing the community of L'Anse and having a significant impact on the community in Baraga. According to the Baraga County Historical Society in their History of Baraga County

"Across the bay in Baraga, the Nester's purchased the local mill and expanded it to successfully cut millions of feet of lumber annually. The Nesters also built large 150-200 foot vessels, bringing shipbuilders with them from Saginaw. Their arrival in 1886 saw the township of Baraga being the largest in populations as the mill employed many men, and the steam from the mill heated most of the community." (photo history-Baraga-1880s)

 The L'Anse Fire of 1896 and its Impact on Lumbering

The L'Anse Fire of 1896 consumed both sawmills in L'Anse, burned down the iron ore dock, and nearly destroyed the entire village of L'Anse.  The L'Anse Sentinel of May 16, 1896, reported this fire. But a fuller account in the History of L'Anse Township by the American History Class of L'Anse High School provides us a vivid description of this fire.

Saturday was the most unfortunate day ever known in the history of L'Anse, and the largest portion of what was once our beautiful city, is now one mass of ruins. "About four o'clock in the afternoon an alarm of fire was sounded, and before people had time to realize what it was the large sawmill of the L'Anse Lumber Company was one mass of raging flames. Protection Hose Company quickly responded to the call, and the boys worked like heroes, but a strong wind was blowing, and it was an utter impossibility for them to cope with such a conflagration. It quickly took hold of the large railroad ore dock and proceeded to eat it up with lightning rapidity. "Next in line was the large lumber piles containing several million feet of lumber. It was then that the largest portion of L'Anse was doomed, and the fear was soon realized, for, in less time than words can express it, the great mass of dry lumber and shingles was entirely enveloped in flames. People then began hurriedly removing books, etc., from the doomed buildings but the flames advanced so rapidly that they were soon prevented from saving much. "J. B. Smith's large store and warehouses were next to fall victims after the lumber piles and were soon leveled to the ground, as was also Mr. Gitzen's saloon, the upper story of which was occupied as a residence, Charles Cullnan's saloon and dwelling, 0. H. Sengebusch's barbershop, W. T. Menge's store and the Menge block being occupied by two families, Charles Smith and Peter Clyne, both families losing all their household furniture; the bank building and the building on the corner owned by August Menge, the upper story being occupied by R. R. McKernan as a law office, and P. M. Coster's tailor shop. "The fire jumped across Broad street, and licked up P. Ruppe's large store building and contents, Frank Sengebusch's building occupied by H. J. Seifert & Co., Samuel Boivin's two-story building with a saloon on the first floor and occupied as a dwelling upstairs; the old Lloyd House, S. T. Haris's drug store, which was completed but a few days before the fire, Samuel O'Connell's saloon, N. Wallace's livery. "As soon as it was discovered that the business blocks were in danger, word was sent to Baraga, and her excellent hose company promptly responded, reaching here, a distance of over four miles, in a remarkably short time. It can truthfully be said that if we had not secured this help, the opposite side of Main street and the dwelling houses for many blocks would also be laid in ruins. Too much praise cannot be given to the brave firemen of both L'Anse and Baraga, who stayed by their posts during the greater portion of the night while the fire was still raging. "During the fire, those who could endeavored to save a few articles of clothing and other things, which were taken into vacant lots, but what little was saved from fire was ruined in other ways. "Saturday night, the village presented a desolate appearance, being in total darkness, aside from the glare of the smoldering ruins. Yet many of the people walked the streets or kept guard over what articles were saved. Those, who were fortunate enough to have their home saved, gladly opened their doors and provided shelter and food for the unfortunates. "Sunday afternoon, a meeting of the citizens of L'Anse and Pequaming was held at the courthouse for the purpose of appointing committees for the relief of the fire sufferers. "It is surprising and gratifying to announce the prompt response to the call for aid from the various cities and towns. Monday, a carload of dry goods and provisions arrived from Marquette, and also substantial aid from Baraga and many other towns and arriving daily since the fire. Money had been raised in the Conner Country, and over $800.00 from the citizens of Baraga, as well as many other cities and towns. "Each member of the various committees worked hard and faithful and are entitled to the greatest praise. The D. S. S. & A. railway cheerfully transported people and supplies to other towns. "The estimated loss by the fire was doubtless over $600,000, and in many cases, families lost all, having no insurance. The adjusters of the various insurance companies endeavored to give the accurate loss of each and amount of insurance. "Several temporary buildings were erected, others going up every day. Every businessman owning lots rebuilt their homes. "It is not known how the fire started. (pp. 23-24)

