Origins of Hydroelectric Power in the St. Marys River, MI

Origins of Hydroelectric Power in the St. Marys River, MI

John Larsen Jr.

            Similar to many other villages founded in the late 1600s, Sault Ste. Marie was located on a waterway to enable trade of goods, which at the time consisted mainly of furs.  Prior to early French exploration, the site that is now Sault Ste. Marie was inhabited by Chippewa Indians who utilized the location for fishing as well as a route from the upper to lower Great Lakes (The Soo Locks).  Following French settlement, it became apparent that the location could prove vital to the movement of furs from the north to other settlements in the southern region of the lakes.  Over time, trade evolved from the transport of pelts to important minerals and lumber from the western end of Lake Superior, leading to more permanent colonization of Sault Ste. Marie.

Following the construction of the first lock in the St. Marys in 1855 (The Soo Locks History), the economic boom tapered off but the idea for a new business venture took hold in the form of hydroelectric power.  Similar to many other business initiatives, original plans were found to be inadequate, investors filed for bankruptcy, and doubt plagued the idea that a canal and hydroelectric facility would ever be constructed.  Finally, in 1898, construction of the canal and power plant began when H.W. Hubbell and Company and E.O Smith Co. were awarded contracts for the canal and Mason and Hodge for the power plant.  The anticipated completion date for the Michigan Lake Superior Power Company hydroelectric plant was intended to be early 1900 but “this date had to be steadily moved backward as construction got under way and things began to go wrong.” (Library of Congress, 1978) Delays led to the power plant not being completed until 1902 with water first being let into the canal in August of that year.  On October 24, 1902, there was a massive attendance at the grand opening of the powerhouse (Image 1902) and a celebration was held on the second floor of the newly constructed plant.

Post-construction and grand opening, problems arose regarding land ownership, water diversion, and structure failures within the canal itself.  Resulting from ongoing issues and massive debt, MLSPC was taken over by Union Carbide in 1913.  Eventually, Edison Sault Electric Company took over control of the facility and currently it is operated by Cloverland Electric Cooperative.  Through all of the struggles, the power plant was a massive feat of engineering as it was completed in 1902 and is still operational today, supplying power to Sault Ste. Marie and the surrounding areas. “Not only is it still operative, but the plant remains in very good condition” (Library of Congress, 1978), further adding to its engineering legacy.

Primary Sources:



Historic American Engineering Record. Michigan Lake Superior Power Company Hydroelectric Plant and Canal. Library of Congress, 1978. (Available online:


This source outlines the origins of hydroelectric power production from the St. Marys River.  It provides background information about individuals and companies that were involved with the initial plans, failures, and successes regarding hydroelectric power.  Additionally, it contains images, letters, and other documentation focused on the projects of the time as well as some original project blueprints.


Powerhouse grand opening in October 1902, from Cloverland Electric Cooperative: Our History, (

This image that was taken on October 24, 1902 shows individuals gathered for the grand opening ceremony of the Michigan Lake Superior Power Company hydroelectric plant.  The photograph was taken near Portage Street at the intake for the power facility.  The photo demonstrates public support for the largest local development of the time.


Secondary Sources:

 City of Sault Ste. Marie. History of the City: The Soo Locks History. (Available online:

Michigan State University. The Soo Locks. (Available online:

Michigan Native American Boarding Schools

Michigan Native American Boarding Schools

Heather Gregg

            The Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School was founded in 1893 and this was home to seventeen students during the first year of this schools grand opening. These schools have tried to make Native American Students forget their culture and are forced to assimilate to the “White man’s ways” such as the language, education, and forcing Native Americans to follow Christianity (Man recalls time at Native American school in 1920s, 2008).  Even though many Native American families did not want to send their children to these schools some thought that this was only for their children to not have to go through the struggles, heartaches, and issues these families had to face. Most of these families are constantly struggling to stay out of poverty, feeding their children, living in horrible conditions, and these boarding schools promised these children a better life (Native American History and Culture: Boarding Schools- American Indian Relief Council…, year unknown).

