Location: Plummer Mine Interpretive Park; Hwy 77; between Pence and Iron Belt, Wisconsin (10-15 miles from teh southern shore of Lake Superior)
The 80 foot Plummer headframe is the last of the dozens of steel structures that once dominated the skyline of the Penokee Iron Range, later known as the Gogebic Range. Cables ran overhead from the Engine House up over the big sheave wheels at the top of the headframe and were attached to elevator cars, lowering miners and equipment and pulling ore cars back to the surface. Ore cars hoisted up from the mine stopped at the “tipple”, half way up the Headframe. Ore could be tipped directly from the Headframe off the tipple into railroad cars parked below and delivered to waiting oreboats at the port of Ashland. Or it could be loaded into smaller ore carts and pushed down Plummer’s 36 foot wooden trestle and dumped in the ore stockpile for later shipment.
The Plummer was one of the smaller mines in the Penokee Range. It opened in 1904, was mined down to a level 8 (2,367 feet deep) and shipped approximately 170,000 tons of ore out of Ashland Wisconsin on Lake Superior before is ceased operations in 1924. Shipping from its stockpiles of ore extended its life until 1932. The headframe was scheduled to be dismantled for scrap iron, but is was saved from demolition when listed on the Wisconsin Architecture and History Inventory Registry (1997) and National Register of Historic Places (1997). The park is not developed beyond a very bumpy dirt road which is part of an ATV & snowmobile trail system and a sign on the history of area mining erected by the local Historical Society. A tall fence surrounds the framehead, but it’s there more to protect the curious from falling in the mine shaft.
The first mine to open in the Penokee Range was the Germania, in Hurley, in 1885. In 1887, there were 38 mines between Hurley and Upson, Wisconsin. Mining ended on the Gogebic Range with the closing of the Cary Mine in 1964. It had been dug to the 37th level and shipped 18,014,831 tones of iron ores during its life time. Previously, the Montreal Mine, closed in 1963. At 4,337 feet, it was the world’s deepest mine.
Mine is the first generation in my family to not work in a mine. My Dad, uncles, grandfathers, great grandfathers and great-grandfather all worked the mines of the Gogebic-Penokee Range. After the Cary mine closed, my Dad worked the White Pine Mine in White Pine, Michigan, commuting almost 60 miles one way. He finally quit mining for good in 1968. I could never understand what it was like to work in a mine, to descent into the earth. Even today, there could be no Take Your Kids to Work Day at a mine. I never really knew what it was like to work in a mine until I saw the movie North Country, and they didn’t have to go “underground”.