Although the Fire of 1896 destroyed several sawmills in L'Anse, other sawmills continued to operate, including the Hebard Brothers in Pequaming and the Runni Sawmill just south on top of the L'Anse hill.  The Senior Paper (1922) reported that several other sawmills were to follow:

Ground was broken September 16, 1912, for a sawmill at L'Anse by the Marshall Butters Lumber Company. The mill was completed on June 15, 1913, and began operations at once. It was operated steadily until the strike in the summer of 1920 when it shut down for two months. It was also closed down from August to January 15, 1922, because of the low timber market. Today (1922), it is in full operation, being one of the largest mills in the Upper Peninsula. (p. 13)

Besides, in 1907, a new expansion of rail transportation opened up in the Copper Country, with trains passing through L'Anse daily.

The Copper Country Limited, a passenger train operated by the Chicago, Milwaukee, St. Paul and Pacific Railroad (the "Milwaukee Road") and the DSS&A Railroad between Chicago, Illinois and Calumet, Michigan, began to operate on a daily basis. The Copper Country Limited continued this operation from 1907 until 1968. (para. 1)
The Milwaukee Road Copper Country Limited

The Senior Paper (1922)  reported that people considered transportation at this time as "lightning speed."  

The depot in L'Anse, built by the Marquette, Houghton, and Ontonagon Railroad,  was only a quarter of a mile from town. The mails and passengers are given thirteen-hour service to Chicago and twenty-two-hour service to Detroit. (p. 26) 

This daily passage brought visitors from the populated south to the north for summer vacationing, hunting, and fishing and began to open up Baraga County to more than just lumbering.  

 A New Future for the railroad and L'Anse when Henry Ford moved to town

The L'Anse Sentinel of September 8, 1923, announced that Henry Ford had just made a significant purchase.  The article reads,

Negotiations have been closed for the purchase by the Ford Motor Co. of the location known as Pequaming, in Baraga County, Michigan, including the sawmill, railroad, towing outfit and water equipment, lumber, logs logging equipment, timberlands, and substantially all of the interests of has. Hebard & Sons, Inc., in the counties of Baraga, Ontonagon Houghton, and Marquette. (1st column)

The article continued with the following information as to some of the ingredients of the purchase agreement.

The dredging of twenty-two-foot channel fifteen hundred feet long in L'Anse bay to the sawmill, the reclaiming of about fourteen acres of land, and the building of - a new dock 450 feet long has been completed. A new shoreline west of the sawmill will be made this fall and much new land made.

Work is progressing rapidly on the company's new logging railroad here, and it must be completed by this fall. It will be eighteen miles long, running from L'Anse east into the timber. (1st column)

Again, on the front page of the L'Anse Sentinel on December 21, 1923, several paragraphs indicated a new bustle regarding the railroad development due to the Ford presence.

A large lot of logs will be shipped on the scow "Pequaming" from L'Anse to Pequaming to keep that division of the Ford Motor Company sawing until the railroad is completed next month.  A railroad track has been laid from the mill point to the end of the new dock so that loaded logging cars may be spotted as removed from the scow. 

Extensive preparation are being made to care for the shipments of logs which will come in by rail next month from L'Anse.  Six railroad tracks will cross the road between the pole bridge and cemetery. 

The maple grove below the cemetery is giving way to the woodsman's axe to make storage room for log skidways. (1st column)

In the same article, The L'Anse Sentinel reported that Mr. Henry Ford had also purchased several other holdings besides the Hebard holdings. In addition, their representative, Mr. Kingsford, was also interested in some mining projects in Baraga County.

