Settled in the 1860s and incorporated in 1875, the village of Red Jacket, later named Calumet, grew up on the northwest edge of the Calumet and Hecla mine location. The Calumet and Hecla Mining Company did not permit businesses on its property and had no company store, so stores and saloons were built beyond company boundaries, as well as social halls and government buildings. From its business district along 5th and 6th streets, Red Jacket, with a population of 3,078 at the turn of the twentieth century, served a larger mining community of 30,000.
The approximately fifty commercial buildings on 5th and 6th streets reflect Red Jacket's commercial development during the boom years, as frame houses and stores were followed by sandstone and brick business blocks. These rectangular-shaped buildings with plain side walls define the streetscape, presenting from time to time imposing three-story facades of wood, sandstone, brick, and metal. Most are embellished with stock elements, sometimes in lavish combinations with terra-cotta trimming, metal cornices, turrets, bays, cast-iron thresholds, and columns. Today Main Street Calumet guides the revitalization of the historic downtown district.
Buildings for commercial and governmental use were built for the immigrants who either arrived with trade skills or who had worked in the mines and accumulated enough wealth to start their own businesses. The buildings followed plans by itinerant and local architects.
Calumet has been called an ethnic conglomerate, and this district demonstrates distinct ethnicity. One block away, on 7th Street between Elm and Pine streets, once stood the Italian Hall, where, on Christmas Eve of 1913, the year of the copper strike, seventy-two women and children were crushed to death because of a false fire alarm. The event is memorialized in Woody Guthrie's song “1913 Massacre” (1972).