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M-22 & M-109 junction route signage in Glen Arbor, Michigan
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M-26 Route Marker On to Next Route:
Former US-27
Southern Terminus:    US-45 two miles east of Rockland
Northern Terminus:    US-41 in downtown Copper Harbor (cnr 6th St & Lake Shore Dr)
Length: Updated 96.357 miles
Map: New! Route Map of M-26
M-26 at South Range: 2006
M-26 at South Range: 2005
Notes: Prior to 1933, M-26 was one of several highways which ran completely across the U.P. in a cross-ways (north-to-south) fashion, beginning at the Wisconsin state line at a connection with (then-) STH-26, continuing northerly onto the Keweenaw Peninsula. When US-45 was extended northerly from Chicago through Wisconsin to end at Ontonagon in 1933, M-26 was removed from the portion of the route which was renumbered as part of US-45.
  Even earlier than its days as a state highway, the general route of what became M-26 in the 20th Century was a federal military road in the previous century. Much as M-26 did later, the military road entered from Wisconsin, headed northerly, then northeasterly, through the Keweenaw Peninsula, terminating at Fort Wilkins near Copper Harbor—ironically, today's northern terminus for M-26. The military road was used in troop movements to and from the fort, which itself was erected to maintain order during the copper boom of the 1840s. The route remained a heavily-travelled one, and when Michigan set up their state highway system, that route became M-26. Even today, some stretches of the original military road survive as gravel roads or "two-tracks."
  In 2006, M-26 was realigned between South Range and Trimountain in south-central Houghton Co. The project eliminated seven rather dangerous curves in the highway and placed it onto a much better new alignment. The former alignment of M-26 being bypassed outside of the Village of South Range has been completely obliterated, while the portion in the village, including Trimountain Ave, was turned back to local control on October 4, 2006. See the M-26 at South Range map and M-26 at South Range 2006 photo pages.
  New! In "State Trunkline Needs, 1960–1980," a set of maps prepared by the State Highway Dept's Office of Planning, Programming Division in 1960 showing possible additions, upgrades and improvements to the state trunkline system over the ensuing twenty years, MSHD staff recommended some realignments and upgrades to the route of M-26 during that timeframe. They included:
  • Constructing a short realignment from the Houghton/Ontonagon Co line and continuing for one mile to the west where the existing route of M-26 skirts around the north side of some significant relief, with the old route being either turned back to local control or completely abandoned altogether. A significant amount of cut-and-fill would have been required for this proposed realignment, which may have been why this proposal was never acted upon.
  • Constructing another new alignment for M-26 beginning at the northern limit of the Village of South Range and continuing northeasterly on a direct route, not following any existing or historic roadway to a junction with a proposed new alignment US-41 bypass of Houghton approximately at the location of the present-day Houghton Elementary School south of the intersection of Military Rd & Jacker Ave. M-26 and US-41 were then proposed to continue together northerly via Military Rd and then Bridge St back to the existing route at the foot of the newly completed Houghton-Hancock Lift Bridge. The former route of M-26 between South Range and Houghton was to have been turned back to local control. While not implemented on the grand scale, a rather major realignment on the west side of Houghton was completed in 1979–80, while a bypass of the community of Atlantic Mine was completed almost a decade later.
  • Converting the existing alignment of M-26 between Lake Linden and the southern limits of Laurium to a divided highway. Interestingly, on the 1960 planning maps, this was the only segment of divided state trunkline highway proposed in the entire Keweenaw Peninsula! The copper mining industry was still producing in the Keweenaw at the time—it would be another eight years until the Calumet & Hecla strike would shut down the majority of the remaining copper mining operations in the region—so traffic on this portion of M-26 may have been anticipated to increase in conjunction with continued mining activity. This proposal never saw the light of day, however.
  • Constructing a pair of new alignments in Keweenaw Co:
    • Beginning at US-41 just east of the fourth junction with M-26 at Phoenix (at the intersection of US-41 & Phoenix Farm Rd) and continuing roughly parallel to and just east of the existing route of M-26 back to the existing route in Eagle River. It is unclear from the maps whether this new alignment was to have been on the east or west side of the river itself, but the former route was to have been turned back to local control. It was never implemented.
