Monday, April 13, 2009


Huge steel beams meeting at the bottom of the photo in a geometric composition. They are bolted into cement -- rusted, decaying, and lit by warm light.
The Redridge Steel Dam: still going strong

A couple of weekends ago, we headed out to Redridge to check out the Redridge Steel Dam -- one of the truly lost and beautiful ruins of the Keweenaw.

A bit of history first: Redridge is a tiny town on the Lake Superior Shore, where the Salmon Trout river flows into the lake. During the height of the copper mining boom, two mines -- the Atlantic and Baltic -- both built their copper processing mills on the lake near here. Mills required millions of gallons of flowing water, and so the mines made a deal to jointly build a dam across the river. The ultimate result was this giant steel dam, built in 1901, and one of only three dams of its kind ever built in the US -- and only two of them are still standing. The dam was only used for a few decades before both mines closed down, and ever since it has been left, abandoned.

The thing that makes this kind of dam unusual is that it isn't just a giant wall across the water, trying to hold back the force on its own. The dam is actually sloped, with a huge network of steel beams on the downstream side. The force of the water actually presses the beams downward, helping to anchor the dam in place. It's a clever design, but one that never really caught on.

Nowadays, the dam is a photographer's dream -- those steel beams make for amazing lines, shadows, and geometry. This photo was taken around the back of the dam, where some of the main supporting beams meet the dam's cement base. The light shining in is coming through some holes which were cut into the face of the dam many years ago, to help drain the reservoir and keep it from overflowing.

Oh, and how is the dam holding up? Surprisingly well, for being totally untended for nearly 100 years. A Senior Design team here at Tech recently assessed the stability of the dam. Despite the fact that water runs through those holes and slowly corrodes the steel every spring, the dam is still very solid -- apparently the dam was overengineered so much that it will probably survive for another hundred years. But just in case -- if you're in the area, stop by and check it out soon!


Summer said...

I want to climb it. Seriously. Would I get yelled at? ;-)

Nice feature on CCE!

Kevin said...

Hi Dave,

This is seriously cool stuff. I'm going to spend some more time wandering through your site.


DC said...

@Summer: Yeah, this is a GREAT place to climb! In particular, you can climb up the side of the dam and poke your head out through the holes I mentioned. It's like looking through to another world.

@Kevin: Thanks! Please do. :)

B.Held said...

this is a beautiful photo with a cool story to go along with it! keep posting ;-)

DC said...

@B. Held -- thanks so much! By the way, you have some *fascinating* blogs... tree tumors galore!