A snapshot in time; History of the Calumet buildings lost May 21

Copper Country

CALUMET, Mich. (WJMN) – The three buildings in Calumet destroyed by fire in May of 2021 had been there for at least 100 years although they have changed over those years.

41 people were living in the buildings at the time of the fire, Dave Geisler, a member of Main Street Calumet, says that is the biggest tragedy of the fire.

“I just simply cannot imagine what they are going through and what it is like in a matter of hours to lose everything that you have,” said Geisler. “And you know the community responded well, there’s been cash, food, clothing, furnishings but there are still going to be some things that you simply cannot replace.”

Geisler says something that makes downtown Calumet unique is the age of the buildings.

“Our downtown streets are lined with buildings that date back to the late 19th century and the early 20th century and people are very proud of those buildings,” said Geisler. “I mean they speak to the days when Calumet was the center of the copper mining industry up here and kind of our glory days.”

Main Street Calumet, the historic district commission, the Village of Calumet and Keweenaw Economic Development have all been working for years to preserve and redevelop the buildings in the area. Geisler says it’s discouraging and disappointing when something like a fire happens.

“Something else from a Main Street perspective is those buildings had three commercial storefronts in them and they have generally always been occupied,” said Geisler. “And so suddenly, they’re gone and I think that detracts from the vitality of the community and the vitality of downtown.”

Sarah Scarlett, Ph.D, co-directs the Keweenaw Time Traveler. She says the buildings have always held services for people in the community.

“They’ve been there for at least 100 years and have essentially always served many purposes, have served the community of Calumet in many many different ways,” said Scarlett. “They have always had people living in them, they have always had stores and services.”

Geisler says the memories of what was in those buildings have also been lost with the fire.

“When you talk to people, in the middle of that block there was a restaurant and at various times was known as the Parkside or the Evergreen,” said Geisler. “Talk to people of a certain age and they will say ‘oh my gosh they had the best pies anywhere,’ and I can tell you my uncle and aunt would go up to the Parkside/the Evergreen almost every afternoon for a slice of pie and a cup of coffee.”

For people with memories of the past in Calumet, The Keweenaw Time Traveler is an online tool for sharing stories of a place or look up information from a place. The maps on the website are interactive and display several towns in the Copper Country, including Calumet.

The maps show what buildings held the years they were mapped, who lived there and what the buildings were made of. The maps were made by the Sanborn company and were sold to insurance agencies during the time to assess fire risk according to Scarlett.

“Yellow buildings are wood, pink buildings are brick and blue buildings are stone,” said Scarlett. “And then they keep track of what kind of businesses were in there so these are incredibly detailed rich valuable resources studying the historic built environment like I do.”

Sanborn map of the three buildings that were lost in the fire as they were in 1928. Screenshot from Keweenaw Time Traveler.

History of the buildings according to the Keweenaw National Historical Park’s archives

View of the three buildings in Calumet that were lost in the fire, 1905 and now. Photo of 5th St. 1905 courtesy of Keweenaw National Historical Park

The Holman Block

Peter Holman built on the southeast corner of 5th and Portland streets in either 1882 or 1883. Holman worked as a miner in Copper Falls for about a year starting in 1954 then went on to work at the South Cliff Mine, Huron Mine and the Quincy Mine later on. Holman began selling staple and fancy groceries, fruits, crockery and confectionery in 1864. He established a branch store in Red Jacket (Calumet) April of 1872 then became manager of the Red Jacket Store in 1978.

Initially in the Holman Block, dry goods were sold in the north storefront and groceries in the south storefront, on the second floor a photography studio had it’s home. In 1888 the north storefront was a watch shop then by 1893 was identified as a jeweler. In 1986, the Holman Block was expanded with a third story. Holman’s grocery business occupied the north storefront in 1897 and a store selling dry goods and clothing occupied the south storefront. In 1898, John Holman and Stephen Williams joined in partnership in the grocery business.

Around 1905, a three-story addition was added to the south side of the building. The ground floor was commercial and occupied by an office. During that time frame the north storefront remained the grocery business and the middle storefront was used for storage. A fully enclosed three-story stairway/hallway occupied the space between the Holman Block and the Bloy building to the south.

In 1909 the Holman Block was owned by the estate of Peter Holman but the grocery business was operated by Obenhoff & company. Upstairs, photographer John Stolt had a studio and in 1910 the partnership of Harper & Thomas operated the grocery business. In 1913, Stolt closed his photography studio potentially because of the copper strike going on district-wide at the time.

Harper & Thomas transitioned from selling groceries to working as undertakers, florists, picture framers and upholsterers. The middle storefront was occupied by Superior Wollen Mills, tailor Barney Hoffenberg proprietor, who specialized in men suits. A telegraph office held space in the south storefront.

