Only a couple years after the great copper rush began along the Keweenaw, things were looking grim. As prospectors rushed into the rugged hills of the peninsula, they quickly found the terrain unforgiving and the copper scarce. Newly established mines quickly exhausted their cash supplies in search for only a marginal amount of copper. Mine after mine failed, and investor after investor lost their shirts in the process. In desperation companies moved southward, hoping that the great copper lodes Houghton suggested did indeed exist. It would be 1845 - with the discovery of the copper-rich Cliff Mine - that faith would be restored. The region would never look the same.
The first copper mine to pay a dividend to its investors, the Cliff proved that copper in profitable quantities did indeed exist. The mine would spark a second copper rush, this time concentrated along the miles of steep cliffs in the peninsula's interior, known today as the Cliff Range. The Cliff Mine was soon joined by several new mines including the sprawling Phoenix Mine just a mile to the east. These mines were accompanied by hastily constructed town sites, home to stores, churches, schools, and hundreds of houses and bunk-houses for the mine's workers.
As the mines grew, so too did these towns. Before long the town at the Cliff Mine - known as Cliffton - had become one of the largest settlements in the Keweenaw. For the next twenty years the mine and town prospered. With the mine's inevitable closure in 1870, a lot of the town's residents and a few of its buildings migrated a mile to the east - to the Phoenix Mine. While never as successful as its neighbor, the Phoenix managed to stay in intermittent operation for a few more decades - sustaining the town of Phoenix in the meantime.
NOTES: The Phoenix Mine was finally undone by the Depression, closing down in 1931. Most of the remaining residents in the area moved south to still-operating mines around Calumet and Houghton. Today there is very little left of either Cliffton or Phoenix - save a few buildings restored by the Keweenaw Historical Society and a small store still in operation.
DIRECTIONS: Follow US41 north out of Houghton for 24 miles up to the M26 junction along the cliffs. The small village of Phoenix will be on the right.