Industrial Landscapes and a Smelterman’s Paradise

Of all the heritage places I have come to know through my work travels and vacation journeys, industrial landscapes have long captured my imagination the most.  It is a curiosity that has not waned since the days I first visited the Pullman neighborhood in Chicago when I was a younger version of myself back in college.  What captivated me the most about Pullman was not what remained of George Pullman’s failed utopian experiment — most notably S.S. Bemen’s Queen Anne residential flats and his majestic, Late Victorian Clock Tower and Administration Building, recently rehabilitated and soon-to-be re-opened as the new Visitors Center for the Pullman National Monument — but what the industrial complex lost over the decades since it boomed and hummed along as the manufacturer of the famed “palace” passenger cars.  The Pullman factory was once a large, sprawling complex of lumber yards, machine shops, and fabrication sheds.  One can only gain a glimpse of what this was by viewing old photos and Sanborn fire insurance maps.  It was some place in its heyday.

The Pullman industrial complex, 1901 Fire Insurance Map, Pullman Museum
Workers leaving the Pullman Factory, 1890, Pullman Museum and Pullman State Historic Site

Today, Pullman survives as a cohesive, close-knit Chicago neighborhood even though few industrial resources remain to tell that end of the story.  The decline of the passenger rail car industry along with environmental contamination and neglect led to the gradual loss of Pullman’s work sheds and factory buildings over the decades.  In 1998, an arson fire gutted several of the complex’s factory structures and damaged the Administration Building. 

It seems unfortunate when industrial complexes lose the tangible pieces of history that can help illuminate America’s industrial revolution and its transformation of cities and landscapes.  I am always wondering – what was working life really like for those who came and settled in the company town?  Most of all, for me, it is about the industrial architecture itself.  Some complexes look ornate and well-scaled, especially if they emanate from Late Victorian styles.  On the other hand, vacant industrial complexes look forlorn and lost in time — as if the final shift bell rang one-day long ago with the workers leaving it as if nothing happened inside them.  They are physical manifestations of local culture in their own way — they express the aspirations of both the workers and the rising captains of industry seeking to strive and succeed for a better life and standard of living for themselves and their communities — even if, at times, there was a bit corporate paternalism involved.

Pullman certainly sparked my interest in industrial landscapes.  Many years later, in 2011, I had the privilege of participating in an Urban Land Institute Chicago Technical Assistance Panel to explore future preservation and management scenarios for the Pullman complex.  The final report recommended, among other things, the exploration of a potential national historical park, a designation made only by the U.S. Congress.  Under the National Antiquities Act, President Obama would later declare Pullman a National Monument in 2015.   

Enough of Pullman.  When I was working for the National Main Street Center during the 2000s, I had the fortunate opportunity to work and consult in a similar Pullman-like community — Calumet, Michigan.  Calumet, located in the Upper Peninsula and home to the once fabled Calumet and Hecla Mining Company, was a significant copper mining center from mid 1800s until the 1960s.  In the late 1800s, it was the leading copper mining outfit in the United States, and for a brief period, one of the foremost copper producing regions in the world.  Recognizing the national historical importance of the copper mining industry in Calumet, and in the surrounding communities of the Keweenaw peninsula, Congress established in 1992 the Keweenaw National Historical Park, a unit of the National Park Service.  The Park Service maintains several extant structures within the original Calumet and Hecla Mining Company complex, including the General Office Building, designed in the Italianate with a richly fenestrated façade of reddish-brown, black, and gray rubble trimmed with bricks.  It is now the Historical Park’s headquarters and visitors center.