A few years ago, Mr. Kingsford was instrumental in the purchase of the large holdings of the Michigan Land& Iron Company, including thousands of acres of timber and mineral land located in the several counties in this section, and with it the Imperial mine at Spurr, which is now in operation and bringing prosperity to Michigamme, which for years had Iain dormant and to which a new lease of life was given.
The Imperial Mine has just concluded shipment of over 200,000 tons of iron ore to the River Rouge plant. (This plant is in Detroit and belonged to the Ford Company).  (2nd column)

By 1925, Henry Ford, to allow each plant to specialize in one type of wood,  connected the Hebard railroad to the Ford railroad in L'Anse. In an article, Pequaming, Michigan (2020), each plant utilized different transportation methods to get its products to market.

Lumber from Pequaming was shipped by water to Dearborn, Edgewater, and Chester, mostly in the form of crating lumber. Better grades were sent by rail to Iron Mountain for use in the auto manufacturing plants. During its peak, the sawmill provided flooring for floorboards, truck boxes, and wood panels for station wagons. (Pequaming)

In the 1930s, according to Bill Menge (2020), "Mr. Erickson built the Erickson Sawmill in Skanee. After the mill burned down several times, Mr. Erickson finally built a sawmill in L'Anse in the mid-70s. He constructed his sawmill next to the Runna Sawmill." (p. 4)

By 1935, due to the Great Depression, the Pequaming article writes,

car sales decreased, and the demand for lumber was nearly non-existent.  The Ford mill in Pequaming was idled during that period, and it was also the year that Ford decided to ship its products by truck. (para. 2)

By 1942 in the middle of WWII and the military's high demand for various products, the Pequaming article stated that Ford reported, "due to shortages of rubber for truck tires and increased shipping costs, Ford closed the Pequaming mill on October 9, 1942, with the last logs sawed on October 28." (para. 2)

According to the Menge Interview (2020), the Ford mill in downtown L'Anse continued to operate until they finally decided in 1952 to shut it down and dismantle the plant. (p. 8)

Though the DSS&A railroad continued to serve L'Anse, L'Anse was no longer a significant market for any product.  The lumber industry continued to ship logs, and some of the mills used rail to ship their lumber.  But the trucking industry took over more and more of the transportation. 

The 1950s:  Major Transformation of L'Anse Begins Affecting the Railroad Presence

In the Interview with Bill Menge, Baraga County Commissioner and long-time resident of L'Anse, he described the 1950s as

In the 1950s, L'Anse was a bustling community.  You could come to this town and it was busy all the time.  Friday night, especially.  We had an A&P store over here on the corner of Main Street.  We had a Super Quality Food Market on the next corner on Main Street. We had Sangerbush's Market on Eastern Ave.  We had Lloyd Devoy Store up on Main, and Jacobson Grocery Store on Main, and we had Johnston's Meat Market over here, and Bill Sands had a meat market downtown where the parking lot is now down by the Village Office.  There was Jacobson Brother's Meat Market.  We had another Jacobson's Meat Market where Orlie is at.
There was a gas station here, right next door to the eye doctor.  Then if you went down by the lakefront, there is a little brick building that was a gas station.  There was a Sinclair station next to the body shop.  There was another one up on the hill.  There was a Shell, and then there was a Gulf and another Sinclair and a Mobile. 
Then there were a couple of others up there.  The Mobile Station up there was run by Johnny Ala back then. Johnny Ala was a logger. He always had tire trouble, so he opened up his gas station and tire shop and that Gitchee Gummi owned the building and property.  So, he was renting, and he started the Ala Gas, which then became Ferrell Gas.
The Ford Motor Company was still going. You had a sawmill in Baraga. It was called Settler Brothers Sawmill, later it became Alwood, and then they tore it down.  That was going full bore.  Lots of logging going on.  The hospital was built, and there were many employees in the hospital.  Then you had the Erickson Mill, the Runna Mill.  If you check it out, Bill Runna was the largest private landowner in the Upper Peninsula at one time.  It was a bustling town.  You had a dimension mill down here on the lakefront, where Skippers now is, and it ran from this side of Indian Country Sports all the way up to Main Street. They made windows and doors, and Lakeview Lumber Company owned it.  So, you had a lot of little things like that.  You had Blue Jay Company making potty chairs and shipping them. (p. 10)

