Alexander Agassiz – president of the Calumet & Hecla Mine – was son to renowned naturalist and Harvard Professor Louis Agassiz. As such he was very interested in the study of the natural world, specifically marine ichthyology (the study of fish). His interests took him all over the world’s oceans in search of new discoveries, a hobby that quickly helped him become a leading figure in the field of marine biology. His enthusiasm for knowledge and exploration was reflected in C&H’s construction of Calumet’s first public library in 1898.
At its peak the library boasted over 35,000 titles on its shelves, including a good number of books in several foreign languages. Every year area residents would check out over 100,000 books from the library, some 60,000 of which by children. While the book selection was wide and large it was by no means complete. Agassiz made sure that no “incendiary” titles found their way to library shelves, especially any books advocating labor issues such as worker safety or collective bargaining.
The library’s stacks and librarian desk were on the first floor, while a pair of large reading rooms took up the majority of the second. The library’s basement served as a public bath for C&H employees and their families. Eighteen tubs separated between men’s and women’s washrooms could be used by women free of charge or by men for only 3 cents. In total these baths would be used some 30,000 times a year.
The outside of the stately 2 and a half story building looks very similar to the C&H offices sitting across the road. A patchwork of irregularly shaped and colored stones formed the building’s exterior walls, accented with red brick over the windows and along the corners. Round arched windows and a protruding brick chimney embellish the building’s eastern face.
NOTES: This beautiful building has survived the past century rather well, looking very much like it did when it was built. Though no longer serving as a public library, the building still holds an academic purpose as the archives for the Keweenaw National Historical Park. The building is open to the public for research. Its easily viewed from the road or the adjacent parking lot.
DIRECTIONS: The C&H Library stands on the corner of Mine Street and Red Jacket Road in Calumet. Upon entering Calumet along US41 continue north to the third light (Red Jacket Road) and turn left. The library will be at the end of the block on the left.