If you grew up in Michigan’s UP then an Upper Michigan sauna was more than likely part of your life. This is especially true in what is called the copper country of the Western UP. Many of the original homes in places like Trout Creek, Ontonagon and Calumet had a sauna built into the home or just adjacent to it.
In some homes there was neither a bathtub nor shower. The family sauna was the place where you cleaned yourself up with a good sweat. It was common when taking an Upper Michigan sauna to get a good sweat going then wash down with a bucket of cold water. Some people would use the sweat of their bodies to soap up prior to washing down.
An Upper Michigan sauna is heated with a woodstove that in many cases was built in the UP. A rock rack was place on the top of the stove to hold the sauna rocks that were used to generate radiant heat. Once the sauna reached its preferred temperature water was ladled onto the rocks creating steam which raised the felt heat further. Frequently a beer was consumed during the sauna which increased the sweat.
Most Upper Michigan sauna were constructed with Northern white cedar. White cedar has a great aroma and is a great insulator. Benches were built along the walls for people to sit on. In many cases there were two levels of benches with the top one being the hottest. Many a sauna neophyte has been told to sit on the top bench because it was where it was the coolest. It would not be long before they would be headed to the door. The door of an Upper Michigan sauna would also be made of cedar due to its light weight and good insulating character. The doors hinges would often be made of Oak.
Growing up with an Upper Michigan sauna meant that when you got a cold or were sore from working in the woods you headed to the sauna for relief and healing. Old folks with arthritis would use it to get relief from their pain and to keep themselves flexible. It was an excepted fact that a good Upper Michigan sauna would keep you healthy both physically and mentally especially during the long winter.