So, while the Ford Motor Company was closing down their sawmill in L'Anse and the railroad was hauling less and less freight for Ford Motor, new industries were developing in the L'Anse-Baraga area that demanded the use of the railroad.  At this time, Phil LaTendresse began building piece by piece the "Carry-Lift," which he would eventually sell out to Pettibone in Baraga.  Phil LaTendresse moved between making his machines in downtown L'Anse, then to the Armory in Baraga, and finally to the Pettibone plant in Baraga.  But it was through a series of meetings between Clarence DuBuque, a local banker, and a man from Celotex where they met while golfing in Florida, that a representative of Celotex came to L'Anse to look at the new "Carry-Lift." He spotted the dismantling of the Ford Plant in L'Anse and decided that this would be the next place that Celotex would build a new plant.  This excitement spread through the town, especially when Celotex purchased the Ford properties in downtown L'Anse.  As Celotex would require raw material for their product, the railroad's presence was a deciding factor in Celotex's decision.  Celotex already had a presence in the United States and had worked with railroads at various locations.  It took several years for Celotex to build the new plant, but hiring started early in 1957, and the plant opened its production in 1958.  In his Interview, Bill Menge reported that

Celotex in the late 50s used to make a board that looked like it was impregnated with tar, black, a building board, and a sound stop board.  The Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railroad continued to be the only railway coming into L'Anse and Baraga.  They began supplying Celotex at the time with railcars of paper from Chicago. Fortunately, the railroad also increased their log hauling and also hauled away much of the lumber and lumber products being produced in the L'Anse-Baraga area. (p. 3)

At about the same time that Celotex was being built, UPPCO (Upper Peninsula Power Company), in the mid-1950s, built their power plant in L'Anse, next to the Celotex plant. UPPCO's purpose was to supply the needed power for Celotex.  UPPCO, at this time, used coal to create energy.

Railroads in the 1950s and 1960s lost much of their transportation usefulness to the trucking industry.  Railroad companies faced this reality by constricting their track service in many areas. 

According to the article "Duluth, South Shore, and Atlantic Railway,"

In 1961, the DSS&A was folded into the CPR-controlled Soo Line Railroad. Since 2001, the remaining operating trackage of the former DSS&A has been operated by the Canadian National Railway (C.N.). Short stretches of original DSS&A trackage are still operated between Trout Lake and Munising Junction, from Ishpeming to Baraga, and between White Pine and Marengo Junction.  (para. 2) 

Monette (1993) reported, "The Soo Line operated the mainline to Houghton until 1978.  They then abandoned the railway between Baraga and Houghton." (p. 125)

Bill Menge (Interview) reported that at present

All the tracks north of here are gone, from the Baraga Industrial Park out. The tracks are still operational to the Baraga Industrial Park. They bring a locomotive over to Baraga, not very often, but they can go around the head of the bay, and sometimes you will see the locomotive park on the siding there in Baraga by the old Tribal Hardware, right across from the Lakeside Inn.  They park there, the locomotive sits there, and then the engineers spend the night at the Lakeside. (p. 1)

Bill Menge (Interview) also added that sawmills still cut lumber, and logging continues.  The railroads continue to offer some services in the lumber industry. Still, even this is limited as trucking remains the favorite method to transport lumber from the mills to their destination.  But still, loggers are using the railroad for moving some of their logs. While the lumber industry remains viable, the integration with rail transportation is only mildly promising.