Some of these Native American children were forced out of their homes and were not allowed to practice many of their cultural practices.  Some of these cultural practices were making their own clothes from animal skins, fishing, practicing their language, and making medicinal herbs.  Many of the students in these schools were physically, sexually, and emotionally abused (Man recalls time at Native American school in 1920s, 2008).  For example, if students tried to speak their language these students were beaten with a whip or one student state that “ their mouths were washed out with soap” (Survivors of Indian boarding schools tell their stories, unknown).  Many students stated that these teachers would show preference to those that were lighter skinned as one student states “the darker you were, the worst you were treated” (Survivors of Indian boarding schools tell their stories, unknown).

If the students were treated well in the school that usually meant those were the students that were being sexually abused by the teachers, nuns, and staff.  Native American culture has been dwindling because of these boarding schools. Many of the students that were forced to attend these schools are unable to remember their culture because these students were too traumatized because of their horrible experiences in these schools (Traditional Indian Education, 2011).


Primary Sources:

Man Recalls Time at Indian School

Krampton, John.  2008.  Man recalls time at Indian School in 1920s.  The Morning Sun.

An act granting certain property to the State of Michigan.  Lib. Congress session 2 Chapter 15. U.S. gov. web

This is a testimonial from one of the students that attended the Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School.  These schools were made to convert Native Americans to follow white culture.  Carole Tally states” They just came in and took the kids.”  Back then white people would force the native american children to go to the boarding school and take them far away from their homes.  Many of these schools were used to take away the “Indian within the child” many people would say.  Even though the boarding schools had terrible conditions however, many of these Native American students came from very poor families that couldn’t afford food, clothing, or shelter.  This primary resource is used to share the experiences that many Native American children had while living in these boarding schools.


An act granting certain property to the state of Michigan

An act granting certain property to the State of Michigan.  Lib. Congress session 2 Chapter 15. U.S. gov. web

This is a government document that the state of Michigan is giving Mount Pleasant Indian Industrial Boarding School land in order to institute that this school was allowed to be there in Mount Pleasant.  The purpose of this document is to establish proof that this school was here and that these events did take place.

Secondary Sources:

Native American History and Culture: Boarding Schools – American Indian Relief Council is now             Northern Plains Reservation Aid,            pagename=airc_hist_boardingschools. Accessed March 13, 2018.

Survivors of Indian boarding schools tell their stories.” WKAR,     boarding-schools-tell-their-stories#stream/0.  Accessed March 13, 2018.

“Traditional Indian Education” Central Michigan University.  2011,                Treaty_Rights/Contemporary_I ssues/Federal_Education_Policy/Pages/ default.aspx, Accessed             March 13,2018.



Michigan History Primary Source Aggregator

Greetings, and welcome to the Michigan History Primary Source Aggregator site.   I am David S. Bennett, United States historian and digital humanities scholar.  As with most digital projects, this project has two distinct aims.

The first is internal, helping LSSU history students garner a deeper understanding of Michigan history, and providing them a digital platform to showcase their learned knowledge to help promote their professional goals. In this way, the blog’s goal is to inspire students to seek out far neglected archival materials within various local archives and try and make sense of them within the broader Michigan historical narrative.

The second goal is to give Michigan archives a digital foundation to advertise their archival materials.  The reality is that many primary source materials go unrecognized and thus unstudied. While digital tools have allowed many archives to create and foster their own internal blog spaces, my goal is to provide a larger aggregator site not allied to any specific physical location.  The goal of these blogs are not to rehost the original digital materials that are copyrights to the individual archives themselves, but instead host secondary texts crafted by students to call scholars’ attention to the inherent values these newly digitized materials provide to the Michigan communities.

Given the above, if you find yourself as a student or an archivist examining this material, please let me know if you have ideas or suggestions regarding the direction of this material. I look forward to hearing the community’s response.