Old Victoria Historic Townsite
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Discover Old Victoria Michigan Ghost Town & Victoria Dam in the Upper Peninsula

Nestled in the heart of Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, the historic site of Old Victoria and the engineering marvel of Victoria Dam offer visitors a unique glimpse into the past, set against the backdrop of the region’s breathtaking natural beauty.

As one of several Michigan ghost towns in Copper Country, this is a destination you’ll want to add to your Western UP travels!

Victoria Location In 1930
Victoria in 1930 I photo credit: Ontonagon County Historical Society via uplink.nmu.edu

The Historical Tapestry of Old Victoria

Old Victoria stands as a testament to the resilience and spirit of the early settlers in the Upper Peninsula, particularly those who ventured into the demanding world of mining. The site, located 4 miles southwest of Rockland, MI, on Victoria Dam Road in Ontonagon County, was once a bustling copper mining village, home to those who worked the Victoria Copper Mine.

Victoria Copper Mine

In the mid-1700s, missionaries stumbled upon a colossal copper boulder in the region. After several attempts to establish a mining operation, the area’s inaugural mine was successfully launched in the 1840s.

The mine stands as the oldest copper mining site in the area, not including ancient aboriginal workings. Englishman Alexander Henry first mined for copper here after discovering the “Ontonagon Boulder” near the site in 1766, a legendary, massive boulder of pure copper known to the Indians as “Manitoti.”

After surviving Pontiac’s Uprising’s surprise attack on Fort Michilimackinac, Henry turned to mineral exploration on behalf of the British government.

Fun fact: Henry is said to have taken refuge inside Skull Cave on Mackinac Island┬áduring Pontiac’s Uprising.

Henry and a team, backed financially by the Duke of Gloucester, returned in 1771 to commence the first commercial mining activity in what would later become Michigan. However, the Cliff Mine, opened in 1843, is often celebrated as the first successful copper mine in the state and the world’s most productive until 1858.

The mining efforts initially failed when the mine collapsed due to a lack of support timbers, leading to a 70-year hiatus until the Ontonagon Boulder was transported to Washington D.C. by the U.S. government in 1843. The Cushing Mining Co. revisited the site in 1849, venturing into the wilderness that Michigan still was, despite its new statehood.

The Forest Mining Co. assumed control in 1851, and the mine was eventually renamed after Queen Victoria in 1858. Despite its remote and harsh location, the mine was reorganized as the Victoria Copper Mining Co. in 1899, consolidating several previous failed mining efforts.

The mine operated from 1858 to 1878 and from 1899 to 1921, producing about 20 million pounds of refined copper and some silver. Its most productive shaft, Shaft #2, reached 28 levels deep by 1920.

Village of Victoria

The village of Victoria sprang up around the mine, named after the Victoria Mining Company. At its zenith, the town boasted 80 houses, a general store, a school, and a stamp mill, supporting a vibrant community of miners and their families.

Despite the harsh working conditions and meager wages, the copper mining town flourished until the decline of copper prices and the aftermath of World War I led to its abandonment.

The log houses, dating to 1858 or earlier, lack modern conveniences but offer a glimpse into the past. The surrounding forest reveals the foundations of other buildings, including a frame house covered in leaves, suggesting the area’s once-thriving community. These cabins were used sporadically into the 20th century, despite lacking modern conveniences like plumbing.

“Old Victoria has a few buildings, old homes, that have been restored to what they once were like. The staff on hand is always more than willing to offer a quick history lesson, or answer any questions you my have. Limited hours, during the summer months, with various art and craft shows, complete with home made cinnamon rolls baked in wood fired ovens on site. A nice little side trip for those interested in the history of the area, a few miles back in off the main highway thru Rockland.”

UPwrite, review on Tripadvisor
Old Victoria Historic Townsite-Rockland
Old Victoria Historic Townsite | photo via birchtr

The Restoration of Old Victoria

In the 1970s, a remarkable effort to resurrect Old Victoria began. Several of the original hand-hewn log cabins, built over 100 years ago to house miners, have been meticulously restored. These cabins, once part of a community known as Finn Town, now serve as a living museum, offering visitors a window into the past.

The Society for the Restoration of Old Victoria, Inc., has spearheaded the efforts to bring the old company town back to life. Through the dedication of local volunteers and the support of private donations, significant restoration has been achieved.

Visitors can explore the Arvola House, the Usimaki House, and other restored buildings, each furnished with period antiques that tell the story of the hardy people who mined copper over a century ago.

Guided tours, available daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m. from Memorial Day Weekend through the Fall Color Season, offer narrated insights into the lifestyle, challenges, and achievements of the mining community.

The restoration of Old Victoria is a tribute to the enduring legacy of the miners and their families, whose contributions shaped the region’s history.

“My wife and I toured around the Old Victoria restoration cabins and then the ruins of the mine themselves. Everything was very interesting especially the pictures of the families who lived in the cabins from over 100 years ago. Nice little diversion of the path. Thanks so much!!!”

Mike K, review on Tripadvisor
Victoria Dam
Victoria Dam | photo via Michelle Lutke

Embracing the Natural Splendor: Victoria Dam

A short distance from Old Victoria, the Victoria Dam harnesses the power of the Ontonagon River, creating a scenic reservoir that contributes to the area’s hydroelectric capacity. The dam itself, an example of early 20th-century engineering, is surrounded by the lush forests and rolling hills of the Upper Peninsula, offering a peaceful retreat for nature lovers.

