What and Where is Ontonagon (Final Part)
Written by Bruce Johanson
Editor’s note: This is the fourth and final part of a series written by Bruce Johanson about how he came to live in Ontonagon and a summary of the history in the area. Don’t forget to read Part 1, Part 2, and Part 3 if you haven’t already.
Mining was again renewed during the WWI period with the Michigan, Mass Consolidated, Victoria, and White Pine mines in full operation until the end of the war.
In 1919, a pulp mill was built, and, by 1925, the paper-making equipment was set up. Through the years, the mill, under various owners, provided generational employment and supported many families until being closed down after over 90 years of operation.
To the west, renewed interest in copper, as well as the technology to extract the copper from the chalcocite deposits led to the creation of the largest mining operation in the history of the region and the creation of an elaborate mining town, White Pine. Copper prices are an economic roller coaster and the mine has flourished, declined, and may rise again. Today there are plans, in the light of increasing prices of copper, to renew copper mining again.
There was also a short-lived attempt at manufacturing with the creation of a shipyard in 1979. This facility has and is again being used for various metal fabrication projects.
For the most part, the economy of the area has been based on extraction of the natural resources; copper and timber, however the location of a deepwater port provides the potential for other development.
The population of the village has never been over 2,500 and the population of the entire county is slightly less than 6,000 in 2021. The county had the first telephones in Michigan in 1877; the first airmail flight in the Upper Peninsula; and Ontonagon is home to the oldest public school district in the Upper Peninsula. The largest state park east of the Mississippi is located in Ontonagon County.
Ontonagon is situated at the mouth of the Ontonagon River, the largest river that flows into Lake Superior from the south shore. The history of the area is divided into its maritime years, agricultural development, forestry and logging, and of course its first industry, mining. It is a safe, quiet community; a great place to raise a family, with unlimited recreational opportunities that include water activities, skiing, snowmobiling, and has a well-developed trail system for All-Terrain Vehicles.
Churches in the community area include; Roman Catholic, Lutheran ELCA; Missouri Synod Lutheran; Apostolic Lutheran; AFLC Lutheran, WELS Lutheran, United Methodist, Free Baptist, and Jehovah’s Witness.
There is a local hospital in the village, as well as a long-term care facility. Air transportation for emergency medical cases is quickly available.
There is an airport and a county transit system and fire protection is provided by now fewer than 6 fire departments located throughout the county, all of which, as well as the police, are available through the emergency 911 system.
What is Ontonagon? To those who choose to live here, it is home. Where is Ontonagon? It is where it always was and will always be.