Caretakers of the past, stewards of the future
After the Mill: Gay Industries
The weavers at Gay Industries sold their rugs in this log structure built by the WPA in the 1930s. It operated as an information center for many years. After a period of closure it was reopened in 1965 as the Keweenaw Craft Shop, operated by the Community Action Council. Credit: Allison (Kim) Hoagland, 2018. The Log Cabin: An American Icon
Rag-rug weaving is rooted in local Finnish heritage. Typically, women worked in their homes on wooden counterbalance looms often passed down as family heirlooms. They wove strips torn from used clothing into multicolored, patterned rag-rugs which were used until they were worn out, then repurposed to stop drafts, or as door mats.
Look carefully at the large green Gay Industries looms, and you will find tally marks showing completed rugs dating back to at least 1941. Courtesy: Mark Rhodes. 2021.
In the 1970s, women from the Fire Belles Ladies’ Auxiliary of Gay used the original WPA looms, along with others acquired by the Keweenaw Historical Society, to weave rugs sold at the Auxiliary’s weekly rummage sale in the township hall. Money was used to support the volunteer Fire Department. One weaver recalls…
“The women would meet upstairs of the current office building called the “loom room,” and cut apart used clothing. From these parts, strips would be cut. These strips would be joined and made into balls. They would then wind the strips onto a shuttle. This would pass easily through the warp. The weaver would then tamp the weft strongly and continue weaving.”
The large green Gay Industries looms are still in use today. Volunteers create table runners and rugs that are sold with the proceeds going to the Gay School Museum.
Rugs from the looms on sale at the museum. Courtesy: Mark Rhodes. 2021.
The looms are still sometimes used for demonstrations during the museum’s open hours. Courtesy: Mark Rhodes. 2021.
Some WPA projects in Keweenaw County focused upon the development of tourism which continued after World War II. As one of the few tourists stops on the eastern side of the Keweenaw, Gay gradually became a home for retirees and for returning families from the milling, fishing, and lumbering days. Daily Mining Gazette. October 29, 1955.
KCHS museum sites and cottage rentals will be open for the 2022 season. Please see the site and rental webpages for specific dates and operation information.
The Keweenaw County Historical Society’s Board of Directors will follow the COVID-19 Epidemic Orders issued by the State of Michigan’s Department of Health and Human Services. These public health orders are updated as needed, so KCHS may need to change access to buildings and events.
Please check back for updates.
Keweenaw County Historical Society