The History Of Isle Royale

A Brief History Of Isle Royale

The island we know today as Isle Royale has not always looked the way it currently looks. Isle Royale was formed and shaped over a long period of time, beginning several thousand years ago. Geological research indicates that the body of Isle Royale was formed by molten lava as it seeped up through cracks in the floor of Lake Superior. After the lava hardened and formed the island, the land mass received its unique washboard appearance from years of exposure to glaciers. The massive sheets of ice moved across the surface of the island and carved large grooves into the surface, which today are visible as the many ridgelines, cliffs and valleys. When the glaciers melted away they left deposits of mud, silt and water. The mud and silt provided a rich qrowing environment for plants and trees, while the water filled in the many depressions on the island and formed the lakes and swamps. The presence of trees and plants lured birds and insects to the island and they were eventually followed by small animals which made the 15 mile crossing from Canada when the lake froze over during the winter months.

Animals, however, were not the only ones to discover Isle Royale. It is believed that the earliest presence of human beings on the island can be traced back to approximately 2000 B.C. when Indians made the trip to the island to mine copper. The French also heard about Isle Royale and documented its presence on some of their maps when they were exploring this region. In 1837 Michigan was given control of the island and it became the first Lake Superior territory to be admitted to the Union.

In the early 1800's fisherman took notice of Isle Royale because the area around the island supported many popular types of fish. In 1837 the American Fur Company built several fishing camps on the island, but they were forced to stop operations in 1841 due to an economic depression. Several fishing companies returned to the island years later, but were not able to turn a large enough profit to make it a permanent way of life on the island.

Another major effort aimed at profiting from Isle Royale's resources came in the form of mining for copper. Miners arrived on the island as early as 1843. This first attempt at extracting copper did not meet with much success due to inefficient mining methods and low profits, and the miners ceased operations by 1855. While the miners have long since left the island, a couple mine pits from that period can still be seen by visitors today. A couple mine pits at the Siskowit mine location are visible only a couple yards off the Rock Harbor Trail between Three Mile and Daisy Farm. The other location is on the Stoll Trail near the Rock Harbor lodge, which was the site of the Smithwick mine. Mining companies again became interested in Isle Royale around the time of the American Civil War. By this time, mining techniques were more advanced and ore transportation from the island was more efficient, overall this helped companies see increased profits over the earlier mining attempts. The mining business brought many people and families to Isle Royale. The two major mining areas on the island at this time were at McCargo Cove on the north side of the island, and near the Siskowit Bay on the south side of the island. By 1875 the two sites had almost become small cities, which included houses, stores, docks, roads, and schools. The size of the settlements necessitated the need for some type of government, and Isle Royale County was formed in this year. Over the years various mining companies made attempts to locate and mine copper, however, there was never enough metal found to make the businesses profitable, and the last mining company closed operations on Isle Royale in the early 1890's.

After the miners left the island it was re-discovered by entrepreneurs who attempted to make a living by catering to passengers of passing steamships. The tourism era lasted from the late 1890's until the 1920's and resulted in the building of a couple resorts on the island. Some time in the 1920's, Albert Stoll, a writer for the Detroit News newspaper, made a couple trips to the island and wrote several articles about the island in the paper. It is Albert Stoll who has been given credit as being the driving force behind the movement to make Isle Royale a national park. Today, the Stoll Trail near the Rock Harbor lodge bears his name. It was in 1931 that Congress passed legislation to make Isle Royale a national park and the island saw yet another change in it's use. Isle Royale has now become a haven for backpackers, kayakers, divers and scientists and is visited by roughly 15,000 people annually making it one of the least visited of America's national parks.

Source: DuFresne, Jim. Isle Royale National Park Foot Trails And Water Routes 2nd edition. The Mountaineers, 1991.

This page last updated on 02-25-2016 @ 11:29 AM