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Historically speaking: Mine captain was first citizen, Capt. Thomas Walters came up through ranks old fashioned way

By KAREN KASPER

Ishpeming Historical Society

In the hierarchy of an iron mine, the captains were near the top. They were responsible for running their mine, ensuring the ore came up out of the ground in a steady and timely fashion.

Most captains came from England, Cornwall, or other English-speaking areas. They had little or no formal education, often starting to work at a mine in their teens or even younger. Intelligence, hard work and perhaps the good fortune to not get killed propelled them up the ladder.

Capt. Thomas Walters was born in Devonshire, England on June 21, 1847. He lost his parents at the age of seven and went to work as an errand boy, being paid six cents a day and having to walk four miles to work each day. At the age of eight, he secured a position in a tin mine. He was paid eight cents a day but had to walk eight miles to work each day.

He worked his way up the mining ladder and in 1872, decided to emigrate to the U.S., looking for better opportunities. He first went to Jeddo, Pennsylvania and worked in the coal mines, then went to Wilkes-Barre, becoming a contractor with the mines in that locality.

In 1873 he came to Ishpeming and began working at the Saginaw mine. His hard work won him a promotion to pit boss. Later he began contracting, employing about 40-50 men. He then became the superintendent of the Mitchell mine and in 1883 earned the title of mining captain, a title which would stay with him, even as he moved further up the ladder.

Walters became superintendent for the Pittsburg Lake Angeline Mining Company in 1885. At that time, their sole mine was the Lake Angeline mine, employing four hundred miners and other workmen and shipping a quarter to a third of a million tons of both soft hematite and hard-specular ores.

He was responsible for many improvements to the mines. In 1899 he became general superintendent for the Jones & Laughlin Ore Company, part of the Jones and Laughlin Steel Company, with mines on the Marquette Range. Walters was also the general manager for the Inter State Iron Company of Minnesota with fourteen mines in operation.

President of the Peninsula Bank for a time, Walters also had membership in the Masons, and the Independent Order of Odd Fellows and served on the board of Public Works for eight years. He was a member of Grace Episcopal church.

Sometime after the turn of the century, Walters and his wife, Mary took a trip to Italy and while there purchased a Carrara marble sculpture carved by Professor Garella of the Galerie of Fine Arts in Florence. The piece was shipped to Ishpeming and kept in the Walters home for about 50 years. In 1959 the sculpture was donated to the Ishpeming Carnegie Public Library by daughter Nellie Krogman. It is still on display in the reading room of the library.

Walters died on the 11th of December 1918 and is buried in the Ishpeming cemetery.

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