U.P. Road Trip: Traveling through time in Calumet

Michigan

CALUMET, Mich. (WJMN) — Dave Geisler knows the ins and outs of what makes Calumet a great place to visit.

“I always tell people to start with the National Park Visitor Center because to me it’s a great time capsule,” Geisler, a board member of Main Street Calumet and volunteer with St. Paul the Apostle Church and the Calumet theater, said. “When you look around the village today, it’s hard to imagine 40,000 people here with street cars, big theater, 30 churches, as many saloons. And I always tell people if there were a method of time travel that is what I would do.”

Established as Red Jacket in 1864, Calumet didn’t get its current name until 1929. Now, the village north of Houghton in the Keweenaw Peninsula offers rich history and activities year-round.

There are several museums in the area to visit, including Coppertown, the Copper Country Firefighters History Museum and the Keweenaw Heritage Center.

Geisler says he thinks the grandest buildings in town are the Calumet Theatre and St. Paul the Apostle Church.

“When the theater was built, first of all you have to understand a lot of the [mine] management came from the east coast, came from Boston,” he said. “And so they were used to big elaborate theaters and so Calumet wanted to prove that they had made it, that this was a wealthy community that could support a theater like this. And a lot of people don’t realize there was the Calumet Theatre here with 1,200 seats and then Hancock had the Carraige Theater, 1,500 seats; so this was a great theater town.”

Calumet’s architecture tells the story of mining days.

“I think the size of the buildings, people just have this urge to say, ‘We’ve been successful,’ and ‘Look at us, look at all we’ve accomplished,’ I mean think about it: The village of Calumet was established in 1875 and then just a mere 25 years later you have this grand 1,200-seat theater,” Geisler said.

The theater opened for its first show on March 20, 1900, with a comic operetta called “The Highway Man.”

“I think what was important about opening night was not that production but the headline that appeared the following evening on March 21 and the headline read, ‘A blaze of glory,’ and I think that captures the pride had in the theater back in 1900, I think it captures the pride we have in the theater even today,” said Geisler.

The Calumet Theatre was built by Charles K. Chand. He built several buildings between 1894 and 1903. The lower level is made of sandstone quarried in nearby Jacobsville. The next two levels are cream-colored brick and the building is capped with a copper cornice. The inside was designed by William C. Eckert Company of Chicago.

“The architect was really proud of the fact that both the sandstone and the copper were locally produced material,” Geisler said.

The theatre was a host for live theatrics until motion pictures became popular starting in the 1920s. Now it hosts performances by local acting groups, school performances, tribute bands, comedians and more.

St. Paul the Apostle Church was founded in 1889 by Slovenian immigrants as St. Joseph’s Church. The first church building was built in 1890 but burned down in 1902. The current building was also started by Charles K. Shand in 1903 but not completed until 1908.

“At the peak of the population boom here, believe it or not, there were six Catholic churches here in town and they were all associated with different ethnic groups,” Geisler said. “So St. Joseph was Slovenian; there was St. Mary’s, Italian; St. Ann’s, French Canadian; St. John’s, Croatian; St. Anthony, Polish; and then Sacred Heart which was German and Irish. Of those six, only two remain.”

The building is built out of the same type of sandstone as the theater.

“This is a stone that’s kind of unique to the Upper Peninsula. It can be quarried around the Great Lakes but it’s called Lake Superior Sandstone,” Geisler said. “Our sandstone actually came from Jacobsville, which is located about 20 miles to the southeast of here and you see it everywhere here in the village.”

The inside of the church is modeled after churches in Slovenia. Geisler’s grandparents were members of the church when it was mostly attended by Slovenian immigrants.

“The people who built this church tried to recreate here what they knew back in Europe except on a larger, grander scale,” Geisler said.

Geisler says the stained glass windows were bought by parishioners when they were put in so each one has, in Slovenian, the name of the people who contributed to the purchase.

“The saints that are depicted had meaning to the people of the congregation,” Geisler said. “So this second window here, that’s Saint Barbara, and she was the patron saint of miners.”

If you can find the time to visit for more than just an afternoon, you can also find art galleries, shops and great eateries in Calumet.

“If you love old bars, Schute’s just down the block has this great old stained glass canopy inside. Michigan House is a brewpubL good food, beautiful old bar,” said Geisler. “You could spend days here, not just one.”

To learn more about history in the village, you can visit the Keweenaw National Historical Park’s website and the Keweenaw Time Traveler website.

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