Exploring Houghton and Hancock in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan
Houghton and Hancock, located on US Highway 41, are the main cities in the Keweenaw Peninsula.
Houghton is home to Michigan Technological University and Hancock is the home of Finlandia University.
The early settlements of Houghton and Hancock Michigan grew up on each side of the narrow end of Portage Lake with Houghton on the south side and Hancock on the north side. Hancock, as well as the northern part of the Keweenaw Peninsula, could only be reached by water so small boats were used to connect the two towns. Both towns began to prosper as copper mines were developed on each side of the waterway and commerce and shipping began.
Portage Lake and the Portage River provided a natural pathway across the Keweenaw Peninsula, dividing it almost in half.
The Keweenaw Waterway was completed in the 1860's when a ship canal was built connecting Portage Lake on the east to Lake Superior on the west. Ships could now enter this ship canal from either side of the Keweenaw Peninsula and cross to the other side without having to go around.
The Keweenaw waterway also made it possible for larger vessels to travel to Houghton and Hancock and it provided a Harbor of Refuge to protect these vessels from Superior's terrible storms. Completion of this canal made the Keweenaw an island, rather than a peninsula.
A bridge was built to connect the two towns in 1875, rebuilt in 1898 and had major repairs in 1905-6. The present Portage Lake Lift Bridge built in 1959, the heaviest aerial lift bridge in the world, now spans the waterway.
This unique double deck bridge has two levels of traffic. The upper level is for vehicular traffic while pedestrians and snowmobiles can use the lower level. The lower level was originally used for trains, but there are no longer any trains in the Keweenaw so the rails have been removed. This is the only entrance to the tip of the Keweenaw unless you go by boat or plane.
In the summer the bridge is often left up, allowing the vehicle traffic to use the lower lever and boats up to 35' tall to travel under the bridge without it being raised. Most of the water traffic at this time is pleasure craft and fishing boats.
There is air service to the Keweenaw, the airport is just north of Hancock. Served by Northwest Airlines.
Photo: Portage Lift Bridge by Mary Deloria
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