Erickson's Sawmill in L'Anse was built in the mid-1970s.  It was built after the big fire here up on the hill.  It was next to the Runna Sawmill. The Collins Sawmill started in the 1980s in the Industrial Park on Dynamite Road.  And the Emblad Brothers started a sawmill on the Sawmill Road in Skanee, which is computerized. (p. 4)

The Present and Future of the railroad in L'Anse

After Celotex went into bankruptcy in 1990 due to the Asbestos Settlement, the three major industries of L'Anse underwent a swift transition. First, UPPCO decided to close its doors; Traxis, an international Canadian energy company, bought UPPCO but continually failed to meet environmental standards. Also, they had internal legal troubles. Finally, they decided to sell the L'Anse Power Plant to Convergen, who put in the necessary capital to meet the environmental standards.  This process was completed in 2016 when Convergen Energy released the following news on November 9, 2016:

Convergen Energy (www.convergenenergy.com) has today announced its purchase of the L'Anse Warden Electric Company (LWEC) power plant from the Traxys Power Group. LWEC is a combined heat and power (CHP) 20 Megawatt power plant located on the shore of Lake Superior in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. LWEC supplies electric power to the grid for the Upper Peninsula under a power purchase agreement for renewable energy. The plant also supplies steam and electricity to the CertainTeed Plant that is adjacent to LWEC in L'Anse, MI. As such, the LWEC Plant generates both steam and electricity for sale. Convergen Energy is a producer of renewable alternative fuels that are used in industrial and municipal boilers as a substitute for coal and other fossil fuels. The acquisition is part of Convergen Energy's strategic growth plan to enter the renewable power market. "Convergen is pleased to have completed this purchase," said Ted Hansen, CEO of Convergen Energy. "LWEC has a proven history of producing renewable power and provides a valuable source of power generation in the U.P. We look forward to being a part of the community and providing reliable power generation in the U.P. for years to come." The 18 Union members who operate the plant will continue in their current positions. The LWEC power plant has been a major employer in the L'Anse community since 1959. Convergen, with company headquarters in Green Bay, WI, is part of the Libra Group, an international business group. Convergen Energy is committed to providing alternative fuels and renewable sources of power in a manner that reduces the carbon footprint of its customers, complies with all existing environmental regulations, and supports the economy of local communities.

Convergen then linked up with Koppers of Pittsburg, Pennsylvania, a global industry with heavy ties in the railroad industry, which helps understand why the railroad remains in L'Anse.   Koppers enjoys an excellent relationship with all of America's railroads, not just the Soo Line or the Canadian National Railroad. From Kopper's website, we learn the following:

Koppers, headquartered in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, is an integrated global provider of treated wood products, wood treatment chemicals, and carbon compounds. Its products and services are used in a variety of niche applications in a diverse range of end-markets, including the railroad, specialty chemical, utility, residential lumber, agriculture, aluminum, steel, rubber, and construction industries. With more than 1,800 employees, it serves its customers through a comprehensive global manufacturing and distribution network, with facilities located in North America, South America, Australasia, China, and Europe. (About page)

 Additionally, we learn through their website that the company operates three primary business segments.

  • Railroad and Utility Products and Services (RUPS)

Koppers is the largest supplier of railroad crossties in North America to the Class I and short-line railroads. Our other products and services include utility poles, rail joint bars, and railroad bridge services.

  • Performance Chemicals (P.C.)

Koppers is the global leader in developing, manufacturing, and marketing wood preservation chemicals and wood treatment technologies for use in residential, industrial, and agricultural applications.

  • Carbon Materials and Chemicals (CMC)
Koppers distills coal tar into a variety of products, including creosote, carbon pitch, carbon black feedstock, naphthalene, and phthalic anhydride, which are intermediate materials necessary in the pressure treatment of wood and production of aluminum, carbon black, high strength concrete, plasticizers, and specialty chemicals. (About page)

Koppers has two plants in the United States: one in L'Anse and the other in Queens, Texas, whose sole purpose is to complete the last phase of a vertically integrated system. 

 While Koppers had been involved with railroad ties from logging, preservation, and installing the railroad ties, the old rail ties' disposal was a problem. So what to do with them?  Whether this was Koppers' problem or the purchaser's problem is unclear.  However, Koppers figured it out and recognized that the old railroad ties were also an untapped market.  Thus, Koppers addressed the issue by making profitable end-of-life disposal.  Koppers' Annual 2019 Report reported on this system, and within the last few sentences of the report, it identifies the role of the L'Anse Fuel Plant.

