Immerse yourself in the history and culture of the oldest permanent settlement on the south shore of Lake Superior with a visit to the Ontonagon County Historical Society Museum in the distinctive periwinkle building on River Street with a large, colorful mural on our southern exterior wall, right in the middle of downtown Ontonagon.
Examine pre-Columbian copper and stone implements, our 5 th Order Fresnel Lens from our Lighthouse, and copper mining tools and displays highlighting mining in the 19th and 20th centuries. Marvel at the faithful model of the Ontonagon Boulder, the 3708-pound mass of float copper now in the Smithsonian Institution. The boulder drew mining companies and investors to the area and began the copper “rush” that predated the California gold rush. The area from Ontonagon up to the tip of the Keweenaw Peninsula has since been known as the Copper Country.
Enjoy exhibits that illustrate the historical logging and fishing industries. Explore displays of medical tools, musical instruments, and a host of other items that illustrate the history of the village and county.
Do you have ancestors from the area? The museum also offers limited assistance in genealogical and historical research. Bring your children and treat them to a treasure hunt hosted by museum volunteers.
Help support the Ontonagon County Historical Society by donating. OCHS offers golden plates to memorialize loved ones or to list your name in history as a sponsor. The plates are displayed in the entryway to the museum, or at the lighthouse.
Are you a lighthouse “buff?” Stop in at the historical museum to book a tour to the oldest standing lighthouse on the mainland of the Keweenaw peninsula. Keepers and their families lived in the lighthouse from its opening in 1866 until it was deactivated in 1963.
Begin the tour at the museum as your guide explains the working of the 5th order Fresnel lens, part of the original illumination equipment for the Ontonagon light. Then drive the short distance to the lighthouse and tour through all three levels including the tower and lantern.
Very little is “under glass,” and no rooms are roped off. Learn about the work of the light station, ask questions of your guide, and soak in the atmosphere of this historic building that volunteers continue to restore. Set aside two hours for your lighthouse experience.
Explore the heart of the village. Make an appointment to take a walking tour of the historic downtown district. You will see photos of Ontonagon before and after the disastrous August, 1896 fire. The disaster destroyed almost the entire village and left 2,300 people homeless. Ask your guide about locations where you can still see pre-fire remains. Wear comfortable shoes, and plan on a leisurely, two hour, stroll through time.
Historical Society volunteers are restoring the 36-foot tug, the Cheryl-Dennis, that ventured into Lake Superior in the 1940’s and 50’s to net lake trout, herring and whitefish. Ask at the museum about when the vessel will be available for visits from tourists. She will be moored at Rose Island. One of the historic fish shanties adjacent to the mooring site will house a small fishing museum. Museum volunteers can give directions to the island.