History in pictures: Old local photos now on library website

IRON MOUNTAIN – Hundreds of historical photographs are now available to view on the Dickinson County Library’s website.

Photographs convey an immense amount of information and historical photographs give us a glimpse into our past which cannot be equaled in words, says local historian William J. Cummings, who is in charge of the project.

“I enjoy compiling local history through transcribing early newspaper articles and writing detailed captions about historic photographs,” Cummings said.

“I strongly feel this material needs to be shared with the public,” he continued. “History and our heritage is a gift that belongs to all of us, and my goal is to make the material gathered over the decades available to everyone.”

Over the past several decades Cummings has accumulated hundreds of images from his personal collection and through the generosity of local institutions and individuals willing to share their resources.

Cummings, a retired Kingsford High School Spanish teacher, has been scanning these images for use in Power Point programs, newspaper articles, historical booklets and other formats for a number of years.

Nick Gayan, Kingsford High School computer teacher, has assisted Cummings in his efforts to scan and digitize these images. Kingsford High School has facilitated this endeavor by allowing Cummings to use its technological resources under Gayan’s guidance.

Now these images are becoming a part of a growing collection on line on the Dickinson County Library’s website (

By selecting the “Local History and Genealogy” tab, individuals interested in area history will find two sites of interest: Local History PowerPoint Presentations and Historic Photographs.

Megan Buck, Dickinson County Library cataloger and computer expert, has placed these resources and others on the library’s website to make them available to library patrons.

Currently the Dickinson County photograph files consist of the following: Breen Township, Breitung Township, Felch Township, Norway Township, Sagola Township, Waucedah Township, West Branch Township, City of Iron Mountain Stephenson Avenue, City of Iron Mountain Other Business District Streets, Iron Mountain Schools, City of Kingsford, City of Kingsford Ford Plant, City of Norway and Pine Mountain Ski Jump and Resort. Settlements are listed alphabetically within the township files.

Photograph files for neighboring counties include: Iron County Crystal Falls and Iron River; Florence County, Wis. Florence and Spread Eagle; and Marinette County, Wis. Niagara.

Captions appear with these photographs. At the end of each caption in bracketed italics the name of the source of the image appears.

It is hoped that individuals using these images in other formats or publications will credit the photograph’s owner.

Furthermore, it is hoped that if individuals can contribute more information regarding a photograph or correct an error that they will contact Cummings through the Dickinson County Library so that the information can be added.

An example, it would be useful to know the exact year the photograph accompanying this article was taken, and the names individuals standing on the sidewalk.

“The more complete the information in these captions, the better the archive will be for this and future generations,” Cummings said.

Also, persons having historically significant photographs that should be a part of this archive are encouraged to contact Cummings. Photographs will be scanned and returned to the owner, and the owner will be noted in caption in the archive.

“There are still many more photographs in my personal collection which will be added,” Cummings stated. “Hopefully others will share also.”

Cummings has a rather unique background which has facilitated access to, acquisition of and presentation of historical information due to his involvement with various institutions in the community.

A 1969 graduate of Michigan State University, in addition to earning a degree in Spanish, Cummings also received a minor in journalism, and continued with journalism in his post graduate studies. Writing skills and a basic knowledge of graphic design acquired through MSU have proved valuable in his historical endeavors.

Cummings served as the first manager of the Menominee Range Historical Museum and the Cornish Pumping Engine and Mining Museum between 1977 and 1986. He was named as the Foundation’s historian in November 2010, and was asked to be a member of the Foundation’s Board of Governors early in 2012, where he currently serves as vice-president.

Joining the Dickinson County Genealogical Society in about 1980, he served as president in 1981 and 1982, and has again held that office since 2010. In January, 1982, the Society began publishing a quarterly called Dickinson Diggings. Cummings, initially with the help of several other Society members, has compiled and edited this publication for the past 32 years.

Appointed to the Dickinson County Library Board in 1991, he has served as chairman since 1993. He also served on the Mid-Peninsula Library Cooperative Board for ten years from 1988-1998, serving as chairman for a portion of that time.

In 2008 Cummings was invited to be a member of the Design Committee for Iron Mountain’s Main Street program. Together with Audrey (Smith) Carlson, historic tours of downtown Iron Mountain were presented during the summer months for several years to help raise awareness regarding the many historic structures which still remain in that area and the role they played in the development of the community.

His research and compilation of the history Iron Mountain’s commercial district street by street and address by address helped win a grant in December 2010 which provided professional assistance from Robert O. Christensen, National Historic Register Coordinator of the Michigan State Historic Preservation Office, who wrote the application for the nomination designating Iron Mountain’s Central Historic District as a National Historic District.

The State Historic Preservation Committee approved the application to the National Park Service on Jan. 25, 2013.

All of the above positions have proved useful in pursuing historical research of the area, and have led to a number of publications.

The captioned photographs used in these publications, in turn, have provided the nucleus for the archive now online.

In 1979, Cummings assisted Mary Louise Dulan with the layout and captions for “Born From Iron: Iron Mountain, Michigan, 1879-1979,” a book celebrating Iron Mountain’s centennial.

In 1984, at the request of the Friends of the Museum, Cummings authored “Iron Mountain’s Cornish Pumping Engine and the Mines It Dewatered,” which is still used as the official guide book by the Cornish Pumping Engine and Mining Museum.

When Dickinson County celebrated its centennial in 1991, Cummings was selected by the Dickinson County Board of Commissioners to author the book “Dickinson County, Michigan: From Earliest Times Through the Twenties.”

Hazel (DeGayner) Dault assisted by writing the family histories contained in that volume.

In 1998, Cummings compiled Kingsford’s Diamond Jubilee book, “Kingsford: The Town Ford Built in Dickinson County, Michigan.”

Between 1979 and 1993, in conjunction with the Dickinson County Festival of the Arts, Cummings produced a total of 16 annual “tour booklets” focusing on area history and published by the Mid-Peninsula Library Cooperative.

“The photograph archive at the Dickinson County Library is proving to be the realization of one of my goals for easy public accessibility to our area’s past,” Cummings said.

“The other goal, soon to be put into motion, will be transferring the history files on my computer to a format which will be available on the Dickinson County Library’s website for all those interested in learning more about our area’s rich heritage,” he said.