A National Historic Site, National Historic
Mechanical Engineering Landmark,
The Cornish Pump was featured in the History
Channel's Modern Marvels Series
Iron Mountain, MI is located on the Eastern Menominee Iron Ore Range. This entire area reflects the mining and logging heritage. One of the area landmarks is the Cornish Pump, the largest steam-driven pumping engine in the United States.
The town of Iron Mountain began in 1879 with the discovery of the Chapin Mine, now considered one of the greatest iron mines in the world. Mines had been discovered all around the "iron mountain" but not like the Chapin.
After exploration, it was discovered that the iron was over 6,100 feet wide and varied in depth from 50 to 150 feet. Part of the iron was found to be located under a cedar swamp. The Chapin mine was the wettest of the mines ever worked.
At first, ground pumps were used to handle the seeping water, but as mining was done at deeper and deeper levels, the ground pumps were useless and the wetness caused serious problems.
By 1889, the E. P. Allis Co. of Milwaukee (forerunner of the Allis-Chalmers Co.) was commissioned to design and build a pumping system to handle the mine's water. The Cornish pumping engine was placed in operation west of "D" Shaft of the Chapin Mine in January 1893, with a total expenditure of approximately $250,000. The pump itself cost $82,000. The 725-ton Cornish Pump was capable of pumping 3,400 gallons per minute, or 5,000,000 gallons each 24 hours from a depth of 1,500 feet. The Cornish Pump is named after the pumps which dewatered Cornwall's tin mines.
The flywheel of the Cornish Pumping Engine is 40 feet in diameter and weighs 160 tons. The cylinders plus upper and lower cylinder heads weigh 60 tons. The engine stands 54 feet above the floor of the engine room.
The Chapin Mine was the leading producer on the Menominee Iron Range. By 1890, Iron Mountain became known as "the payroll city of the north" employing from 1,800 to 2,000 men. In this year, a record 742,843 tons of ore were shipped out.
In the years between 1880 and 1932, the mine produced 27,506,868 tons of iron ore. The mine was closed on August 1, 1932. Huge amounts of iron ore still remain in the ground, but the cost of mining the ore is prohibitive.
When the mine closed and the pumps shut down in 1932, water rose up in the mine and filled two pits, one on each side of Stephenson Avenue (US 2). These bodies of water are known as the Chapin Pits, The Pit, or East and West Chapin Lake.
In 1934, the Oliver Iron Mining Company offered the Cornish Pumping Engine to Dickinson County as a "relic for sightseers to visit". For years it stood outside until the museum was built around it in 1982-83 by the Menominee Range Historical Foundation.
The Chapin Mine Pumping Engine was designated as a National Historic Mechanical Engineering Monument by the American Society of Mechanical Engineers on June 6, 1987.
The Iron Mining Museum housing the Cornish Pump on the north side of Iron Mountain also contains the largest collection of underground mining equipment on display in the state of Michigan.
Museum hours are 9 am to 5 pm Monday through Saturday and 12 noon to 4 pm on Sunday, from Memorial Day to Labor Day. Other times by appointment.
Information and pictures of the Cornish Pumping Engine, courtesy of the Menominee Range Historical Foundation.
The book Iron Mountain's Cornish Pumping Engine and the Mines it Dewatered by William John Cummings is for sale at the Iron Mining Museum.
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