    • Beginning where the existing M-26 route curves inland away from Lake Superior 2.1 miles west of downtown Copper Harbor and continuing east-southeasterly directly into downtown Copper Harbor. The former route was to have been turned back to local control. It, too, was never implemented.
History: 1919 – Before the creation of the US Highway system, M-26 begins at the Wisconsin state line at a connection with Wisconsin STH-26, then runs northerly through Watersmeet and Bruce Crossing to Rockland then northeasterly to Houghton and Hancock, looping east through Dollar Bay and Lake Linden to end at M-15 (now US-41) in Laurium.
  1924 (Sept) A short realignment is completed in September south of Rockland, from M-68 (now US-45 north) southerly for a short distance. A portion of the old route is turned back to local control, while the rest is abandoned as a public way.
  1926 (Sept) A 6-mile stretch of M-26 along the Old Military Rd in central Houghton Co is turned back to local control in September when the highway is realigned onto a new 7-mile long alignment from Stonington to southwest of Painesdale, via Toivola. Also, M-26 is extended from its northern terminus at US-41 (formerly M-15) in Laurium concurrently with US-41 to Mohawk, then southeasterly replacing the M-83 designation to Gay.
  1933 (July) The State Highway Dept removes the Mohawk-Gay segment of M-26 from the state trunkline system, turning control of the road back to the local authorities. The M-26 designation is scaled back to end at its 1919-1926 northern terminus at US-41 in Laurium.
  1934 The first 42 miles of M-26 are redesignated as a part of the new US-45 extension from the Wisconsin state line northerly to 2 miles east of Rockland in Ontonagon Co. Northwest of that point, the new US-45 takes the place of M-35 into Ontonagon. Interestingly, while the US-45 routing replaces M-35 from Rockland into Ontonagon, M-35 remains concurrently posted with M-26 from east of Greenland to US-45 near Rockland.
  1935 (Summer) Updated The M-26 designation is extended northerly from Laurium (again!) along US-41 to a point two miles east of Phoenix, then northeasterly along the Eagle Harbor Cut-Off replacing the M-129 designation to Eagle Harbor, then easterly along the Lake Superior shore to end at US-41 in Copper Harbor. The short M-206 leading from M-26 through Eagle Harbor is retained. The M-206 designation is a pure conincidence and not related to the new M-26 routing, as it was designated prior to the arrival of M-26 in the area.
  1939 Two minor realignments are completed in Houghton Co. A 1-mile realignment takes M-26 further out of the community of Donken while 2½ miles of the highway are realigned just south of Painesdale to remove two sharper curves. In both cases, much of the original route is abandoned as a public way. As a side note: A two-mile long highway connecting Phoenix and Eagle River in Keweenaw Co that would become a part of M-26 in about one year is renumbered from M-6 to M-111.
  1940 (Nov 12) Updated M-26 is realigned in Keweenaw Co. From Phoenix the routing now turns northwesterly replacing M-111 into Eagle River, then turns northeasterly to run along the shoreline for 8 miles rejoining its former alignment in Eagle Harbor. The former route of M-26 between US-41 (two miles east of Phoenix) and Eagle Harbor via the Eagle Harbor Cut-Off is cancelled as a state trunkline route is turned back to county control. While the Eagle River-to-Eagle Harbor route is officially determined on November 12, it appears on official highway maps beginning in the summer of 1940, so the highway may have been opened to traffic and signed as M-26 at that point. The new route of M-26 through Eagle Harbor also takes over much of the route of M-206, which is also decommissioned as a state trunkline route.
