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Archive for the month “February, 2023”

Winter vs. Autumn in Houghton, Michigan

February 28, 2023
(Photos and memories from February 8, 2009, and October 4, 2021)

Houghton is a substantial town of 8,386 in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula. The city was founded in 1852 but boomed in the late 19th and early 20th centuries as the principal city of Michigan’s “Copper Country” — the area in and around the Keweenaw Peninsula in the western part of the Upper Peninsula (the “U.P.”). During that time, Michigan’s Copper Country was the world’s largest producer of copper.

I’ve had the pleasure of visiting Houghton twice — once in February 2009 and then again in October 2021. My pictures show the contrast between the U.P.’s fall and winter seasons. In fact, the two different seasons look like two different worlds.

The location of Houghton County within the state of Michigan.

Houghton is the home of Michigan Technological University, or “Michigan Tech,” which holds a Winter Carnival each February. The carnival includes displays of giant ice sculptures like the one below.

One of many Winter Carnival ice sculptures on the campus of Michigan Tech in February 2009.

Houghton averages 218 inches (18 feet) of snow annually, much of it lake-effect snow coming off nearby Lake Superior.

The winter vs. autumn photos below contrast Houghton’s snowy February with nearly the same view during October. Both images look down toward the Keweenaw Waterway from a hillside in downtown Houghton. The Keweenaw Waterway is a partially man-made canal that connects to Lake Superior at either end. The tower of the old Quincy Mine can be seen on the opposite hilltop, on the left side of both photos. While the February snow can be overwhelming, the early October foliage is spectacular.

The Portage Lake Lift Bridge is the only land-based link between the two sides of the waterway and connects the city of Houghton to the town of Hancock on the opposite side. The middle section of the bridge can be lifted from 4 feet to 100 feet clearance above the water level to allow ship traffic through. U.S. Route 41 is routed across the bridge. The bridge was dedicated as a National Historic Engineering Landmark in June 2022.

Ferry boats to Isle Royale National Park make their base in Houghton. They operate seasonally.

Most of the downtown activity in Houghton runs along Shelden Avenue, parallel to the waterway a block below it. Many of these structures were built during the copper boom a century ago. They seem too large for a town of 8,000, but they’re still magnificent.

Douglas House on Shelden Avenue in Houghton, Michigan. The photo was taken in February 2009.

Along with the Douglas House (above), the Richardson Romanesque Houghton National Bank Building (below) dominates Houghton’s downtown. The structure was built in 1889 with locally quarried Jacobsville Sandstone and includes arched windows and first-floor stone carvings. Jacobsville Sandstone was in great demand, like Upper Michigan copper, in the late 19th and early 20th centuries. It was used in many prominent buildings throughout the United States, including the original Waldorf-Astoria Hotel in New York City. The use of red sandstone diminished as it gradually went out of fashion among architectural firms, replaced by a preference for white marble construction.

Houghton’s downtown district consists of a series of streets along a hillside parallel to the Keweenaw Waterway. The Houghton County Courthouse stands on Houghton Avenue, two parallel streets above Shelden Avenue. Since each successive street runs 20 feet higher than its predecessor, the Houghton County Courthouse towers above the city.

A historical sign peeks out above feet of snow to explain the history of the 1887 “High Victorian” Houghton County Courthouse.
Houghton County Courthouse. Houghton, Michigan.
Red Sandstone trim at the entrance to the courthouse.
The Fifth-floor courtroom in the Houghton County Courthouse. Houghton, Michigan.

A list of all photo posts from the American County Seats series in TimManBlog can be found here.

All photos were taken by the author on either February 8, 2009, or October 4, 2021.

My lifetime hobby is traveling to all of America’s county courthouses, and each month I post about a visit to a scenic or interesting county seat. It’s a hobby, and donations are greatly appreciated to help cover my costs.


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