Chapin Mine

The Chapin is conceded to have been the greatest iron mine on the Upper Peninsula in magnitude of deposit and its immense production.  It is located at the village of Iron Mountain, and embraces the south half of the southwest quarter and the southwest quarter of the southeast quarter of Section 30, Town 40, Range 30.

The fee was owned by H.A. Chapin (see his biographical sketch, below) of Niles, Michigan, owner of the land upon which the mine was discovered in 1879. Menominee Mining Company held the lease on it.  Mr. Chapin received a royalty of 50 cents per ton on all the ore shipped. Explorations were commenced by Chapin in July, 1879, and a short time after the company secured its proprietary interest, and the first shipments were made in June, 1880.  That year the total shipments amounted to 34,556 tons.

The mine workings, all of which are underground, lie in the north face of a hill, which gradually sloped away to the north and west from an elevation at least two hundred feet above the railway level. The original discovery was made immediately on the line between Sections 30 and 31, at a point about four hundred feet west of the east line of the company's tract. At this point an exploration pit was commenced on the foot-wall, the top of which was on Section 31, and was carried down through fifty feet of surface and thirty-two feet of ore, the vein being apparently only about four feet in width.

Some idea of the extent of the deposit may be inferred from the fact that by 1882, it was opened up over a length of 2,350 feet, and that over this great length the ore body carried a width varying from thirty feet in the narrowest place to 127 feet at the widest - the largest and most uniform clean deposit ever yet developed in the Upper Peninsula. The approximate size of the ore body as shown by the workings, when it is stated that the ore still continues in both the east and west ends, with the new Ludington 1,320 feet distant, and in direct line with the trend of the Chapin formation, and about three hundred feet remaining to be opened up in the east end of the Walpole line, what the large probabilities for the future are may readily be inferred. The formation, which at first appeared to have a nearly east and west trend, swings around to the northeast near where the break spoken of in our last annual review occurs, and to the northwest in going in an opposite direction from the same point, the original and most easterly workings being close up to the line between Sections 30 and 31, and the most westerly shaft 50 feet north of it. The developments at the Ludington, a quarter of a mile farther west, taking it for granted that they are in the same ore body, indicate a still sharper curve to the northwest, and rather tend to corroborate the theory which has been advanced, that we have here a huge ore basin similar to that at Ishpeming.

In 1882, two new shafts were sunk in the west end, making a total of nine working shafts.  Other new developments consisted of extensive trestle works and a saw mill for preparing the timber used in timbering the mine, the system used being a modification of the Nevada system originated by Capt. Rundle, which proved successful in its workings. The mine gave employment to 900 men, 500 of whom were miners. Shipments commenced in 1882 from stock piles aggregating 100,000 tons, and the daily average product was 800 tons. The shipments for 1880 were 34,556 tons, 1881, 169,077 tons, and the estimated product for 1882 was 200,000 tons.

Among the new buildings erected in Iron Mountain in 1882 were a new hospital, reading room and two churches, Methodist and Swedish Lutheran.  The Chapin mine helped to bring many new residents into the area. Because a large number of the immigrants were Italian, Swedish and Cornish, their traditions and cultures remain and have a place today.

In 1883 the Chapin Mine had an estimated population of 4,000, and the monthly disbursements of the several mines amount to $70.000.  Except for 1932-33, this mine produced 27,506,868 tons of iron ore continuously form 1880 until its closing in 1934.

This entire area reflects its mining and logging heritage.  The town actually began in 1879 with the discovery of the Chapin Mine, now considered one of the greatest iron mines in the world. Mines had been discovered all around the "iron mountain" but not like the Chapin.

The mines are closed, but mining history is still alive and well. Today's economy in this part of the Upper Peninsula depends more on visitors digging deep in their pockets than men digging deep in the ground, and mining heritage - along with vast tracts of wild and beautiful spaces - is one of the lures.

Source:  History of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, containing a full account of its early settlement; its growth, development and resources. Chicago: Western Historical Company, 1883.

 BIOGRAPHICAL SKETCH: "Meet" the man who owned the Chapin mine...

