This presentation is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison
Diana Penkiunas: And our last presenter before our break is Brenda Williams, who will be speaking on the Quincy Smelter Complex as a Maritime Cultural Landscape.
Brenda Williams is a Senior Associate at Quinn Evans Architects, and her career has focused on the conservation of cultural landscapes, particularly those in the public arena. She facilitates a collaborative approach to the planning and management of cultural landscapes, a process that educates stakeholders about the significance of historic landscapes, and integrates multiple viewpoints. Her design solutions integrate natural and cultural elements to sites to develop environments that are both engaging and inspirational.
Brenda Williams: That was awesome because I was getting pretty nervous, Dave, that I was going to be the only one talking about management and treatment at a historic site. Dave was a great segway because we’ve got Great Lakes, we’ve got Lake Superior, we’ve got shipping and in my case, we have mining and particularly, copper mining and management at one small specific site. This will be a little bit of change in scale from what you guys were thinking about this morning.
The Quincy Smelter Complex is a compelling example of a nationally significant industrial Maritime Cultural Landscape where preservation of historic resources, environmental concerns, and develop pressures need to be addressed in concert.
The Quincy Mining Company National Historic Landmark District was designated in 1989 as an outstanding example of the growth and development of the United States copper industry from its earliest years through 1920. And I’m not going to go a whole lot into the history but this is one of the iconic sites that are part of that landscape and you can see the number two shaft-rockhouse and the Hoist House, up on the hill. And then down behind, where you see Portage Lake, up towards the top of the slide, is the smelter site, which is down on the water and that’s what I am going to be talking about. One small piece of that overall district.
The district is part of the Keweenaw National Historical Park, which is located north of Wisconsin on the Keweenaw Peninsula in Hancock, Michigan and it’s about 330 miles directly north of here. So, if you are wondering where we at.
The national park features two separate units that help to interrupt the region’s copper mining past. And the Quincy unit is the one that I’ll be talking about, that’s illustrated on the right. The other is the Calumet unit. And important here, you can’t ever talk about Keweenaw without mentioning that this is an unusual type of national park. It’s a partnership park. Although the two units and the two NHL’s encompass over 4,000 acres worth of land, the National Park Service or Federal Government owns, I think, less than 200 acres of land. And the rest of the land and the resources up there are managed by the park’s partners and that’s really important when we think about the smelter site.
The landscape is rich in natural resources and scenic beauty and contains a spine of copper bearing rock and minerals that extends for more than 100 miles in length along the peninsula and that’s what that orange line is. The area has attracted people seeking the red metal that we call copper and American Indians refer to as Miscowaubik for thousands of years.
The Quincy Smelting Works was constructed on land created from stamp sands deposited into the lake. This is a little bit different, you guys have been looking at things that are in the water but we actually created land in the water here from basically a dumping site. It was a stamp mill operation in the 1880s and in 1898, the original smelter for Quincy was opened featuring a furnace building, 84 feet by 144 feet with four reverberatory furnaces vented by 75-foot tall smokestacks. There were numerous other structures supporting the operation at that time and the complex continuously expanded and upgraded until difficulties began in 1913.
Although the smelter was closed in 1931, it reopened several times over the ensuing decades before faced with increasing environmental regulations and that’s important, It closed permanently in 1971. In 1986, the Torch Lake Super Fund site, including the Quincy Smelting Works, was established when the United States Environmental Protection Agency had concerns about heavy metal runoff into Portage Lake which you can imagine, the whole entire site was constructed from the stamp sands. The EPA undertook remediation of the shoreline and a large area that had been used for slag piles. And the area becoming shaded now is showing you where they were doing the remediation. The red line is important to note because that is where they put up a fence and within that fence, they did not do remediation. And so the idea here was to cap and contain but to try to limit the amount of impacts that they had on the historic resources at the site.
We have here three layers of environmental concerns relating to the site including the land itself, which was created from the dump stamp sands, the slag piles that are waste from the smelting process, and the industrial materials related to the operation of the buildings and the equipment on the property. Each of these is also a significant historic resource. Since typical approaches to mitigation of environmental concerns would create impacts to the historic integrity of the property, the EPA endeavored to minimize negative effects by capping the selected areas, like I talked about, and allowing others to remain intact. And what that means is that they then left dealing with those problems to future folks.
The EPA, I’ll tell you what they did and then I’ll tell you what’s happening after that. In the area that they addressed, they applied a nine-inch ground cover over the stamp sand in selected areas and planted turf in the location where slag piles use to be. That created a new green space on the waterfront. We’ve heard about that earlier this morning what happens when you have a waterfront location, especially if you have some green there. So, the local community got really excited and began really pushing to establish a large park. There was actually a movement to get rid of those big ugly buildings and make the park bigger. So, the examples that Diana talked about in Ashland and La Crosse, I think are really relevant here.
The Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission purchased the property, important here, this is not the National Park Service. It’s the Advisory Commission. They purchased the property in 2014. And I think I forgot to say that the site was deed listed. It’s no longer a Super Fund site. That had to happen before the Advisory Commission could purchase the land. And they have plans eventually to transfer. I mean, their hope is to transfer this property to the National Park Service. In order for them to do that, there are a number of issues that need to be addressed first.
There are concepts that have been developed for a joint visitor center on the property that would serve both the Keweenaw National Historical Park and Isle Royale National Park. And important here is, whoops, sorry, that Isle Royale National Park’s headquarters are directly across Portage Lake, right now and that’s just sort of a bunch of big metal buildings where the headquarters and the boats are that take people out to the actual island.
The concept of bringing that headquarter across here would give a joint presence for the Park Service and would provide them the opportunity to use this property and to expand the headquarters for Isle Royale but would also give a presence here to help manage the smelter site.
In the meantime, though the commission is continuing to work to stabilize structures and to deal with remediation of contaminants which is a continuous sort of issue as they get in and start to work on the different structures, they’re finding different things they need to address. The most recent one had to do with mercury, which was pretty interesting. And so, as they’re doing that the Park Service is thinking about the long-term costs associated with the operation of the site and the maintenance of the site and how they move forward.
And so, what I’m going to do right now because they’ve done some great work up there, I’m just going to pose the three questions that I have related to the site about what we’re talking about today and tomorrow. And as I do that, I’ll just page through a few of the images of the buildings and the equipment here. I think my first question is, you know, based on what everyone’s talked about this morning, I came up here to this podium wondering, is this a place that should even be considered as a Maritime Cultural Landscape, or not? Certainly, it has ties to the Great Lake shipping and also the industry but it’s already in NHL in its own right as part of the copper mining district. And so, there’s that question, you know, as you’re thinking about Maritime Cultural Landscapes, do they need to be way out in the water or can they be things that are more attached to things on land? So that’s one question. And whether or not the maritime lens is the appropriate lens for consideration of this type of site.
The other question that’s running through my mind is in this case, I think a lot of what the research, sort of an arbitrary area chosen by the EPA, it had all to do, I mean I say arbitrary, and all to do with the environmental concerns, but what they did do is put this fence around the buildings, for lack of another approach. But, part of that was because the landscape itself, when the NHL was nominated. There wasn’t really a detailed list of what’s contributing about this landscape. They did manage to save one large slag pile because they really made a case for this is a very important part but you can see that other parts of the site are now looking very different and have a different look. And so that need to be able to address what is contributing, I think, is something we are hearing this morning.
And then, I have to do a plug because someone just a few minutes ago made the point that if the National Register had a property type for landscapes, that that would be a really helpful thing for this type of site and many other sites as well. Oh, and then these are just a few of the equipment in there which is just fabulous.