Cleveland Cliffs experiments in farming

The model dairy building at Bellevue.

Under the leadership of President William G. Mather, CCI began to expand their footprint to include lumbering, charcoal iron production, quarrying, tourism and yes, farming. Mather’s justification for creating farmland came from the creation of cutover cordwood lands. Mather stated in 1903:

“It is therefore perfectly safe to say that the charcoal furnaces of the Upper Peninsula are clearing off 10,000 acres of woodlands per annum, or an average of about thirty acres per day, 365 days a year. This is clearing off a nice farm every day, and must add very materially to the process of adding to the population of the upper peninsula, the consummation of which is very desirable, as at present the whole upper peninsula is approximately only three hundred thousand… The procuring of charcoal is today an unmixed boon in my opinion, … as it gives the settler a chance to buy cheap land in a section of the country which is now generally conceded to be unsurpassed for grazing and to possess very great advantages for many kinds of agriculture.”

CCI owned over 260,000 acres of woodlands in Marquette and Alger counties, it was logical that they wanted to show the value of cutover land for these purposes. Samuel Redfern, the land agent for Cliffs believed that properly managed farming would make for a highly successful venture. Bellevue Farm was created to encourage others to start similar farms.

Construction of Bellevue Farm began in 1899 and the Negaunee Iron Herald reported on May 5 that a large barn had been built near the halfway house on the road to Palmer and that it was large enough to shelter four or five thousand sheep.

However, it was really the dairy which was the primary attraction at Bellevue. An article in the Mining Journal stated that the dairy operation would produce butter of the very highest grade using a new process of separating cream from the milk which would save about 25 percent in cream over older methods. The dairy was finished in 1901 and was a model for others to follow. It was the finest in the Upper Peninsula. A large steam engine not only ran the butter making machinery, but it also ran a feed grinder and silage chopper.

A bird’s eye view of Bellevue Farm in 1905. Notice the large barn to the right.

Samuel Simms was hired as the resident foreman and in 1903 the farm contracted with George J. Houpt who operated a grocery business, to act as the local sales agent. Cream was sold in quart and pint bottles and supplied to customers directly from Houpt’s grocery. The following year delivery was provided directly to customers in Negaunee and Ishpeming.

A new manager arrived in 1905. Homer Crawford was a graduate of the state agricultural college and came well recommended. That year the farm featured Shropshire sheep, Poland China hogs, turkeys, Plymouth Rock chickens, farm horses, steers for market and 62 Jersey cows and calves.

By that time Bellevue encompassed 640 acres. 120 had been cleared and were used for crops, the rest was pasture and wood lot. Crops included 30 acres of barley, 38 acres of peas and oats, 32 of spring rye, and smaller acreage of oats, potatoes, corn, beets and garden vegetables.

Bellevue Farm had proven to be a successful experiment and with so much additional acreage, CCI decided to transfer its demonstration farm to Alger County. The process of dismantling and moving Bellevue began in 1907. The large barn was taken down and shipped to the Alger County location at Rumley. Another rail car moved chickens, horses and calves. The location of the Bellevue Farm site has now been covered with rock from the Empire Mine. It was a model farm that had served its purpose.