Harper & Thomas, the Ingot Floral Company, the Calumet Storage Battery Company, and Theresa Welsing’s millinery shop all occupied space in the Holman Block during 1920. In 1925, the Harper & Thomas partnership was dissolved. James Thomas remained in business on his own and James H. Dale ran the flower shop. In 1926 the Tinetti electric shop sold floor lamps, lamp tables, light fixtures and electrival appliances in the building.

In 1930, James Thomas and his wife Minnie also resided in the Holman block where Thomas ran his business in the corner storefront. Theresa Welsing’s millinery shop and the Prudential Insurance Company with Peter Peschel, agent, held space in the building as well. Residents in 1930 included Mrs. Harriet Crase, widow of Edward; Alfred Elliot, a janitor, his wife Carrie, daughter Jane and son James, a helper for the Calumet and Hecla Mining Company; Emma Eusa who worked as a presser; Howard A. Harvey, miner for Calumet & Hecla Mining Company and his wife Thursa; and James Rule, employed by Calumet & Hecla Mining Company and wife Ida.

Louis and Bessie Mawrence purchased the Holman Block in 1931. In 1939 Louis died and Bessie owned the building until at least 1941.

Bloy Building

The Bloy building was built around 1989 as a two-story building with a large storefront on the south side and a narrow storefront on the north side of the ground floor. William J. Bloy built the mine after having lived in the Upper Peninsula since 1859, when his parents moved from Devonshire England to work at the National Mine in Ontonagon County. Around 1969, his father worked for about 9 months at the Bohemian Mine before relocating to Calumet to work as a shift boss for the Calumet & Helca Mining Company. Bloy’s father was killed falling 150 feet from a bucket in the mine.

Bloy received his education in the Calumet schools and was employed in the Centennial Mining Company stamp mill, then the Centennial Mining Company store. For nine years he worked in the Ruppe department store in Red Jacket, then in 1889, he struck out on his own in the undertaking and furniture business.

Bloy’s own furniture and undertaking business occupied the south storefront in 1893 and a millinery shop was in the north storefront. Behind the millinery shop, there was a cabinet shop for the furniture business and in the basement there was a barber shop.

In 1895, a third story and large attic – almost equal to a fourth floor – was added. At the rear of the building a larger cabinet shop and a stable was built. By 1898, William J. Bloy died and his son William J. Bloy (Junior) managed the furniture and undertaking business with his son Henry working as a delivery clerk. William lived in the building during that time.

The south storefront and north storefront were combined by 1908. Henry and Wilbur Bloy managed the furniture company and William J. Bloy (Junior) worked as an undertaker. During this time, no one resided in the building and all three floors were businesses.

Henry Bloy was the lone proprietor of the Bloy Furniture Company by 1930. William J. Blow was working as a florist to complement the undertaking business. Charles Palosaari purchased the building in 1935 and around the same time the furniture business closed and the building became occupied by the A&P grocery store.

Mandelbaum Building

In 1870 Max H. Mandelbaum built the Mandelbaum Building on 5th Street in Red Jacket (Calumet). Initially it was a gable-front building with a storefront on the ground floor and an open balcony on the second floor that went over the front wood sidewalk. A cross-gabled ell on the south side of the building was used as a dwelling with an open front porch facing the street across a small front yard and the northeast corner of the lot was occupied by a stable.

Joseph Gardner managed a mercantile business in the storefront selling clothing, gentlemen’s furnishings, boots and shoes. Gardner purchased the building in 1874 and continued business for himself, likely living with his wife Melvina in the attached house. In 1902 Gardner died and Melvina sold the building to Edward Ulseth a local contractor in 1905.

Ulseth moved the building to the north directly next to the Bloy building, in front of the stable. This allowed him to build the Calumet Block to the south. The balcony was removed at this time and a one-story storefront was constructed in the ell between the storefront and the dewlling. Both of the storefronts were occupied by offices in 1908. The north storefront had been remodeled with a modern pressed metal ceiling, a tile mosaic floor and high-backed oak booths by 1917. Nelson’s Dairy Lunch occupied the space and operated as a restaurant and confectionery/bakery.

The stable behind was used as a garage and connected to the building with one-story additions occupied by a candy kitchen. The south storefront was occupied by an insurance agency and Edward and Caroline Nelson lived upstairs in the building. The second floor over the south storefront was added after 1929.

The Nelsons still operated the restaurant in the Mandelbaum building in 1930 even though they lived elsewhere. The upstairs became the office of dentist Wilber S. Whisler and an apartment. Olga Leide lived and worked in the apartment as a dressmaker.

In 1931, during the Great Depression, Ulseth lost the building. First National Bank took ownership then later went bankrupt around 1937. Charles Plosaari purhcased the building in 1940 and the Palosaari family operated it as the Parkside Restaurant and Bakery from 1946 until 1990. In 1992, the Rastello family opened the Evergreen Inn restaurant in the Mandelbaum Building. The building remained vacant after the Evergreen in closed in the early 2000s.

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