Koppers Holdings remains vertically integrated today through our Railroad and Utility Products and Services (RUPS) business, which consumes both the creosote and the chromated copper arsenate (CCA) produced by our CMC and P.C. segments, respectively. Our business is concentrated primarily in North America for railroad crossties and utility poles and pilings, and to a lesser extent in Australia for utility poles. We extend the life of timber—a renewable resource— through pressure treatment primarily with our preservatives. In fact, to treat exclusively with Koppers-made preservatives, we plan to add a new oil-borne product, copper naphthenate (CuNap), to our portfolio. We believe that along with creosote and CCA, CuNap will supplant pentachlorophenol (penta) for use on hard-to-treat wood species and other applications. Penta was named a persistent organic pollutant under the Stockholm Convention, and its only current producer, Cabot Microelectronics Corporation, announced it will cease production of the preservative by the end of 2021. 4376InsertC1.indd 3 3/25/20 7:11 AM As the recognized leader in wood preservation technology, it is incumbent on Koppers to lead the industry to better approaches. In addition to the ecological benefits of sequestering carbon for 20 to 50 years in our treated wood products, we now help our customers solve their end-of-life disposal challenges. Our Recovery Resources group offers the right solutions for customers to dispose of their wood waste, always searching for the optimal environmental answer to differentiate Koppers from the competition. (emphasis is mine)

The L'Anse Fuel Plant addresses the end-of-life disposal challenges that the company faced in supplying their purchasers with railroad ties.  The answer: ship the old creosote railroad wooden ties by rail to a destination where they can be ground up and profitably used.  There are two locations in the United States which serve this job:  L'Anse, Michigan, and Queens, Texas.  Then by selling the ground-up product to the L'Anse Warden Power Plant to produce "Green Energy," Koppers began enjoying another profit stream.

On the Koppers Location page, Koppers also has a large plant in Hubbell, Michigan, 30 miles to the north in Houghton County.  That plant belongs to the Performance Chemicals division of Koppers.  They specialize in copper, which Koppers are using for and developing, wood preservation chemicals and wood treatment technologies for use in residential, industrial, and agricultural applications. Koppers appears very interested in these two locations as being logistically crucial in their vertically integrated system

Also, the L'Anse Warden Power Plant, now run by Convergen, is dedicated to Green Energy.  The Department of Energy Quality (DEQ) allows Convergen to burn railroad ties and chopped-up tires. Local logging companies supply wood chips, which they haul directly to the L'Anse Warden Power Plant. In his Interview, Bill Menge reported, "A company in Green Bay, Wisconsin, trucks the tire pieces to L'Anse where they are mixed in with a percentage of wood chips and burnt for energy." (p. 3)

L'Anse Warden Power Plant then sells part of this "Green Energy" to CertainTeed.  According to Bill Menge (Interview), "Detroit Edison purchases the remaining energy as part of its efforts to meet the Green Energy percent requirements mandated by Michigan State. " (p. 6)

L'Anse receives taxes from all three companies and enjoys the benefits of the employment of local people. However, the people of L'Anse have had anxiety about the future of the Soo Line continuing to come into L'Anse.  Bill Menge (Interview) made several statements within the Interview that reflected this concern and possibly some hope at the same time that they might stay.     

Bill – Yes.  And we need to do something to keep that railroad here.

Mike – Yes, I was seeing that the route between here and the mainline is deteriorating, and there have been questions about whether to shut it down or keep it going. So, I don't know if you know anything about that? 

Bill – The Railroad rebuilt the tracks from Herman hill to the top of the Red Rocks.  If you go up and look, there is all brand new rock. So it is not in real bad shape.

Bill – Well, they are going to eliminate a lot of small lines, small areas. Canadian National is going to eliminate those.

Mike – Do you know when that future plan is?

Bill – Right now, some of the communities that depend upon rail, though 100%, offer to buy the rails.  Over in Wisconsin, especially because there were so many spurs in Wisconsin and all over.  Now from down in Wisconsin, they are down to 7 spurs.  

Mike – so what about the spur that used to go to Ontonagon?

