What’s Up with the U.P?

Michigan’s Upper Peninsula’s history is fairly brief, yet significantly intriguing. Below is a brief outline, point-to-point, of how it came into existence, skipping over its noteworthy geological birthing.

The first inhabitants of the territory were the tribes speaking the Algonquin languages, around AD 800. They patrolled the UP’s wild lands for ages, until the first white man stepped foot onto its eastern border. France’s Étienne Brûlé crossed the St. Mary’s River around 1620, on a search for a route to the Far East.

Then came the Toledo War…which the entire nation remembers…right? Kidding. The “war” was a bloodless dispute over the Toledo Strip. On a map, take a look at the far northeast corner of Indiana. Perceptibly, the Michigan/Indiana border should continue feeding eastwards in a direct line, all the way to Lake Erie. However, it juts south for no more than fifteen miles and then proceeds eastwards.

The Michigan Territory (the entire Lower Peninsula and the eastern UP), established in 1805, originally claimed Toledo as its own and, theoretically, should possess even more land to the south of its current SE border, farther into Ohio, which was then claimed by Europe and eventually the US Congress. Nonetheless, Congress still wouldn’t cede the western UP to Michigan, even after being offered the valuable industrial strip of Toledo in an exchange. The potential Toledo War brewed.

In 1836, to prevent bloodshed, Congress realized the worth of Toledo, and ceded the western UP to Michigan. The initial loss of the Toledo Strip caused Michigan’s economy to struggle…until iron, silver, and copper deposits were found in the UP.

Soon, mines were planted and operated throughout the entire UP. The mines produced more mineral wealth than the California Gold Rush. By 1860, the UP supplied 90% of America’s copper.

Little known, as recent as the 1970s, local politician, Dominic Jacobetti, attempted to pass a bill which proposed a 51st US State, called Superior. Superior was to include all of the UP and the majority of geographically similar northern Wisconsin. The bill gained serious attention, missing by a single vote! The major reason for the rejection was due to the strong economical connections from the Lower Peninsula to the UP, created by Mackinac Bridge.

Today, most of the UP’s major cities are small in comparison to the majority of large US cities. The UP contributes to only 3% of Michigan’s total population.

Its cities were once major trading forts and, to this day, continue to possess a bit of charm from the past.

It takes a special kind of person to live in the UP, year-round. If you’re able to look past and embrace the harsh climate, the desolation, the isolation, the wilderness that it possesses, you’re in for a real treat.


Published by Nick Arndt

Runner of dirt, rocks, and pavement. Live/work/train in the Adirondack Mountains.

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