  1946–47(?) According to some 1946 and 1947 Michigan Official Highway Maps, M-26's route is altered from its former (and present-day) state to an interesting, but curious, configuration. In 1940, M-26 was extended northwest of US-41 at Phoenix travelling into Eagle River. The 1947 map shows that the new segment from Eagle River to Eagle Harbor along the shoreline completed in 1940 was removed and the Phoenix-to-Eagle River routing of M-26 becomes a spur-route. However, according to the 1947 map, M-26 also continues for another 2 miles on US-41, then runs northeast through Copper Falls Mine to Eagle Harbor, the routing for the highway from 1933 to 1940. Thus, there is a "three-pronged" routing of M-26 in Keweenaw Co. By 1948 M-26 was restored to its 1940-46 routing on the official highway maps. It's unclear whether this was a short-term situation, only depicted during 1946–47, or a mapping error on the part of the State Highway Department.
  1949 A minor realignment is completed at the end of 1949 at Calumet. The routes of US-41 & M-26 are moved from Pine & Rockland Sts and moved onto their current alignment. The former route is turned back to local control.
  1951 M-26 is realigned along 1.8 miles at the Firesteel River crossings in eastern Ontonagon Co. The old route, which is closely followed by the new highway, is mostly abandoned as a public way.
  1955 The final 7 miles of gravel-surfaced M-26/M-35 are paved between Greenland Jct and US-45.
  1956 M-26 is realigned to the south side of Winona Lake near the community of the same name in western Houghton Co. The old road on the north side of the lake is turned back to local control.
  1959 (Dec 20) The Houghton-Hancock Lift Bridge opens to traffic, replacing the old swing bridge completed in 1905. The following excerpt is taken from "Historic Highway Bridges of Michigan" by Charles K Hyde (1993, Wayne State University Press, ISBN 978-0814324486):

The state of Michigan completed the present bridge in 1959 at a cost of $13 million... The Houghton-Hancock Bridge is a double-deck structure, with a four-lane roadway on the upper deck and railroad tracks on the lower deck. The bridge has a total lengh of 1,310 feet, with a lift span 268 feet long, supported by twin steel towers 180 feet tall. When trains use the bridge [which hasn't happened for many years - CJB], it remains in its lowest position, and highway traffic uses the automobile level. When the railroads are not using the bridge, the operator leaves the structure in an intermediate position, with vehicular traffic using the railroad deck, allowing small boats to pass underneath. For the passage of large ships, the main span can be raised to provide clearance of 104 feet. Portage Lake is part of the Keweenaw Waterway, which bisects the Keweenaw Peninsula and offers Great Lakes vessels a sheltered passage from storms, especially the gales of November.

  1967 A slight realignment is completed on the south side of Lake Linden.
  1969 (Jan) With the renumbering of M-35 west of Baraga to M-38, the concurrent segment of M-26/M-35 becomes simply M-26 between (the new) M-38 and US-45, with M-38 ending at M-26.
  1971 A very minor realignment on the south side of Mohawk "smoothes" out a sharp curve there. The former alignment is obliterated and abandoned as a public way.
  1971 (June 21) New! – At its regular meeting at the Edwater Hotel in Madison, Wisconsin, the U.S. Route Numbering Subcommittee of the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) approves a request from the Michigan Dept of State Highways to relocate the route of US-45 between M-26 southeast of Rockland and Ontonagon from its existing route via Rockland and placing it onto a new alignment utilizing the existing M-26 from southeast of Rockland through Mass City to the Greenland area, then northwesterly past Greenland into Ontonagon.
  1971 (Oct 22) The rerouting of US-45 approved by the AASHO in June (see above) is completed and opened to traffic in Ontonagon Co. From the jct of US-45 & M-26 southeast of Rockland, US-45 supplants the M-26 designated northeasterly through Mass City to the Greenland area where it turns westerly and northwesterly via a completely reconstructed Ontonagon–Greenland Rd (present-day M-38) onto Ontonagon. As a result, M-26 is scaled back to the new intersection with US-45 one mile east of Greenland. While a reason for the routing changes has not been found to date, news reports at the time state the new route "will provide traffic east of Greenland with a shorter, modern access route to the western part of the Upper Peninsula." Oddly, though, the new alignment for US-45 is five miles longer than the former route via Rockland (18.3 miles versus 13.3 miles), so US-45 traffic would find the new route a major inconvenience! The reconstruction and partial realignment of Ontonagon–Greenland Rd cost $4.06 million.