Visitors to the area can enjoy hiking, fishing, and wildlife observation, immersing themselves in the serene beauty of the Ontonagon River valley.

The journey along Victoria Dam Road from the town of Rockland is particularly recommended, providing stunning views of the river and the surrounding landscape, especially during the fall when the foliage is ablaze with color.

Cultural Celebrations and Educational Opportunities

Old Victoria is not only a historical site but also a center for cultural and educational activities. The annual Log Cabin Day in late June, the Old Victoria Arts & Crafts Fair in August, and the hike on National Trails Day in June are just a few examples of the special events that bring the past to life.

These gatherings, featuring old-time music, traditional crafts, and historical reenactments, offer families and history enthusiasts a chance to connect with the heritage of the Upper Peninsula.

The site’s inclusion as a Heritage Site within the Keweenaw National Historical Park further emphasizes its importance as a cultural and historical resource. Both self-guided and narrated tours provide valuable educational experiences, highlighting the technological innovations, such as the Taylor Hydraulic Air Compressor, and the diverse immigrant communities that contributed to the mining industry’s success.

Old Victoria Historic Townsite-Rockland
Old Victoria Historic Townsite | photo via jwalkhikes

Planning Your Visit

Old Victoria and Victoria Dam are accessible via a scenic route that is part of the Michigan Lake Superior Tour, making it an ideal side trip for those exploring the Upper Peninsula.

The best time to visit Old Victoria and Victoria Dam in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula depends on what you’re looking for in your visit:

  1. Summer (June to August): This is the most popular time for tourists due to the warm weather, making it ideal for exploring the outdoors, hiking, and fishing. The summer months offer the most comfortable weather for walking around Old Victoria and enjoying the natural beauty around Victoria Dam. Additionally, many local events and festivals take place during this time, providing a richer cultural experience.
  2. Fall (September to October): Fall is a fantastic time to visit if you’re interested in seeing the spectacular autumn foliage. The Upper Peninsula is renowned for its vibrant fall colors, and the area around Old Victoria and Victoria Dam is no exception. The weather is cooler than summer but still pleasant for outdoor activities. However, be aware that some facilities may have reduced hours as the tourist season winds down.
  3. Winter (November to March): Winter in the Upper Peninsula is cold and snowy, making it a great time for snowmobiling, skiing, and snowshoeing if you’re prepared for the weather. The snow-covered landscape offers a different kind of beauty, though access to some areas may be limited due to snow.
  4. Spring (April to May): Spring can be unpredictable, with lingering snow early in the season and potentially muddy conditions as it melts. However, as the weather warms up, the area’s natural beauty begins to bloom again. This can be a quieter time to visit before the summer crowds arrive.

Overall, the best time to visit depends on your interests. For outdoor activities and the full experience of the historic site and natural beauty, summer and early fall are the best times. For winter sports enthusiasts, the snowy months offer a unique experience. Spring offers a quieter visit, with the beauty of nature’s renewal.

For those interested in history, culture, and natural beauty, a visit to Old Victoria and Victoria Dam offers a rich and rewarding experience. Through the preservation efforts of the local community and the natural splendor of the region, these landmarks stand as a vibrant reminder of Michigan’s past and a source of inspiration for future generations.

As you walk the paths of Old Victoria, peer into the restored cabins, or gaze upon the tranquil waters behind Victoria Dam, you’re not just witnessing the remnants of history; you’re stepping into the stories of those who came before, understanding the legacy of the Upper Peninsula’s mining era, and appreciating the timeless beauty of the natural world that surrounds it.

Old Victoria Historic Townsite-Rockland
Old Victoria Historic Townsite | photo via nathaninvincible

Quick Facts About Old Victoria

  1. Location and Access: Old Victoria is accessible via a scenic route along Victoria Dam Road from the town of Rockland, passing through the Ontonagon River valley. This route is part of the Michigan Lake Superior Tour, making it a colorful side trip that offers picturesque views, especially during the fall color season.
  2. Keweenaw National Historical Park Heritage Site: Old Victoria is recognized as a Heritage Site within the Keweenaw National Historical Park. This affiliation underscores its historical importance and ensures its preservation and interpretation are managed with national standards.
  3. Tour Options: The site offers both self-guided and narrated tours daily from 11 a.m. to 5 p.m., from Memorial Day weekend through the Fall Color Season. This flexibility allows visitors to explore at their own pace or benefit from the insights and stories shared by knowledgeable guides.
  4. Restoration and Living History: With ten original residences, a barn, and two outhouses historically part of the community, four cabins have been meticulously restored and furnished to reflect their original state. Tours of these cabins provide a vivid peek into the life of a miner and their family 100 years ago.
  5. Annual Events and Activities:
    • Log Cabin Day in late June: Features kids’ games, old-time music, and the baking and selling of homemade cinnamon rolls, prepared on an old Monarch wood cookstove.
    • Old Victoria Arts & Crafts Fair: Held annually on the third weekend in August, this event features volunteers and exhibitors dressed in period attire from the 1899-1921 era, offering a unique atmosphere reminiscent of the mining era with only original hand-crafted wares.
    • Annual Hike on National Trails Day: Takes place on the first Saturday in June, promoting the exploration of local trails and the natural beauty surrounding Old Victoria.

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