This article was written by Martha Hayden and originally published on The Restless Viking website on August 2, 2022.
After watching a short film about the history of the Delaware Copper Mine, Dennis, the manager and travel author, invited us to put on hard hats and head to the mine shaft. I was excited to be on a self guided tour of an abandoned copper mine. It had been in operation from 1847-1887. But, how safe was it? I wondered.
Water dripped as we descended the slippery wooden stairs. By the tenth step, the air had cooled significantly. One hundred feet below the surface was the first of ten levels in the Delaware copper mine.
I have to admit, I felt a claustrophobic as we walked away from the opening. DaViking, however, embraced this underground terrain with natural wonder and zesty enthusiasm.
When I imagined working here at this level or even farther below, it made my chest tighten. I admired our predecessors who had toiled and carved their way through this darkness.
A skip cart, like the one above, would be loaded with ore and raised up the rails to the surface. Eight million pounds of ore had been brought to the surface between 1847-1887, when the mine was in full operation.
The sunlight up above gave me hope. As I looked down the tunnel I felt as if the rocks were closing in around me.
“Is that water?” I had asked Chuck. “Yes. The bottom nine levels are flooded.” He answered in a nonchalant tone, “Some divers have explored the lower levels.” He nodded and raised his eyebrows, obviously impressed. I froze staring at the underground pool.
I gulped and felt like Penny in the Disney movie, “The Rescuers.” The small girl, Penny, had been lowered by a rope and bucket, down into a cave to search for a diamond. This cave would fill with water at high tide. Images swirled in my mind. I silently gave myself a pep talk. “They wouldn’t allow this self guided tour if it wasn’t safe.” I thought, “Move on!” I begged my feet to step forward.
As I rounded a bend there was a large open room, on a slant. I read the sign, “Stope.”
A stope is a large vein of ore. Miners work to clear the stope, loading the rocky ore into carts to be crushed and processed up above in a stamp mill. I marveled at the amount of effort it must have taken to clear this area. I moved along quickly down the path. I kept reminding myself to breath deeply and that we were safe, yet claustrophobic feelings rose in my throat. “How do those large logs support the rocky roof?” I pondered.
The typical yield was 98.5% rock and only 1.5% copper. That’s a lot of work for very little return. In fact, sadly, the Delaware mine had never been profitable.
The End of the Drift
After reaching the end of the drift, about 1,700 feet of pathway, we turned around and headed back to the staircase. I had to remind myself to stop and capture these views with my camera. It was incredibly amazing to witness these caverns.
The Gift Shop
As we mounted the staircase, the mugginess of Michigan hung heavily in the air. We entered the giftshop to return our hard hats and to browse their wares. Dennis greeted us with a cheerful grin.
Snickers the Skunk
As we were purchasing the book, “True Tales of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula,” a man waltzed into the gift shop holding a pet carrier. Inside was a skunk. “Awwh ohh.” I made a some sort of sound, “Can you tell me about your skunk?” I inquired as I would have asked my second grade student who had just came in from recess with a questionable item.
Tom set the cage on the cement floor and opened the door. Snickers wandered the space apparently sniffing for any leftover treats. Tom scooped up his pet and shared that Snickers and Oreo had been napping in bed just minutes ago. “You have to have a special license and get your a skunk from a breeder.” He explained. “They (the breeders) have to remove the scent glands at 4 weeks old.” Snickers wiggled out of Tom’s arms and calmly returned to his cage.
Although my initial reaction to seeing a skunk was completely apprehensive, I could see that Snickers was was a wonderful pet. He was charming and very smart!
Behind the gift shop stands the remains of two original mine buildings.
The stamping method would crush the rocky ore and allow for the copper to be collected. It was a painstaking process.
Natives Mined This Area Centuries Ago
There is evidence of native mining in a nearby crevice. The people would heat the rock with fire, then pour cold water over it, causing the rock to crack. Then they could pound and crush these smaller pieces to extract the copper. They used this metal to make arrowheads.
The Delaware Copper Mine
Walking through the Delaware Copper Mine and the surrounding ruins brought me a better understanding and admiration of the hard work our forefathers had accomplished. Plus, I met my first pet skunk!
Chuck and Martha Hayden, aka The Viking and Poppins, enjoy going on adventures off the beaten path. They also like to share their explorations with others. The Viking is a retired expedition leader while Poppins is a retired teacher. The two offer independent views of their journeys showcasing places, people, and cultures as they explore the world. Visit and follow them on their website and social media accounts. Website | Facebook | Instagram |YouTube