Calumet and Hecla Mining Company General Office Buildings, now the headquarters and visitors center for the Keweenaw National Historical Park, Calumet, Michigan, SAH Archipedia

My work in Calumet did not focus on the Calumet and Hecla mining complex itself, which the Park Service nicely maintained and curated, but on the adjacent downtown district — a compelling place in its own right.  The downtown comprised two parallel north-south streets lined with one to three story Main Street commercial buildings constructed in red sandstone and designed in variations of the Italianate, Romanesque and Queen Anne.  My favorite buildings were the two-story Italianates and their elaborate metal cornices, and the wood clapboard gable-fronts with their intact three-part storefronts.  Several of the gable-fronts were in excellent condition and still housed merchant uses after more than 100 years.  Above all these, however, the Romanesque-styled Vertin Brothers Department Store building captured my attention the most.  Its rectangular, four story form, and dead center location in the downtown district, gave it a commanding presence.  At the time of my consultation work, the building was sitting empty.  Recently, local artists converted the building to the Vertin Gallery, a collaborative for Keweenaw area artists with ground floor exhibition and selling spaces and artist studios in the upper floors. 

Vertin Department Store, now Vertin Gallery, background center, photo: 2003, Nick Kalogeresis

A traditional commercial building, downtown Calumet, photo: 2003, Nick Kalogeresis

As one can surmise, the community is no longer a mining powerhouse.  Copper production started to decline after World War I with the last mines closing in the 1960s.  Calumet’s population has dwindled ever since.  In 1900, at the height of Calumet and Hecla’s copper mining production, Calumet had a population of 5,000 people, consisting of a rich immigrant milieu of Croatians, Danes, English Cornishmen, French Canadians, Finns, Germans, Irish, Italians, Norwegians, and Poles, among others.  Today, the population is 760 people.  Those that continue to live in Calumet are fervent preservationists with ardent attachments to their history and the architecture that speaks it.  One cannot miss the rows of historic photographs hanging from inside the walls of almost every local business in Calumet — they are often the first things one sees inside the stores.  It was this fervor and passion for their local heritage that led to the successful National Historical Park designation efforts.  They want people to know what happened here.

Downtown Calumet, photo: 2003, Nick Kalogeresis

Working in Calumet was one of the more fulfilling assignments I have had in my professional career.  The people were not only committed to preserving the area’s mining history but also in regenerating the historic downtown — a downtown once built for a larger populace but dealing with a significant vacancy issue at the time I worked in the community.  To address this, the local Main Street program took a building-by-building reuse approach, working to find new uses, and local entrepreneurs and investors for one building and then moving on the next.  The Vertin Gallery was one tangible result of that effort.  

It has been many years since I have visited Calumet, but I am anxious to return to see what progress the community’s dedicated and unflappable preservationists made in the years since. There was a fire in the downtown this past spring that took out two buildings, pieces of a mining legacy now lost forever. Again, my imagination tries to conjure up images of what Calumet was like in its boom years —the buildings replete with bustling businesses and the streets packed with miners coming home from their shifts. In the many historic photos I have viewed of Calumet, it seemed as idyllic an industrial community as if there ever was. Even if the workers had to go underground to do their work.

My most recent journey into industrial landscapes is Anaconda, Montana, where the Lakota Group completed a preservation planning assignment this past summer.  Like Calumet, I had not heard of Anaconda before even though I have visited and vacationed in Montana many times.  Located in Anaconda-Deer Lodge County amidst the Anaconda Mountain Range, Anaconda was the copper smelting center of a sprawling mining industrial complex with its neighboring city of Butte in Butte-Silver Bow County to the east.  Founded by Irish immigrant Marcus Daley in 1881, the Anaconda Partnership — later the Anaconda Mining Company — would start copper mining operations in Butte and in the adjacent community of Walkerville.  Needing a site to smelter the copper mined in Butte, in 1884, Daly started construction of the Washoe Smelter Complex in Anaconda.  The Butte, Anaconda and Pacific Railway would later connect the two cities in 1893, providing a more expeditious means in which to transport the copper ore for final processing.  It was also one of the first electric railways in the country and its roundhouse is still extant in Anaconda.

