NATIONAL MINE - Though the post office is gone and the gas pump is no longer working at the old Country Market, you can still hear the sounds of children playing, dogs barking and train whistles bouncing off the rock piles of the Tilden Mine over National Mine.
There are families living here now.
But local government officials have said that without the Tilden's multi-million dollar hematite and magnetite operation, the tiny community and surrounding township - which have already experienced marked population declines since their zenith near the dawn of the 20th Century - would likely diminish further.
A long ago street view of the village of Champion. The population of the community peaked at 2,500 in 1905, attributable to mining efforts in the local area. Many locations considered “ghost towns” by researchers, including Champion, have vanished from current maps or are no longer as prominent as they once were. (Marquette Regional History Center photo)
Under that scenario, National Mine might eventually join the fate of hundreds of other Upper Peninsula towns, railway stations and post office locations that have become "ghost towns."
Glance across an old map and you'll find no shortage of these places that once thrived during the mining and timbering booms and now exist only as pale impressions of their former prominence or have been enveloped and obscured by the surrounding woodlands and erased from current maps and memories.
"Ghost towns in Marquette County are the remnants and relics of flourishing days of forges, mines, blast furnaces, sawmills and narrow gauge railroads that still leave their 'traces' in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan," said Northern Michigan University professor Stewart A. Kingsbury in a paper written in the early 1980s.
National Mine itself -which once had a population of nearly 1,500 and whose railroad name was Winthrop- is situated a couple miles south of Ishpeming, surrounded by places like Saginaw, Salisbury and Stoneville, whose names are more familiar today as road or street names than the once familiar local mines or communities they represent.
In 1973, Roy L. Dodge published the definitive volume on this subject "Michigan Ghost Towns of the Upper Peninsula," relying on Webster's Dictionary for the definition of a "ghost" as "a faint, shadowy semblance; inkling; slight trace" as a basis for his "ghost town" designations.
Kingsbury later employed the same criteria.
Both researchers described the region's "ghost" locations and their associations with bygone entities like the Escanaba & Lake Superior Keweenaw Central railroad, the Eagle Mills Lumbering Co. and the Masek Chemical and Iron Co. or individuals like Samuel J. Tilden, a former president of the Cliffs Iron Co.
"The growth of townships, towns and populated areas in Marquette County resulted in a 'naming splurge' beginning with William A. Burt's discovery of iron ore near Teal Lake in 1844 and continuing along side-by-side with the development of mining," Kingsbury wrote.
Between 1848 and 1884, eight of the 19 townships formed in Marquette County were named for associations with local mining interests including Negaunee, Forsyth, Tilden, Richmond, Michigamme, Republic, Champion and Humboldt.
"Another major influence in the development and naming of townships and populated areas in Marquette County was the discovery of huge tracts of white pine in the Upper Peninsula, as the White Pine Era (1850-1900) was drawing to a close in the Lower Peninsula," Kingsbury wrote.
Sands Township was named for prominent Great Lakes lumberman Louis B. Sands and Wells Township for Daniel Wells, an Escanaba native and local lumbering pioneer.
At one time, Marquette County was home to railroad stations named Bagdad, Dishno, Gleasons, Lowmoor and Marigold. A look at a 1906 railroad schedule for the Marquette & Southeastern Railway shows several now faded station locations between Marquette and Big Bay including West Yard, Pickerel Lake, Buckroe, Birch, Powell, Antlers and Ransom.
There were also settlements named Dalliba, Forestville, Mangum and Greenwood. There was a farmers' post office at Greengarden and other post offices at Huff, Ruse and Bartley.
"Most of the areas are non-existent (today)," said Paul Petosky of Munising, who has been collecting and researching railroad and post office memorabilia for sixty years.
Several locations have had their names changed over the years. Dukes used to be called Lehtola and then Lawson. Negaunee was formerly called Jackson and Witch Lake was known as Witbeck.
Republic was named for "the Republic of America, U.S.A." by Edward Breitung of the Republic Mine. But the town was previously called "Iron City," which John Voelker used as the name for Ishpeming in his "Anatomy of a Murder."
Some of the places Kingsbury and Dodge refer to as "ghost towns" remain today, but like National Mine, are not home to anywhere near the same number of people as in their heydays.
With several mines along the local range, Michigamme maintained a population of 1,500 in 1893. In 1872, Humboldt, situated along the railroad, was home to 2,000 people. Settled in 1868, Champion had 300 inhabitants five years later and the settlement was well-established by 1893, owing its prosperity to the production of local mines.
"Champion was a full-fledged town, with two hotels, grocery, co-op general store; a milliner and dress shop; two barbers; two livery stables; a restaurant, bakery, meat market; tailor shop, confectionery, saloon, jewelry store; two shoe makers; a photographer; furniture and undertaker; and a hardware," Dodge wrote.
The village reached its peak population of 2,500 by 1905.
Princeton, near Gwinn, was another place that boomed with mining. Situated along the Escanaba River, the community was the post office for the Chesire Mine, about five miles west of Swanzy.
In 1905, Princeton's population was 700. A decade later, it had soared to 3,000. But with the depletion of mining activity, the settlement's population fell back to 900 by 1917.
Historically, a lot of people not only left the towns, mines and forests, they left the area altogether. Some have returned for job opportunities, when they exist. Tilden Township, where National Mine is located, grew 14.7 percent in population between 1970 and 2010, aided by the Cliff's redevelopment of the Tilden Mine beginning in 1974.
"It was timber, copper and iron what brought people up here and when those things were gone, the people went too," said Escanaba area resident Sam Wilson, a generation ago in a Green Bay Press Gazette article. "They had to go to where they could make a living.
"People come and go. Push aside some stones or branches or walk out in some of them fields and you're apt to onto a spot where there was once a town or some sort. The folks what used to live there moved on, and it didn't take a presidential commission to tell 'em to get going. They just went. They left their ghosts though."
John Pepin can be reached at 906-228-2500, ext. 206. His email address is email@example.com