Northern Michigan Adventure: Search for a hidden treasure

By October 16, 2017from Staff

The following is a summary from our staff member Michael, who is a part of our workforce diversity program.

Northern Michigan can be a mystery to some people, even to southern Michiganders, but even more so Michigan’s Upper Peninsula can be a mysterious place. While Michigan is world reknown for being an Automotive state, an industrial state, and now a rust belt state, its history as a Mining state is largely forgotten. Tucked away in the North Western corner of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula is the Keweenaw Peninsula, jetting off into Lake Superior. The Keweenaw region at one time produced more copper than anywhere else on earth, earning it the nickname Copper Country. A name that sticks to this day. Today it refers more the State and National parks that preserve its Copper Mining history rather than one of the richest boomtown stories in history.

During the Great Depression the Keweenaw Peninsula of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula had fallen on hard times. Because of this it was one of the first regions in the United States to receive the aid of the newly commissioned WPA (Workers Progress Administration). The WPA in the Keweenaw, built many needed infrastructure projects. They built highway 41, schools, irrigation, replanting of forests and more. Curiously though among the many projects they made 3 stone boat statues out of scrap construction materials. The purpose of the stone boats today isn’t exactly clear as their existence has faded from people’s memory. Even more so, what inspired them to be built in the first place.

The boats are constructed to look like warships. Stones stacked and cemented together form the body and walls of the boats, features such as gun barrels and smoke stacks are formed out of scrap metal pipes and tubes which are nestled into the cement that holds the boat structure together. In the 1930s brand new the boats must of looked amazing.

Today two of the stone boats can still be found in the Keweenaw and in relatively good condition. One boat is located near town of Kearsarge along side U.S. 41. It has been made into a Veteran’s Memorial site which allows it regular upkeep. The second boat is located in a neighborhood north of Calumet named Centennial Heights. It rests in a small neighborhood park. Where the neighborhood’s homes now stand surrounding this small park, a school once stood adjacent to it. The park formerly being the school’s playground. We can only imagine the epic adventures kids of that school must have had while playing on the stone boat during recess.

The third stone boat though it would seem hasn’t been so fortunate. Infact to many locals it is practically forgotten and lost. While records pertaining to the stone boats are scarce, a determined few have pieced together the available information to find the third boat’s location in the woods. It was recently rediscovered and its ruins verified. It is located in the woods off of U.S. 41. Instead of seeing a boat at this site, we now see a pile of rubble consumed by the surrounding trees, bushes and grasses. The bow of the boat forms a pile of rubble, going back from there once can see constructed stone walls, just like those of the other boats that form the boat’s stern. Where metal pipes once formed the boat’s guns and smokestacks we now have branches of trees and bushes piercing and growing over its stone hull. Reasons for it’s state of disrepair are at this time uncertain. Some feel that the harsh weather and lack of maintenance was enough to destroy it, others speculate vandalism. While we aren’t certain of the exact cause, we can be certain a lack of attention lead it to its fate. At some point between the 1930s and the present day, the course of U.S. 41 was altered and put space between the boat and the highway. This separation may have lead to its lack of visibility and cost it the attention it would desperately need in the years to come for it to survive like it’s siblings have. For now we don’t know what the future holds for the third boat’s ruins, but we can be certains that they will remain sitting silently in the woods off U.S. 41.