Similar to Calumet, copper mining in the Butte region declined and then disappeared during the middle part of the 20th century, but during its heyday in the late 1800s to before the Great Depression, it rivaled and then surpassed Calumet in total copper production. What remains today of the Washoe Smelter Works in Anaconda is its 585-foot tall, brick and terra cotta constructed Smelter Stack built in 1918. Designed to discharge exhaust gases from the smelter’s various roasting and smelting furnaces, it is the tallest brick masonry structure in the world. Apparently, by some accounts, the Washington Monument can fit inside it. Sitting on a prominent hill on Anaconda’s eastern edges, the Smelter Stack is not just an iconographic symbol of Anaconda’s vanished industrial past but it is the last remaining vestige of a teeming smelter complex of buildings and sheds that once occupied every square inch of the surrounding hillside. With the complex all but wiped away since the smelter’s closing in 1980 — mostly due to its extensive contamination — one must imagine again what the complex and Anaconda town was like when copper was king in the region. I’m sure it was awe-inspiring.

The Washoe Smelter Works, Anaconda, Montana, circa 1910, Missoula Current

Recognizing its significance to understanding the nation’s industrial revolution, the U.S. Secretary of the Interior designated portions of Butte and almost three-quarters of Anaconda as a National Historic Landmark District, comprising more than 6,000 contributing resources — one of the largest such districts in the United States in terms of number of resources as well as its geographic size and reach.  The Butte, Anaconda and Pacific Railway rail line, once more, serves as the key connection between the district’s two industrial communities. 

In the latter half of the 20th century, the closing of mining operations in Butte and the smeltering operations in Anaconda led to economic and population decline just as it did in Calumet.  While there is more vibrancy in Anaconda’s downtown as compared to Calumet’s central business district, even despite the loss of some of its traditional commercial building fabric due to past urban renewal efforts, a key preservation issue in the Anaconda is the erosion and deterioration of historic housing stock.  Anaconda’s first ring of neighborhoods consist mainly of working class shot guns, gable fronts, Queen Anne cottages, and Craftsman bungalows, many of which sit side-by-side with very little, if any, yard space between them.  Roof eaves would often line up on top of each other as if there was not a care in the world that your neighbor would be literally on top of you.  

Anaconda’s Queen Anne cottages, photo: 2021, Nick Kalogeresis

The story behind this, according to local lore, is that the first smeltermen to arrive in Anaconda were Irishmen who built their homes and then coaxed and convinced their siblings and relatives to settle in the community for the abundant jobs the Washoe Smelter Works provided.  Once they came, the first Irish arrivals offered a portion of their plot to their blood kin to build their homes, sparing them the cost of purchasing their own plot of land. 

Fast forward 100 years, many of these homes look tired while others sport unsympathetic alterations.  Other homes, however, have worn the test of time with much of their architectural integrity intact while even others show evidence of investment and rehabilitation.  I find the Queen Anne cottages especially alluring.  These homes feature the typical pyramidal and gable projected roof forms, towers, and decorative porch detailing, albeit in a miniature, more charming version of their two-story counterparts.  There are several more elaborate Queen Anne cottages within Anaconda built for Anaconda’s managerial class — just like the more sophisticated Queen Anne townhomes designed by S.S. Beman in Pullman.  These homes are wonderful to photograph and ponder over.  What was like to live and work in a bustling, hardscrabble frontier industrial town?  Was it a smelterman’s paradise like Calumet was to its miners?

Anaconda needs concerted preservation efforts to save its wonderful historic neighborhoods.  The community continues to lose their quaint cottages and shot-guns to vacancy, abandonment, and demolition by neglect in a time when housing affordability and attainability are key issues not only in Anaconda but across Montana.  If these were simple homes for the working class back when the Smelter Works was melting out Butte’s copper ore, they can be the workforce housing of today with just a little attention and care.  They should remain essential to telling the Anaconda heritage narrative.  As all industrial landscapes around the country should.

Anaconda’s working class housing, photo: 2021, Nick Kalogeresis

It was only my luck in life to have the opportunity to work in two historic copper mining regions.  I have heard people say that every situation you encounter in life is the result of some sort of karma.  I am not sure I entirely believe that but working in both Anaconda and Calumet does make me realize that life encounters do rhyme at times.

To learn more about the Anaconda-Deer County Historic Preservation Plan, go here:

To learn more about the 2012 Urban Land Institute Chicago Pullman Technical Assistance Panel Report, go here

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