  1973 (June 26) – Two years and five days after approving the Dept of State Highways' request to relocate US-45 in Ontonagon Co onto a portion of M-26 and then a newly reconstructed route between Greenland and Ontonagon, the U.S. Route Numbering Subcommittee of the American Association of State Highway Officials (AASHO) approves a request by the MDSH at its regular meeting held in Washington, D.C. to restore US-45 to its pre-1971 alignment between Rockland and Ontonagon. The Dept of State Highways then removes the US-45 route markers it erected in 1971 and erects them along the pre-1971 US-45 route along Rockland Rd via Rockland and northwesterly into Ontonagon. The M-26 designation is restored to its former routing from Greenland southwesterly through Mass City to US-45 southeast of Rockland. M-38 is then extended westerly concurrently with M-26 for approximately one mile east of Greenland and then northwesterly along Ontonagon–Greenland Rd replacing the US-45 designation (1971–1973) into Ontonagon.
  1979 As contributed by site contributor Dyche Anderson: "Back in 1979, MDOT built a new section of M-26 in Houghton, four lanes, from a few blocks east of the Portage Lake Lift Bridge (near the intersection with the Canal Road) up the hill (straight up), rejoining the former M-26. The distance was less than a mile. The old route pretty much exists, it is called Park Ave (part of the old road may have disappeared). IIRC, the portion of what is now the Canal Road for the first few blocks west of M-26 is also old M-26." MDOT information states the official transfer of trunkline status to the new route as September 18, 1980, although the actual construction may well have been completed in 1979. —Thanks much, Dyche!
  1989 A new eastern bypass of Atlantic Mine opens southwest of Houghton, with the former route being turned back to local control as Erickson Dr.
  2006 (Sept) New! A realigment of M-26 between South Range and Trimountain in central Houghton Co is opened to traffic, although the finishing touches would be made over the weeks following. The new route begins where M-26 formerly made a 90° turn from Baltic Ave onto Trimountain Ave in downtown South Range and continue southerly along the final two blocks of Baltic Ave then strikes out on new alignment gradually curving to the west, merging back with the former route on the north edge of Trimountain. The former route from the western/southern limit of South Range southwesterly to the new highway at Trimountain is physically obliterated and ceases to be a public highway. [See the M-26 at South Range: 2006 and M-26 at South Range: 2005 maps and M-26 at South Range 2006 photo pages.]
  2006 (Oct 4) New! The remaining portion of the former route of M-26 in the Village of South Range (0.44 miles) from M-26/Baltic Ave westerly along Trimountain Ave and the southernmost portion of Globe Ave is turned back to local control, while the two southernmost blocks of Baltic Ave from Trimountain Ave southerly (0.06 miles) are officially transferred to MDOT control as part of the new trunkline route.
Controlled Access: No portion of M-26 is freeway or expressway.
NHS: Updated The portion of M-26 from its southern terminus at US-45 northerly to its first jct with US-41 in downtown Houghton is part of the National Highway System (NHS). (This segment of M-26 was added to the NHS in 2012 with the passage of the MAP-21 funding and authorization bill. Previously, no portion of M-26 was on the NHS.)
Circle Tour: Lake Superior Circle Tour MarkerLake Superior Circle Tour: From the west jct of M-38 at Greenland to northern terminus at Copper Harbor.
Pure Michigan
Scenic Heritage Route MarkerCopper Country Trail Scenic Heritage Route & National Byway: The portions of M-26 running concurrently with US-41 from Houghton to Copper Harbor.
Memorial Highway: At present, no portion of M-26 has been designated as part of a Memorial Highway.
  • M-26 at South Range 2006 - two pages containing 22 photos along the existing route of M-26 between South Range and Trimountain.
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