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Fayette Historic State Park

Delta County. Michigan's Upper Peninsula (September 2000)

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Dolomite Cliffs

Dolomite Cliffs of Snail Shell Harbor

Fayette Historic State Park

We drove along scenic shoreline through Michigan's Upper Peninsula between Manistique and Escanaba on U.S. Route 2. It was a short detour down Lake Michigan's Garden Peninsula to the Fayette Historic State Park and its lovingly preserved ghost town. Fayette once housed 500 residents in this company town while it produced pig iron in the late 19th Century. The Jackson Iron Company chose a site along Snail Shell Harbor, a naturally protected inlet among dolomite cliffs, an offshoot of Big Bay De Noc. Today this historic location has a museum, interpretive paths through the ruins, campgrounds and hiking trails.


Old Dock and Furnace Complex

Ships tied up to harborside wharves, now rotting quietly in the harbor, and delivered supplies to the complex while transporting away newly produced pig iron. Nearly a quarter of a million tons left this port between 1867 and 1891. Smelting took place within on-site blast furnaces shown on the left side of this photograph. Workers harvested adjacent hardwood forests to fuel the tremendous fires used to melt the ore and quarried limestone rock to help purify it. The natural harbor, nearby fuel and abundant mineral deposits all helped Fayette Brown select this location. On-site smelting was much cheaper and more efficient than transport raw ore to distant locations.

Ghost Town

Company office in the foreground,
hotel in the background

The Jackson Iron Company built a centrally located two-story wooden building within the complex as their office. From here, managers oversaw smelting operations and shipped pig iron to steel-making centers around the Great Lakes. They also owned and operated the company town and in that sense provided all the services required for the basic health and safety of their workers.

Fayette Townsite Hotel

Jackson Iron Company Hotel (left)

Common laborers lived in dormitories and boardinghouse structures. This large wooden building with two wings in the shape of a U, housed the many young men who work hard, physical hours at the blast furnaces. Professionals and tradesmen with families lived in middle-class cabins nearby. There weren't many distractions. The company owned everything and the focus was work.

Company Store

Ruins of the Company Store

People didn't have many options when they needed food or personal supplies. The townsite wasn't chosen for convenience. It was deliberately located near the natural resources required to smelt pig iron and this happened to be an out-of-the-way spot. This was a company town dedicated to the extraction and smelting of raw iron ore. The company provided a store and that was the only choice available unless people hiked or sailed to distant locations or arranged for items to be shipped to them. This large elaborate stone building provided sundries and sustenance. In that regard the Jackson Iron Company controlled commerce along with every other aspect of their worker's daily lives.

Machine Shop

View of Machine Shop, Office and Hotel

Not everyone worked within the heat of the blast furnaces. Many other occupations provided supporting roles. The building in the foreground was a machine shop where parts could be crafted or repaired on the spot as necessary. The town had to be self-sufficient. Too much money would be lost if the furnaces had to shut down for parts to be shipped from Escanaba or even more distant locations. Other workers provided carpentry and blacksmith skills, or cared for the horses and stock animals. Others were woodcutters or quarrymen. A lucky few were managers or were professionals such as doctors.