Ghostly remnants of buildings with weathered gray clapboards, pristine white limestone, ruddy brick, and interesting geometric forms sit in eerie silence at the Fayette Iron Works historic townsite. The once bustling but now abandoned town is located in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula on the shores of Big Bay de Noc on northern Lake Michigan.
Photo: (c)Balthazar Korab
Fayette was the quintessential “Company Town”, established by the Jackson Iron Company in 1867 to smelt iron ore, the surrounding forest provided a plentiful source to fuel the process. The town boomed, producing over 230,000 tons of pig iron with a population of over 500 people at one point until the company ended operations at the site in 1891. The townsite was purchased by the State of Michigan in 1959 and has become an over 711-acre State Park.
By the time of the State’s acquisition of the site most of the vacant buildings had fallen into disrepair, some had collapsed entirely leaving only outlines of their foundations. To this day, some of the site’s nineteeen buildings are without windows and doors, giving both the sense of man-made enclosure and at the same time a connectedness with the site’s naturally beautiful surroundings. Some of the structures have been restored and house exhibit space. The utilitarian beauty of the conical kilns and graceful arched openings in once-grand limestone structures intrigue visitors as they explore the town, which is open for self-guided and guided (summer months only) tours.
The site was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1970. The Fayette Historic State Park is open year-round and admission is free, although a Michigan State Park Recreation Passport is required for vehicle entry. Visit https://www.michigan.gov/mhc/museums/fayette for more information (the site is also featured on MAF’s July 2023 Architecture Road Trip).