On a recent road trip across Michigan’s Upper Peninsula, we took a little detour off US2 to explore the old smelting operation at Fayette State Park. A 20 mile jaunt across the countryside takes you south down a little peninsula jutting out into Lake Michigan. The state park is home to a well preserved ghost town; giving visitors a glimpse into 19th century life in a remote town. We spent a few hours wandering around the old builds, which wasn’t nearly enough time.
History of Fayette
With a small, sheltered harbor, limestone cliffs, and plentiful hardwood forest, Fayette was the perfect location for a smelting operation. Beginning in 1867, the Jackson Iron Company turned Upper Peninsula iron ore into pig iron. From there, it could be loaded onto a ship and sent anywhere in the Great Lakes or beyond. At its peak, there were roughly 500 people living on the little peninsula. By 1891 market forces and depletion of the local resources forced the company to abandon the operation. After the blast furnaces shuttered, most residents left Fayette to seek new employment. Aside from a little fishing and farming, the old town saw use as a vacation resort in the first half of the 20th century.
Fayette Historic Town Site
Today, all that is left is a ghost town. With over 20 buildings remaining from the smelting operation, Fayette gives visitors a good idea of what a remote town would have looked like in the 1800s. The huge stone blast furnace sits near the shore of the bay; reminiscent of an old camping lodge. The rest of the town is mostly wood; weather beaten and paintless. The monotonous gray contrasts against the green grass and trees, enhancing the ghost-like state of the town.
The town sits on a small bay, with stunning cliffs to one side; similar to the famous Pictured Rocks of Lake Superior. Most of the buildings are open to the public and have some informational displays. Management, a blacksmith, hotel, company store, school house, and of course the massive smelting furnaces. One structure of note is a reconstructed worker’s cabin. A Spartan home; only what is needed to survive day to day with none of today’s luxuries. Today it sits by the lake shore like a summer getaway, but in reality the area would have been crowded and dirty when the iron operation was in full swing.
We wandered through the whole town, contemplated past lives, and took many pictures. Each building tells its own stories. Unfortunately, we had to hit the road for Marquette and didn’t have time to explore the hiking trails. I hope to return to Fayette during a forthcoming western UP tour.
Fayette State Park Information
The rest of Fayette state park is much like any other in Michigan. There are 5 miles of hiking/skiing trails, a 61 unit modern campground, and boat slips in Snail Shell harbor. A beach and other amenities are located within the 711 acre park. For more information on park features, maps, etc. visit the Michigan DNR’s website for Fayette State Park.