White Pine Mine
White Pine, MI

While it had been known for decades that a huge deposit of copper lay beneath Ontonagon County, Michigan, because of its metallurgical and chemical properties it could not be smelted. By 1950, however, the technological barriers were gone, and the Copper Range Company began clearing land for a mine, mill, smelter, and even a townsite. After years of construction and testing, workers began extracting ore in 1953, though full scale mining would wait until 1955. In a time when virtually every other mine on the Upper Peninsula was long abandoned, it must have seemed like a miracle.

White Pine Mine aerial, Date Unknown, Michigan Tech Archives

The mine extracted 10,000 to 23,000 tons per day, and all the processing was done on site. Unlike every other mine I have explored to date, at White Pine, rubber-wheeled machinery was used extensively and accessed the mine through a long sloping tunnel. At its height, White Pine employed 3,000, though mechanization, atomization, and sinking metal prices brought that to 1,000 by the 1980s. The mine found some reprieve by 1985, but it closed permanently in 1995. It had reached a depth of 2,700 feet and produced 4.2 billion pounds of coppery and 47 million ounces of silver.

Workers, White Pine Mine, Michigan Technological University Archives

After closing, different fates befell the former White Pine buildings. The smelter was sold to a Canadian company that (mostly) idled it while the adjacent power plant kept feeding the grid. Mine shafts were capped and allowed to flood, and the concentrator was razed to its foundations. On the other side of the highway, the town became a sort of ghost town, with most of its houses and businesses left empty.

Inside White Pine Mine, Michigan Technological University Archives

Since its closing, there has been speculation about the mine reopening. The first rumor stemmed from a 1997 project to soak the copper ore in sulfuric acid where it sat–underground–and recover copper chemically by pumping the acid solution out. This understandably creating extreme tension about potential environmental effects, culminating in a blockade of the acid-hauling trains by Native Americans of the Bad River Band. The project was scrapped shorty afterward, citing the delay as the cause. Recently, another company has purchased and announced forthcoming news regarding the mine, but we will see.

The shaft house, where hydraulic steel doors allowed or denied entry into the mine shaft. Overhead is a light and alarm. If it sounds, the mine is being evacuated, and you best not go in and best stay the hell out of the way. Locals dump tires here, now.
Much of the circa-1950s buildings remain with few alterations, such as these long boring sheet metal ruststicks.
No ambiguity here… miners, check in at this office.
These concrete blocks were formed to be solid mounts for machinery. All the metal was scrapped in the late 1990s, leaving these modern ruins. Seagulls love them.
Not a wisp of smoke can be seen today.
A walk-up service window on the side of an administration building of some sort. I have a feeling the buildings were color coded.
A quick shot with a Voigtlander 15mm f/4.5 (V1-M Mount). Possibly my favorite lens. Birds love these postindustrial ruins, and they hated me exploring and photographing them.
Different doors for different vehicles, I would guess. White Pine Mine used tire-based vehicles, rather than track-based, making it pretty different than other mines I’ve been to.
A dead work truck rusts near an outbuilding. Everything is marked with a code. Modernity.
Frankie on the White Pine Mine vehicle access shaft. The mine was traditional inside… all room-and-pillar.
A stencil instructs the first and third shifts to ask security for access. Security was out during all my visits, except one mishap where a strung-out local chased me with a truck. Having spent a decade exploring the U.P., I was not caught off guard.
Short-stack remains of mounts for rod and ball mills, if I was to bet. The concentrator separated junk rock (tails) from the copper and silver ore, to such a point it could be smelted.
Beside the shaft building are two fans on skids, indicating they were used underground.
A quick shot to show the mineshaft in context with the smelter. Did I mention the smelter’s stack is unreasonably gigantic?