Part 1: The Founding of the Railroad

Early Copper Range Train
An early photograph of a Copper Range train rolling down the track, circa 1911.
Copper Range Railroad, MS042-062-999-Z390, MS-042: John T. Reeder Photograph Collection.

The earliest date references in regards to what would become the Copper Range Railroad are found in the late 1800s and center around mentions of the railroad’s predecessor, the Northern Michigan Railway Company (NMRC.) The idea was the brainchild of Charles Augustus Wright, a local entrepreneur and investor in several copper mines.

Photo of Charles August Wright
Charles Augustus Wright organized the Superior Savings Bank in Hancock in 1890 and the State Savings Bank of Laurium in 1896. He was Vice President of Peninsula Electric Light and Power and a director in various other corporations. He was instrumental in the construction of the Mineral Range Railroad bridge across Portage Lake in 1885 and the founding of the Copper Range Railroad in 1899.
From Livingstone’s History of the Republication Party, Book JK2356L7v2-403-006, Michigan Tech Archives Book Collection.

While the NMRC was not a bad idea, it was Wright’s vision to expand rail through the valuable lands of the South Range that had the most powerful impact on the growth of the Keweenaw. This railroad would not come to fruition until 1899, but it changed the Copper Country for the better, opening new doors for business and recreational use alike.

Wright envisioned a new railroad that would extend from Houghton to Watersmeet, the location of several existing lines that connected Michigan’s Upper Peninsula to northern Wisconsin, and major metropolitan hubs in Milwaukee and Chicago.

John Daniell Photograph
John Daniell, one of C.A. Wright’s partners in the Northern Michigan Railway Company, was also Captain of the Tamarack Mine.
Biography - John Daniell, No Neg 2007-12-13-05, MS-959: Copper Country Photograph Collection.

In the fall of 1889 Wright began working to make his vision a reality. In conjunction with several other prominent businessmen of the Keweenaw, namely Jay Hubbell, John Daniell, and Edgar Towar, the Northern Michigan Railway Company was created. What followed in the coming years was a series of trials that saw multiple postponements of the building of the road and a new group of investors that would make the railroad a reality.

This exhibit was made possible in part by the Keweenaw National Historical Park (KNHP) Advisory Commission Heritage Grant Program. All research was conducted in the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections.

Any views, findings, conclusions or recommendations expressed in this exhibition do not necessarily reflect those of the KNHP.

Project Team

Project Manager: Lindsay Hiltunen
Project Researcher: Jeremy Whitman
Project Designer: Mike Stockwell of Cranking Graphics

Persons and Collections Consulted:

Eric Peterson
Brockway Photograph Collection
Clarence Monette Collection
Copper Range Company Records
Croteau Collection
Daily Mining Gazette Photograph Collection
Earl Gagnon Photograph Collection
Michigan Tech Archives Map Collection
Nara Photograph Collection
Reeder Photograph Collection
Roy Drier Collection

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