Bill – You know, Lake Superior, L.S. & I pulled that up.  They took that new rail which we, the people of the State, paid for that new rail. 

Now they are talking about putting the tracks back down because they found copper over there. And there is now a possibility of an ethanol plant in Ontonagon.  So, these are all possibilities we don't know. (p. 5)

The Soo Line Railroad continues to serve L'Anse by remaining involved with Koppers, the L'Anse Warden Power Plant, CertainTeed, and hauling logs out on their logging cars. Because of their present involvement, the future for the railroad in L'Anse appears to be safe.  


Baraga County Historical Museum. "History of Baraga County." Accessed 15 September 2020 from http://www.baragacountyhistoricalmuseum.com/history.html.  

CertainTeed. "CertainTeed Corporation Company History." Accessed 20 October 2020 from https://www.company-histories.com/CertainTeed-Corporation-Company-History.html.

Convergen Energy. "Warden Plant PurchaseNovember 9, 2016." Accessed on 10 November 2020 from https://www.convergenenergy.com/insight/lanse-warden-power-plant-purchase/. 

"Copper Country Limited." (15 November 2019). Wikipedia. Accessed 10 October 2020 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Copper_Country_Limited.

"DSSA Railroad Engine" in the public domain.   Wikimedia Commons. Accessed 10 December 2020 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/File:DSSA_Railroad_Engine.jpg 

Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railway. (11 December 2020). Wikipedia. Accessed 5 November 2020 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Duluth,_South_Shore_and_Atlantic_Railway. 

"Ford Activities." L'Anse Sentinel of December 1, 1923. Accessed 11-24-2020 from https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn96077142/1923-12-21/ed-1/seq-1/

"Ford Purchases Hebard Holdings." L'Anse Sentinel of September 8, 1923. Accessed 11-24-2020 from https://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn96077142/1923-09-08/ed-1/seq-1/

Senior Class of 1922of L'Anse High School. History of L'Anse Township, by the American History Class of L'Anse High School, published by L'Anse Sentinel, 1922. Accessed on 10 October 2020 at  http://name.umdl.umich.edu/3249280.0001.001.

Koppers. "2019 Annual Report." Koppers.  Accessed on 5 December 2020 from http://www.koppers.com/media/W1siZiIsIjIwMjAvMDMvMzEvMjBfNDNfMzBfNTQ5Xzg1NDAyOF9BUmJtay5wZGYiXV0/854028_ARbmk.pdf?sha=7e988f4e. 

Koppers. "About Us." Koppers.  Accessed on 5 December 2020 from www.koppers.com.

Koppers: Locations. Koppers. Accessed 5 December 2020.from http://www.koppers.com/pages/locations-worldwide. 

MDOT Michigan Department of Transportation. (2015). Michigan's Railroad History: 1825-2014.  Accessed 25 October 2020 from PDF at https://www.michigan.gov/documents/mdot/Michigan_Railroad_History_506899_7.pdf.

Menge, Bill. Personal Interview. October 6, 2020.

"Milwaukee Road Copper Country Limited." City of Hancock.  Accessed 12 December 2020. Photo was taken as the train passed along South Lincoln Dr, Hancock, MI, sometime before 1967. (Photo from the Mark Dennis Collection). http://cityofhancock.com/historical-pictorial-view.php?target=57.  



Monette, Clarence.  Mineral Range Railroad, published by Copper Island Printing & Graphic Services, Inc., Calumet, MI 1993.

"Pequaming, Michigan." 

(2020, 25 December). Wikipedia. Accessed 27 December 2020 from https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Pequaming,_Michigan.

"Railroad: Marquette, Houghton & Ontonagon Railroad." (2020). 

MichiganRailroads. Accessed 5 December 2020 from http://www.michiganrailroads.com/railroads-in-history/464-m/3831-marquette-houghton-ontonagon-railroad.

Sawyer, Alvah L. - A History of The Northern Peninsula of Michigan and Its People, It's Mining, Lumber and Agricultural Industries Vol 1, The Lewis Publishing Company, Chicago, IL, 1911.