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Current Status & News


From the Director
Theodore J. Bornhorst, Ph.D.
June 26, 2011

The construction of the new home for the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum is complete. We are moving into the new building and frantically working towards opening the Museum Gift Shop on July 5. When we open the gift shop, our public visitors will also be able to have a glimpse of the emerging Thomas D. Shaffner exhibit hall. On July 5, 2011 we will have the Beauty of Minerals gallery open to the public. As I write the Curator, Dr. Robinson and his wife Susan Robinson (museum volunteer) are setting up the Copper Country gallery for public visitation. We will have the Copper Country gallery ready for the building dedication on August 4, 2011 at 1:30 pm. Those planning to attend the dedication should be aware that these two galleries are less than 20 % of the total exhibit space and that is all you will be able to see come August. If all goes well, we should have the Copper Country gallery ready for the public within the first two weeks of July. After the dedication and the Copper Country Mineral Retreat in the second week of Auguest, we will once again begin setting up additional galleries for public viewing. By October we should be opening another gallery and then another until the exhibit space is completely open to the public. The exhibit hall should be completely open to the public by Spring 2012.


From the Director
Theodore J. Bornhorst, Ph.D.
March 16, 2011

The construction of the new home for the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum is springing forward just like the spring season here in the Keweenaw Peninsula. Winter arrived in full force soon after my last From the Director on December 1, 2010. With the snow falling, the steel trusses and the roof decking were installed during the second week in December, allowing the entrance to be enclosed and the roofing to be installed. The building was totally enclosed by December 21. Just before the holiday season, the temporary wood framing and door were placed on the main entrance along with the coverings for the other entrances. While the inside of the new building was hidden from sight, so, too, had the snow blanketed the ground of the Keweenaw. Heating of the building began and continues today, using temporary natural gas-fired heaters.

Warming up the building allowed the subgrade to thaw, which was required to pour the concrete floor. The concrete floor was poured and allowed to cure during the first week of January, near the end of the week the interior spaces of the block wall were insulated. With the floor in place and building heated, the inside work could now proceed. Interior walls were framed during the second week in January as well as insulation applied to the inside of the exterior walls. The duct work for the heating and air conditioning system, electrical conduits in the ceiling, and fire suppression system were installed. By the 4 th week in January drywall covered the exterior and interior walls. The general layout of the interior of the building was now clearly visible. The exhibit hall is a large open space with no interior posts/pillars, making it ideal for arrangement of displays. The only exception is the future fluorescent minerals gallery, a separate room in the corner of the exhibit hall. The steel trusses and duct work in the exhibit area have been painted black; there will be no drop ceiling. Without a drop ceiling the new exhibit hall will have a much more open feeling. Those of you who visited the museum in the EERC location with all of the many exhibit cases and relatively low drop ceiling, may have felt the space was a bit cramped; the higher open ceiling is yet another of the many improvements in the new building.

The heating and air-conditioning is on the roof, but will not be functional until a few more weeks as the interior is nearer to completion. By mid February the exterior and interior drywall had been painted …. and the interior was fast approaching its final look. Indeed the new building is springing ahead. As this is being written, the interior electrical wiring is underway, as is placing the steel grid work on the outer shell of the entrance for its metal facing. There is still inside work to be completed including lights, plumbing, ceilings in offices, bathrooms, and the gift shop, windows, doors, carpeting, etc. By the time spring arrives the inside of the building will be completed … May 1 is the scheduled interior completion and yes, completion is on schedule!

Spring also appears to be on schedule here in the Keweenaw, with the snow ever so slowly melting away as temperatures creep upwards. The spring flowers will be in bloom when we first occupy the interior and begin the long and arduous process of moving into our new home. While the interior of the building will be complete, the exterior work will continue until June 1, with the addition of sidewalks and an entire new row of parking spaces to the existing parking lot. Therefore our initial access to the building may be somewhat restricted, and the moving in process will be slow, but will quicken in June. The first step in this process will be to begin reinstalling the wall cases. In an upcoming From the Director, I’ll be telling you more about the layout of the interior of the building including the exhibit hall and its galleries.

As Curator Dr. Robinson would likely say: “The museum has lots of crystals, but no crystal balls.” Lacking a crystal ball, I can only make an educated estimate of the timeframe for having galleries ready for public viewing. The current plan is to re-open the museum gift shop on July 5 th, 2011. We feel this is a reasonable goal. If we are lucky, two galleries may be ready on July 5 th too; the Copper Country and Beauty of Minerals Galleries, though more likely they will not be ready to open until later in July. We will progressively open galleries to the public as they are completed, with the goal of having the entire exhibit hall open by May 2012. If you are planning to visit this summer stay tuned to the museum web site. We will post the status as we reassemble one of North America’s best mineral museums, Michigan Tech’s A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum.

Moving Out to Move Up

From the Director
Theodore J. Bornhorst, Ph.D.
December 1, 2010

The collection and the entire contents of the museum are now in storage; we are moved out. The process of moving a nationally-recognized collection was a team effort.  Curator George Robinson and I are were both surprised and pleased with the progress that was made during this packing process.  At the outset of packing back in August, which now seems like a long time ago, the higher administration of Michigan Tech set the target of December 1 for the beginning of renovations for the 5th floor of the EERC.  As you can imagine, my first reaction to this date was that it seemed very difficult to move the whole museum in so short of time!  But a plan was developed based on a lot of my wild guesses. My first and foremost goal was to have a plan to protect the collection from harm while continuing to serve our visitors while attempting to pack and move out by December 1. The Copper Country Mineral Retreat event forced us to stay open until mid-August and with Museum Manager Darlene Comfort’s urging, to stay fully open until Labor Day, as that is the date when visitation normally begins subsiding. After Labor Day half of the museum remained partially open for the general public as there was sufficient behind the scenes work to be done that would not inhibit the packing progress. Finally on October 10, the museum completely closed its doors to the general public.  Back in October, I wondered if the decision to stay open so long would lead to failure to meet the December 1 target.  After closing, the first semi-trailer was loaded to make space for continuing packing activities.  Now packing was fully underway. Packing was a team effort. Curator Robinson and his trusty wife Susan were responsible for packing the mineral specimens.  Museum Manager Darlene Comfort had a wide spectrum of responsibilities from oversight of packing the gift shop, managing and helping  with the student workers, helping George and Susan, and, of course, helping me. Karma Maynard was responsible for packing the gift shop and its inventory along with separation of items for our temporary gift shop now open in the Memorial Union Building until mid-December for our annual holiday sale. We only hired a limited number of part-time (only 10 hours per week because I expected that mineral packing could not keep up with them) student workers: Nicole McMahon, Julie Herrick, Jesse Silverman, Scott Stanton and Travis Olds. They were an essential part of the team, moving boxes, making and wrapping pallets, shrink wrapping collection cabinet drawers and more. Yes, they did get a bit frustrated when Darlene or I asked them to move things from one location on the floor and then later to another. My role in the moving out was planning, logistics, pitching in on physical moving, and any task that needed to be done. The Michigan Tech grounds crew (Andy Niemi (supervisor), Mike Dube, Jim Hill, Jim Kaura, Jerod Ledgerwood, Norbert Miller) were critical to the successful move out; they will also be an essential part of moving in.  They had to physically load our palletized minerals into the semi-trailers, load the floor cases, load miscellaneous items, and lift the heavy larger specimens on to pallets.  They were exceptional in the care and concern they had in handling the collection and museum contents. They suggested logistical changes to make things better. The care they used in moving the Douglas Houghton portrait was exemplary. They are first-rate professionals and if you know or see them, please tell them thanks! Successively semi-trailer after trailer was loaded by the grounds crew. By early November enough of the floor was clear and it was time for the wall cases to be disassembled! The museum was fortunate to contract Pat Reagan to oversee the wall case removal and develop a plan to safely box the Douglas Houghton portrait and the large sheet copper. There were roughly 50 screws per case that had to be removed. And to make matters worse, many of them were stripped when the cases were installed 35 years ago and had to be drilled out. All of the wall cases were removed in less than 8 working days by only 2 people; incredible! It took several more days for the students, Darlene and I to pack up the parts and pieces. These items had to go into storage last because they must come out first so that the wall cases can be reassembled before the real unloading begins. The very last items to be removed from the museum were the glass shelving, some 8000 plus lbs of it! We took it out of the cases, wrapped it in bundles, and organized it into one location by size. Some of it the students packed in pallet boxes. The last of it was packed and moved by the trusty grounds crew on Wednesday November 24. Mission accomplished, we were finally moved out. My initial wild guess was 8 fully loaded semi-trailers for the contents of the museum. In the end, to fully contain the museum, it took the equivalent of 10 semi-trailers. Not all of the contents are in trailers as we need access to some items to reassemble the wall cases. We moved out ahead of the December 1 target; truly amazing and would have been totally impossible without a true team effort! When we set out on the moving quest, my wish was that we could be done before the students left for Thanksgiving break. The students were done with their part on Tuesday the week before break, 3 days ahead of my wish. Moving out was a long and grueling process, and it is fair to say that we all are burned out and in need of a recharge.

The construction of the new museum building at 1404 Sharon Avenue is progressing up on top of the ridge. The construction is on schedule despite capping the F shafts of the Mabbs Vein. The walls will be complete soon after Thanksgiving, the steel will be laid in place, and before the holiday season, the roof should be completed. The following months will be used for inside finishes and I’ll report on this in another update. It will not be long until we will be moving up, to the top of the ridge. We will be moving up to a better home with easy access and parking. The new building will allow us to continue to move up in terms of serving as the “gem” of Michigan Tech. 

I have been asked often about the size of the new building as compared to the current space. The space in the new building is much more efficient than the current space, for example, the exhibit hall has no interior pillars. The size of the new building is smaller than our current space, but my view is that the interior functionality is better. And the new location is far superior to our previous EERC location with easy access and parking. Also, the exterior provides ample opportunity to relieve pressure on the interior space for the forseeable future. And for the very near term, my wish will hopefully come through as it did for the timing of moving out. I wish for a modest, unheated garage-sized out building, tucked away from public view adjacent to the new building. Such a building could be used for fabrication of exhibits to keep the dust out of the museum, temporary holding of inventory, and as a home for oversize specimens that are fine being stored in the cold.  Regardless of my wish, rest assured the museum in the new building will be well-positioned for the present and for the future.

The calendar year of 2010 is quickly drawing to a close and we hope that you will consider a donation. The process of moving up to a new building generates opportunities for new exhibits and these cost money beyond that available for construction of the new building and moving. Your support was essential for us to win approval from the Michigan Tech Board of Control for the building and it will continue to be essential for the future. We could not have become a nationally-recognized mineral museum without you. I sincerely hope you will continue to support us.

Please check back in early March for another update as the new building construction proceeds towards a speedy finish.

Mabbs Vein (F shaft) Under Edge of Museum

From the Director
Theodore J. Bornhorst, Ph.D.
November 16, 2010

The northwest wall of the A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum’s new facility at 1404 Sharon Avenue will directly overlie the F shaft of the Mabbs vein named after brothers John and Austin Mabbs. The rediscovery of the shaft provides an opportunity to reinvestigate the brief history of the Mabbs vein, which is linked with the old Isle Royale Mine, since it lies within its former property boundaries. The assembly of the historical information was completed at the Michigan Technological University Archives and Copper Country Historical Collections. Additional details are planned for publication in an article for Rocks and Minerals.

The Mabbs lode was opened September 12-16, 1864 by the Isle Royale Mining Company.   The Portage Lake Mining Gazette reported on June 10, 1865 that a vertically standing single mass of native copper weighing 2300 lbs was taken out 70 ft below the surface from the F shaft.   The Mabbs lode is a steeply dipping, tabular vein that cuts across the orientation of the host rocks.  By June of 1866 mining of the F shaft itself had produced almost 24,000 lbs of copper and the Portage Lake Mining Gazette reported the prediction of “a speedy return of all that has been expended on it.”  Work on the Mabbs Vein continued and by March of 1867, the F shaft was at the 3rd level or 250 feet below the surface. Despite John Mabbs’ arguments to a company investigating committee, the unprofitable mining operations at the Mabbs vein were suspended in 1867.  However, John Mabbs continued with Isle Royale Mining Company as mine superintendent.  In 1875, the Mabbs workings were dewatered with mining apparently ending that same year.

The F shaft of the Mabbs vein was exposed by Moyle Construction, contractor for the new museum building, on November 2, 2010, after footers for the other wall had already been poured.  Moving the new building location was not an option. The F shaft was not plugged but simply covered with some old pipes and rocks. The top of the F shaft was well-timbered, being about 6 feet on a side.  The details of the mining history reported above were not known at the time, although it was quickly surmised that the shaft was related to the Mabbs vein. An attempt was made to fill the shaft that was believed to be shallow. The resulting upward hydrostatic pressure unplugged the adjacent ventilation shaft just to the south of the F shaft. While the filling attempt was clearly futile (the F shaft is 250 feet deep), it was fortunate it was attempted. The main west wall side support column for the roof partially overlies the ventilation shaft and was undermined by the upward geysering of water when the ventilation shaft became unplugged. The ventilation shaft was likely filled with various sized rocks, but such means of plugging are not permanent. Thus, without proper capping, the loss of this plug in the future would have likely caused damage to the new museum building. In preparation for capping, the area adjacent to the shafts was cleared to create a bedrock ledge to bridge the openings. The two shafts were filled with rocks allowing for leveling and partial bridging with concrete to provide a safe work surface. A permanent cap designed by OHM, consisting of steel reinforcing and a roughly 4 feet thick concreted cap (~680 tons of concrete), was placed over the openings on November 11, 2010.   The A.E. Seaman Mineral Museum houses the best collection of crystalline native copper and associated minerals from mines of the Keweenaw Peninsula, and its new building is now intimately linked with one of them. Thanks to Mike Jupe of Moyle Construction, the museum now has specimens of mass copper from the mine which will be used in a new exhibit highlighting this ironic occurrence.


From the Director
Theodore J. Bornhorst, Ph.D.
October 22, 2010

Great strides have been made towards a new home for the A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum since approval of construction in July 2010 by the Michigan Tech Board of Control. The new building is now under construction and the museum’s  exhibits and specimens are being packed.

Michigan Tech selected OHM to do the architect and engineering design for the new building. OHM began with an interior conceptual layout from Curator George Robinson and me.  The building was designed for the current  museum, but with flexibility for the future, having only one interior post.  OHM efficiently completed the necessary drawings and specifications for bidding the construction. Bidding closed on October 12 with six firms responding. On October 14, Michigan Tech reached agreement with Moyle Construction of Houghton to build the new building. The onsite construction activities began on October 21 with a formal groundbreaking ceremony on October 27.  The contractor plans to have the building enclosed by the December holiday season.  The interior will be finished over the winter, with completion of the construction of the building by the end of April, 2011, with sidewalks and parking area to be completed by the end of May, 2011.

Packing a major collection is not a trivial task as the museum has roughly 25,000 specimens, with a significant number of the mineral specimens requiring careful attention to insure no damage.  Packing behind the scenes began after the new building was approved while the museum was still open to the public. After Labor Day, the museum suspended its normal hours, being open only Thursday, Friday, and Saturday and about half of the museum was blocked off from the public. This allowed packing to continue while still serving the needs of visitors. The first semi-trailer of floor cases was loaded the first week of October. This cleared part of the floor to provide much needed space to stack packed boxes. On October 10 the museum was closed to the public.  The second trailer of floor cases, loaded on October 14, cleared out the entire east half of the museum.  Now the task of palletizing the contents of the museum was in full swing.  All the wall cases will be disassembled and reused in the new building.  We are on target to accomplish the goal of having the museum contents packed and out of this current space by December 1.

Susan Robinson, the Curators wife, has played the critical role in helping the Curator pack the collection, especially those specimens needing tender loving care. Her heroic efforts have made it possible to efficiently pack the collection in record time.  She has my heartfelt thanks! Of course, packing requires more than one person; it is a true team effort. We hired four students to load boxes, move boxes, move and wrap drawers, move cabinets, assemble and wrap pallets and more. Darlene Comfort, museum manager oversees their work and participates too. Karma Maynard is responsible for packing up the gift shop inventory and getting it ready to move to the Memorial Union in time for our annual Holiday Sale. For my part, I’m dealing with the ever-changing logistics and getting involved in virtually everything in one way or the other. We will all be both exhausted and happy when the packing is completed.

After December 1, I will post a packing and construction pictorial on the museum’s web site. Over the course of the winter, I will give you insight into our plans for reopening as well as for the planned exhibit hall.


From the Director
Theodore J. Bornhorst, Ph.D.

The A. E. Seaman Mineral Museum is pleased to announce that on July 15, 2010, the Michigan Tech Board of Control approved construction of a new building on Sharon Avenue adjacent to the Advanced Technology Development Complex, as a transitional home for the museum.

The museum’s current location, in the Electrical Energy Resources Center on campus, was meant to be a temporary home when it was first occupied some 35 years ago. Now the university has a critical need for that space, to house collaborative research projects in electrical and computer engineering and computer science--areas of recent growth that are expected to continue to expand in line with the University’s strategic plan. After evaluation of multiple options for the mineral museum, Michigan Tech President Glenn Mroz, Provost Max Seel, and Vice President Ellen Horsch recommended to the Board that the University build a new transitional home for the museum.

Although the new structure will be built to museum specifications, the long-range plan is still to move the mineral museum to Quincy Hill in Hancock. When this occurs, it will free up research and business-incubator space in the building on Sharon Avenue.

The Board of Control noted that the museum is one of the top mineral museums in North America and that it houses the finest collection of native copper specimens in the world. They said the mineral museum plays an “integral role” in Michigan Tech’s mission and heritage.

Before the Board of Control considered the recommendation, I prepared a document to show how the museum serves the University, the State of Michigan and the nation and contributes to the reputation and strategic plan of Michigan Tech. Topping the list was the national recognition of the museum and its overall excellence. The museum contributes to the educational and research missions of the university. It educates people of all ages about minerals, mining and the relevance of minerals to society.

The ongoing external support of the museum in donations of cash and minerals impressed the Board, as did pledges of gifts to cover the cost of the new building. Such support shows a long-term commitment to the museum.

The new single-story building on Sharon Avenue will enable the museum to continue to grow and further enhance its reputation and that of the University. Museum visitors will enjoy easy access to parking shared with the existing university research building (Advanced Technology Development Complex). Visitors to the new building will enter the museum from the adjacent parking lot, through the gift shop, and into the main exhibit area. The building will include sufficient space for collection management (with some room for growth), a collection conservation lab and a few offices. The curator, adjunct curator and I have worked on the layout of the new exhibit space, and we are confident that it will exceed the high quality layout of our current space.

We hope that construction of the new building can begin soon enough that we can welcome visitors to our new home in the summer of 2011. This aggressive schedule will require that we close for an extended period of time for packing and moving between October 2010 and May 2011.