To Do: Migrate

This paper is part of the Proceedings of the Maritime Cultural Landscape Symposium, October 14-15, 2015, University of Wisconsin-Madison

Brenda Williams
Quinn Evans Architects

The Quincy Smelter Complex (QSC) is a compelling example of a nationally significant industrial maritime cultural landscape, where preservation of historic resources, environmental concerns, and development pressures must be addressed in concert.  The Quincy Mining Company (QMC) National Historic Landmark District was designated in 1989 as an outstanding example of the growth and development of the United States copper industry from its earliest years through 1920.[1]

Figure 1: The Quincy Smelter Complex viewed from Houghton, Michigan, facing north, 2007. (source: Dan Johnson, NPS)

The district is part of Keweenaw National Historical Park, located north of Wisconsin on the Keweenaw Peninsula.  Hancock, Michigan is about 330 miles north of Madison. The national park features two separate units that help to interpret the region’s copper mining past. The landscape is rich in natural resources and scenic beauty, and contains a spine of copper bearing rock and minerals that extends more than 100 miles in length along the peninsula.  The area has attracted people seeking the red metal that we call copper and that American Indians referred to as “Miscowabik” for thousands of years.

Figure 2: Keweenaw National Historical Park is a partnership park located in northern Michigan. (source: NPS)

The Quincy Smelting Works was constructed on land created from stamp sands deposited into Portage Lake by a stamp milling operation in the 1880s. Opened in December 1898, the original smelter featured a furnace building 84 feet by 144 feet with four reverberatory furnaces vented by 75 foot tall smokestacks.  Numerous other structures supported the operation and the complex was continuously expanded and upgraded until difficulties began in 1913.   Although the smelter closed in 1931, it reopened several times over the ensuing decades before, faced with increasing environmental regulations, it closed permanently in 1971.[2]

Figure 3: Quincy Smelting Works with the Quincy Mine visible on the hill to the north, 1906. (source: Copper Country Explorer)

In 1986, the Torch Lake Superfund site, including the Quincy Smelting Works, was established when the U.S. Environmental Protection Agency (EPA) had concerns about heavy metal runoff into Portage Lake.  EPA undertook remediation of the shoreline and a large area that had been used for slag piles. Three layers of environmental concerns relate to the site including the land itself, created from dumped stamp sands; slag piles that are waste from the smelting process; and industrial materials related to the operation of the buildings and equipment on the property.[3]  Each of these is also a significant historic resource.  Since typical approaches to mitigation of environmental concerns would create impacts to the historic integrity of the property, the EPA endeavored to minimize negative effects by capping selected areas and allowing others to remain intact.  A nine-inch ground cover was placed over the stamp sand in selected areas, and turf was planted in former locations of slag piles.  The new green space on the waterfront drew attention from the local community who initiated pressure to establish a park at the location.[4]

Figure 4: Aerial view of the Quincy Smelting Site, ca. 2012. (source: Google Maps)

The Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission purchased the property in 2014 and plans to eventually transfer it to the National Park Service.  Concepts for use include a joint visitor center for Keweenaw National Historical Park and Isle Royale National Park.  Currently the Isle Royale headquarters is located on the opposite side of the lake.

In the meantime, the commission continues to work to stabilize structures and deal with remediation of contaminants while the NPS considers long-term costs associated with the operation of the site.

Figure 5 Casting Shed prior to stabilization, 2010. (source: Scott See).

Figure 6: Casting Shed following stabilization, 2012. (source: Scott See)


Brenda Williams, ASLA, is a Principal at Quinn Evans Architects, a consulting firm dedicated to preservation and sustainable stewardship with a perspective informed by history and place.  Ms. Williams’ career has focused on the conservation of cultural landscapes, particularly those in the public arena. She facilitates a collaborative approach to the planning and management of cultural landscapes, a process that educates stakeholders about the significance of historic landscapes and integrates multiple viewpoints. Her design solutions integrate natural and cultural elements of sites to develop environments that are engaging and inspirational.


University of Wisconsin, Madison, Master of Arts in Landscape Architecture, 1995
University of Kentucky, B.S. in Landscape Architecture, 1988


American Society of Landscape Architects, HP PPN Leadership Group
Alliance for Historic Landscape Preservation, Board of Directors
Taliesin Preservation Inc, Board of Trustees

[1] Lidfors, Kathleen. Potential National Historic Landmark Eligibility of Historic Copper Mining Sites on the Keweenaw Peninsula, Michigan, 1987; and Kathleen Lidfors, Quincy Mine Historic District, National Register Nomination, 1988.

[2]; Stevens, The Copper Handbook, Vol. 3, 1903; and Quinn Evans Architects, Woolpert, Inc., and Keweenaw National Historical Park, Quincy Mine Historic Landscape Cultural Landscape Report / Environmental Assessment, 2010.

[3] Scott See, Director, Keweenaw National Historical Park Advisory Commission, personal communication, September 30, 2015.

[4] Ibid., and

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