Wednesday, September 10, 2014

On to Michigan and the Fayette Historic Town Site

After dodging some bad weather leaving Wisconsin, we made our way to Rapid River Michigan and several days of seeing Stonington Peninsula, along with some other great Michigan treasures, like Fayette Historic Town Site.

This 19th Century, well preserved town, was most industrious.  They manufactured charcoal pig iron here from 1867 to 1891, along with lime.   Now in a State Historic Park, visitors can take a walking tour among 20 original structures, including eleven buildings with museum displays and plenty of scenic views of this harbor town of yesterday.

Located on the southern side of the Upper Peninsula on Big Bay de Noc, Lake Michigan, Fayette was at its peak the most productive iron smelting operation in the area. Shortly after the Civil War, this company town grew up around two very large blast furnaces, charcoal kilns, a lime kiln, and a large dock.

About 500 residents lived here, and during its peak in population, half were children. The laborers and skilled tradesman produced over 225,000 tons of pig iron during its 24 years of activity, all splitting up just over $5,000 in payroll each month, They used hardwood from the forest for fuel, and quarried limestone from the bluffs in the harbor to purify the iron ore.  It would be short lived due to the exhaustion of hardwoods, and the Jackson Iron Company closed its Fayette smelting operations in 1891 when the market declined. Although some residents stayed and farmed, many left Fayette.

In 1882 the company announced it would build a lime kiln to manufacture lime used in mortar for masonry, chinking for log houses and plaster for interior walls. The excess was sold to Escanaba, which was a two day trip by stage, or 3 hours by boat across Big Bay de Noc.  In the winter, when the lake froze, residents could ride a stage sled across to Escanaba.

Fayette's central business district separated the have from have nots. Trademen and Supervisors along with their families lived in comfortable frame houses, while simple log homes were taken along the hill, road and shoreline by the unskilled laboring class on the other side of town.

Take a walk on Slag Beach, which was an industrial dump site, where glass like slag, or cinder, mixed with iron can still be found. The Jackson Iron Company used the furnace waste product as a road base and fill material. The beach also served local residents as the landfill, and Fayette was known for not being a "tidy" town.

We found the walking tour great!  You'll want to allow for a couple of hours to see the entire town and its surroundings.  Along the tour you'll find a reconstructed Charcoal Kiln that was used to make fuel for the large furnaces still standing. By the mid 1880's there were over eighty charcoal kilns in the area run by the company.

You'll also see the ruins of the company store, which like many others, was described by one resident as a "pluck me".  The store was destroyed by fire in the 1900's, but it's limestone frame remains tall on the shore of the harbor.

We found this historic park well worth the price of admission to see a bit of history at your own leisure. They've done a great job of maintaining and reconstructing the buildings that are left, with plenty of information to give you a real sense of what life was like here.  For more information see their official website HERE.

See our stay in this area, including our experience with Monarch Butterflies at Peninsula Point Lighthouse, the ghost town of Stonington Point and more via our Photo Blog HERE.

While in this area we stayed at Vagabond Resort just outside of Rapid River, MI.  This is an older RV Park, and though it looks a little run down, we found the management and WIFI to be excellent!  Very helpful and friendly atmosphere, although we probably wouldn't choose this park without the Passport rate.  (Around $27 normal, $13 Passport).

No comments: