Houghton is a city in the U.S. state of Michigan's Upper Peninsula and largest city in the Copper Country on the Keweenaw Peninsula. As of the 2010 census, the city population was 7,708. It is the county seat of Houghton County. It has been listed as one of the "100 Best Small Towns in America."
Houghton is sometimes confused with, or thought to be close to, Houghton Lake; the latter is actually located in the state's Lower Peninsula. Due to its location in the northwestern portion of the Upper Peninsula, Houghton is isolated from the state's most populous areas. It is farther to drive from Houghton to Detroit than it is from Detroit to Washington, DC. It takes several fewer hours to travel to Milwaukee, Wisconsin, or Minneapolis, Minnesota, from Houghton than it does to travel to Detroit.
The area lends itself to a wide variety of outdoor sports, both winter (ice hockey, Nordic and Alpine skiing, figure skating, and snowmobiling) and summer (trail running, hiking, camping, river and sea kayaking, sailing, windsurfing and road and mountain biking).
Native Americans mined copper in and around what would later be Houghton thousands of years before European settlement. "French explorers had noted... [its] existence [in the area] as early as the seventeenth century, [and in] 1772 Alexander Henry had prospected for copper on the Ontonagon River near Victoria." When Horace Greeley said, "Go West, young man" he was referring to the copper rush in "Michigan's western Upper Peninsula."
Many Cornish and Finnish immigrants arrived in the Houghton area to work in the copper mines; both groups have had a great influence on the culture and cuisine of the local area. The Finns and others called much of the area Copper Island. Smaller numbers of French-Canadian immigrants moved to Houghton, while more of them settled elsewhere in Houghton County.
The last nearby mines closed in the late 1960s, but a school founded in 1885 by the Michigan State Legislature to teach metallurgy and mining engineering, the Michigan College of Mines, continues today under the name of Michigan Technological University and is the primary employer in the city.
The first known European settler of Houghton was named Ransom Shelden, who set up a store named Ransom's near Portage Lake, though it is unclear whether this was in the same building as the 1852 Shelden and Shafer drugs, sometimes described as "the first commercial building constructed in Houghton," which Shelden owned with his son Ransom B. The main street of Houghton, variously called "Sheldon Avenue," (incorrectly) Sheldon Street, and Shelden Avenue, is named for him. In the 1970s the construction of a parking deck and the connection of downtown stores to create Shelden Center significantly changed the downtown.
William W. Henderson was appointed the first postmaster of Houghton in 1852.
Houghton gained in importance as a port with the opening of the Keweenaw Waterway in 1873, the waterway being the cumulative dredging and extension of the Portage Lake, Portage Shipping Canal and Lily Pond so as to isolate the northern part of the Keweenaw Peninsula into Copper Island.
In 1854, Ernest F. Pletschke platted Houghton, which was incorporated as a village by Shelden, C[hristopher] C[olumbus] Douglass and Capt. Richard Edwards three years later. In Houghton's first days it was said that "only thieves, crooks, murderers and Indians" lived there. The postwar boom and increasing demand for copper wiring fueled the development of Houghton in the 1860s and 1870s.
1909 saw the founding of what would later become Portage Lake District Library.
Houghton was the birthplace of professional ice hockey in the United States when the Portage Lakers were formed in 1903. Houghton is the home of the Portage Lake Pioneers Senior Hockey Team. The team's home ice is Dee Stadium, named after James R. Dee. Dee Stadium was originally called the Amphidrome, before it was severely damaged in a 1927 fire. (The stadium also contains a skatepark for skateboarding.)
In the winter of 2001, Houghton was the site of one of the first lumitalos (Finnish temporary snow houses) to be constructed in the United States.
One of the 2006 United States Postal Service snowflake stamps ("photographed in Houghton by Caltech physicist Kenneth Libbrecht using a digital camera and special microscope") was unveiled in Houghton.
A pictorial postmark commemorating Winter Carnival 2007, "Ancient Worlds Come to Play in Snowy Drifts of Modern Day," was applied at the Winter Carnival temporary station in Michigan Technological University's Memorial Union Building, February 10, 2007 (see below).