Henry Austin Chapin was born October 15, 1813 in Leyden, Massachusetts, the son of Lorenzo Chapin (born 20 Jan 1793 in Leyden, Massachusetts), a farmer, and his wife, Maria Kent (born 8 February 1794 in Leyden, Massachusetts). When Henry was about a year old, the family moved to to the Western Reserve in Ohio. Henry spent most of his early life there.

Chapin married Ruby N. Nooney on March 22, 1836 in Mantua, Ohio. They lived for several years in Niles, Berrien County, Michigan, settling in Edwardsburg, Cass County, Michigan in late 1841. Henry was the first postmaster of Edwardsburg, Michigan when the town reopened on August 23, 1841. A few years later Chapin moved his family back to Niles.

Four of the seven children of Henry A. Chapin and Ruby N. Nooney:


i.  Sarah Maria Chapin, born 16 Aug 1838 in Niles, Michigan.
ii.  Carrie Eliza Chapin, born 31 Jul 1840 in Niles, Michigan.
iii.  Charles Augustus Chapin, born 2 Feb 1845 in Edwardsburg, Michigan.
iv.  Henry Edward Chapin, born 14 Dec 1851 in Niles, Michigan.

In 1846 Chapin and S.S. Griffin opened the first general store in Niles, then an outpost of civilization. The store dealt in produce and wool at 219 Main Street. Later, he bought out his partner and moved the store to 401 Main Street, Niles. In 1860, Chapin moved the general store to 217 Main Street. He remained a storekeeper until the outbreak of the Civil War, when he suffered a financial setback and his store failed.

In 1863, at the age of 50, Chapin made a fresh start in the real estate and insurance field with his son Charles. Their firm had interests in nearby paper mills and electric companies and real estate in Alabama, Illinois and Michigan.

On October 16, 1864 Chapin was listed as one of the registered voters in Niles' Fourth Ward.  He was a resident on Division Street.

In 1865 Chapin bought a piece of land in the Upper Peninsula from J.A. Banfield of Marquette County. This piece of land would one day be the location of Iron Mountain and the nation's largest deposit of iron ore, the Chapin Mine. Nearly twenty years later the discovery of rich iron deposits in land purchased many years before proved very profitable to him. The bulk of the family capitol came from that discovery of iron ore in the Upper Peninsula. The Chapin Mine near Iron Mountain began operations in 1879. Four years later, Chapin Mines employed 900 men and produced nearly 22,000 ton of iron ore annually, at $615 per ton. A royalty is paid for every ton of ore taken out of the mine, and Chapin's revenue from that source sometimes amounted to between $100,000 and $300,000 a year. Owing to the Great Depression, the Chapin Mine closed in 1934 after fifty-five years of continuous production.

Henry was one of the founders of the Michigan Electric Company, which along with the City of Niles Utility Department keeps the electricity flowing for Niles and four other townships. [I am unable to ascertain the date of the founding of the Michigan Electric Company.]

For thirty years he was an Elder of the First Presbyterian Church of Niles. [dates?]

In 1882, when he was 69 years old, Henry Chapin began construction of what was at the time the largest residential structure in Niles. The Queen Anne style Chapin home in Niles, Berrien County, MI was completed in 1884 and residence to the Chapin family until 1902. The mansion was distinguished by two lions at the heads of the steps to the residence, which Chapin had hand-carved in Chicago. Today, the Chapin Mansion, located at the corner of Fifth and Main streets, serves as Niles' city hall.

At the time of Henry Austin Chapin's death on December 16, 1898 in Niles, Michigan, his wife, Ruby, was 83. When Ruby died in 1902, the house was taken over by their son, Charles. In 1932, Chapin's son, Charles sold the home at public auction to the City of Niles for $300.

Sources for the biographical sketch:
Berrien County (Michigan) Directory, 1892. Berrien, MI: R.L. Polk and Company, 1892, page 282.
Biography and Genealogy Master Index. Detroit: Gale Research Co., 2003.
Flagg, Charles A., An Index of Pioneers from Massachusetts to the West, Especially the State of Michigan.  Salem, MA: Salem Press Co., 1915, page 20.
Herringshaw, Thomas William. Encyclopedia of American Biography of the Nineteenth Century.  Chicago, IL: American Publishers' Association, 1902, page 207.
The National Cyclopaedia of American Biography. Volume 10. New York: James T. White & Co., 1900.

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