U.P. road trip: History and memories of Republic

U.P. Roadtrip

REPUBLIC, Mich. (WJMN) – Republic is nestled off Michigan Highway 95 in West Marquette County, what once was a typical mining town in the Upper Peninsula has now reshifted to focus on offering recreation to its visitors.

Beyond the ORV and snowmobile trails and the Iron Ore Heritage Trail trailhead, visitors can learn of the town’s history. The Republic Area Historical Society, a nonprofit organization, has a presence at four locations in Republic and South Republic: the Pascoe House Museum, the Beulah house, the Iron Ore Heritage Trailhead building and the old Republic Mine observation site.

James Kippola, trustee with RAHS, shares information about where you can view history around town.

The Republic Mine Observation site is located at the south end of Park City Road and is free for anyone to visit during the day. There are signs at the site where visitors can see pictures and read about the history of mining in Republic. Kenneth Salo, Vice President of RAHS and founding member, says the story of mining really begins in 1848.

“Well you back up to 1848, when the government land surveyors were coming by dividing the Upper Peninsula into townships and the surveyor’s name I believe was William Austin Burt and he made a note recorded in his field notes that there was a severe magnetic attraction on the compass,” said Salo. “So he used a solar compass to run the lines correctly but he noted that there was an inexhaustible quantity of iron ore nearby that was causing about a 30-degree deflection and that still exists today, I worked as a forester and there’s places around Republic where the needle on a compass will stick to the bottom of the box no matter what direction you change, it sticks.”

Salo says in 1954 Silas C. Smith explored the area and agreed that there was a presence of iron ore in Republic.

“In 1869, a Swedish immigrant by the name of Samuel Munson working for Breitung and a few other entrepreneurs from, Breitung is from Negaunee of course, but he drilled the first diamond-drill hole on Smith’s Mountain,” said Salo. “1871, two things, they began clearing the land clearing the trees off Smith’s Mountain and also started a spur of the railroad from Humboldt down to Republic, that was the Marquette, Houghton, Ontonagon railroad.”

The railroad was completed in September 1872. LaVerne Antilla says the first people in town came with the mine.

“I think the first people who came here probably were Peter Pascoe, who ended up being the mine captain and also a nephew of his and also Matt and Eliza Gibson they had a boarding house and had a lot of single workers working there and they had a big family also I don’t know how they managed and he turned out to be quite a businessman,” said Antila. “The Munson family was also one of the early families and Dower and actually we say that we began in 1870 and that’s when the Republic Iron Company was organized but it wasn’t a village yet because we have no 1870 census for Republic, that starts at 1880 but I would say by 1872 there were quite a few houses and the mine was working by then by 1872.”

Salo says the first 10,000 ton shipment of ore was sent via the railroad to Marquette in October 1872. The mine consisted of 9-10 shafts and 5 open pits over a 52-year span.

“The Republic Mine was referred to as the boss mine of the Marquette Iron Range, it had the richest ore of iron content of the shipments which was generally around 69 or 70% iron, very highly sought after, they received a premium price from the steel mills down in Cleaveland and Detroit, Erie Pensylvania,” said Salo. “They went deeper and deeper and over time they mined out everything worthwhile and then ran out of iron ore and that basically led to the closure of the min in 1926”

Salo says the mine shipped out approximately 8,500,000 tons of iron ore between 1872 and 1926. When the mine closed, the population dropped. However, another mining operation opened in the 1950s.

“The mine expanded resulted in the movement of basically half the town sort of half the town all the homes that had been built on mining company land were moved from what we called then Park City down here to what we call South Republic,” said Salo.

Kenneth Salo talks about the impact of moving the town for the open-pit mine.

Several members of RAHS remember when homes were moved to South Republic. One of the homes is now the Pascoe House Museum. Gerilyn Mikus is the granddaughter of Peter Pascoe Jr., she says she remembers when the house was moved to South Republic.

“When they moved the house out, my mom and my grandma and my Aunt Beulah were here and they never took any pictures because it was so upsetting that they were splitting up the town and moving it out… they moved it out to a potato field,” said Mikus. “My grandma was so upset, it was like my beautiful house that used to be on the river now sits in the middle of a potato field so they were upset but again it worked out and it was kind of traumatic for a lot of people in town I remember you know that the houses were split up.”

Olga Williams shares memories of activities in Republic before leaving for college in 1952.

The Pascoe House Museum is open between Memorial Day and Labor Day on Saturdays and Sundays from 1:00 to 3:00 and by appointment.

RAHS hopes to preserve the history of Republic for many years to come. President Olga Williams says that many of the members are getting older and they need people to keep the organization going.

“Anyone can get involved in fact in our brochures, we give suggestions for what people might want to do,” said Olga. “Say things like just let us know like maybe you wouldn’t mind sorting paper material, maybe you wouldn’t mind repairing some clothing, just whatever and we have all the names of the officer.”

They also have several books available for purchase. You can purchase them by contacting the historical society on Facebook, by mail or calling a member. Antilla says the books range in topics.

“Our first publications were ones that we put together ourselves, ran them off on a copier machine and then we decided we were going to do something a little better and we had help with a couple of other guys and we have printed several from an actual print shop in Ishpeming,” said Antilla.

LaVerne Antilla talks about what makes Republic Unique.

Antilla says a combination of research, looking at township tax records, gathering pictures and interviews with people are how they compiled the books. They are also going to be working on an update on “Streets of Old Republic.”

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