Imagine working in one of the Marquette County Iron Range’s mines in the mid-1800’s.
Upon entry into a narrow tunnel, the outside light begins to fade. Guiding you is only visual memory and the dim, flickering candle fastened to a canvas hat. Eyes scramble to navigate, while ears ring with eerily close blasts of explosives and the blows of your comrades’ hammers striking rock and metal. Thick dust coats everything inside and out.
Suddenly the overcooked coffee at the office isn’t so much of a monumental undertaking.
Work in Marquette County’s early iron mines was no easy task, but it’s possible to capture the experience in an afternoon exploring the Michigan Iron Industry Museum.
Overlooking the Carp river off Highway 41 between Marquette and Negaunee, the museum was established at the site of the first iron forge in the Lake Superior region. Here, workers processed raw ore and wrought iron from the Jackson Mine into iron bars for easier shipping to the lower lakes.
The museum plays host to artifacts from the forge that were discovered at the site over several years of archeological investigation. The artifacts are on display alongside stories of the many pioneers who made their lives at the forge.
Interactive exhibits guide visitors through the history of iron mining in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The “Iron Ranges in Transportation” exhibit shows where the ore was going and how it was being moved. The “Iron Technology Timeline” presents the changes in mining over the decades. Visitors can examine artifacts from times before today’s common safety standards and gain a unique perspective of the lives of early pioneers. Venturing onward, a mock mine tunnel guides visitors “underground” to get a feel for what it felt like to step into a mine.
Every hour, on the hour, “Iron Spirits” plays in the museum’s auditorium. This 23-minute film acts as an introduction to the iron range and what life was like here before the 20th century.
Outside, two outdoor interpretive trails wind around the museum’s grounds. The River Overlook Trail guides visitors from the museum’s observation deck up to a scenic overlook of the original forge site on the Carp River. Continuing on towards the top of the hill, the trail interprets Native American culture and use of the land before the arrival of Europeans. The Geology Trail enters the forest at the south side of the museum’s main parking lot. Just over a third of a mile, this winding trail guides visitors through the woods to the Historic Corridor Overlook while interpreting the area’s geological features.
Looking for an active tour of the area’s mining history? Throughout the summer, museum staff host guided bike tours along the Iron Ore Heritage Trail. Traveling approximately 15 miles roundtrip, the tour stops at various points of historic interest between the museum and Cliff’s shaft in Ishpeming. Stops include the Jackson Mine and Negaunee’s historic Old Town.
The Michigan Iron Industry Museum is free with a suggested donation of $3.00. It is open seven days a week from 9:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. (May 1st to October 31st). During winter months (November 1st to April 30th), the museum is open Wednesday through Friday from 9:30 a.m. to 4 p.m. It is recommended that museum visitors plan approximately an hour-and-a-half to experience the museum in its entirety.
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The museum is located at 73 Forge Road, Negaunee, MI 49866.