I was lucky that during a video interview at the ore docks in West Duluth, the trains began to move. What beautiful sounds.
"Someday the ore will be gone. We might as well have a good time while it lasts, and get ourselves something to remember it by."
Hibbing High School was built in 1924. Modeled after the Capitol Theater in New York, it cost 4 million dollars - thanks to high taxes on the mining companies. Tiffany glass chandeliers, a Barton organ, swimming pools and multiple gyms. A government reporter described Depression-era Hibbing as ‘a sort of story-book town’ where the expensive high school contained a clinic ‘that would do credit to the most perfectly equipped metropolitan hospital.’ Many in the country believed Hibbing squandered away the wealth accumulated by unfairly taxing mining corporations, a situation often blamed on Hibbing mayor Victor Power. (Info and quotes from Taconite Dreams.)
I grew up just blocks from the high school. Like most Hibbing residents in the ‘80s and before, I was raised with pride in the storied buildings and the history of the town (Hibbing was moved early on to make way for the Hull Rust Mahoning mine). The truth is, things have changed a lot in the last century.
The person (unknown) quoted above little knew that 30 years later the taconite industry would try to replace the glory days of high-grade ore. Has taconite succeeded? Or will precious metals mining, such as Polymet? The world is changing quickly; are the boom and bust cycles that manifest all Hibbing’s ornate buildings still something to aspire to?
I want to thank the staff at Hibbing High School for generously allowing me a half day with the organ!
I had to make a sample of Mine Songs for an upcoming press feature.
In this you can hear sounds from Duluth: the container at the old Duluth Works site (where US Steel was located), a distant train running from the CN docks to the Iron Range, the sound of cars on the aerial lift bridge (that allows laker ships to access the ore docks), and the engine of a BNSF train (which hauls to Superior, WI). Duluth was/is obviously very important to the iron ore/steel industry, even with the dissolution of the steel plant here.
Elcor used to be a town - or, actually it was a mining location. That means the mines owned the land, but you could own your home. You were encouraged to live there, close to the mine - convenience and amenities. But when the time came to dig under your house for money-making resources, you were out. There are still mining locations today. They won’t disappear in my lifetime, but eventually they will and someone may write a post like this. The ever-changing landscape of the Iron Range is simultaneously mind-boggling, fascinating, destructive and beautiful. My great-grandparents ran a boarding house in Sparta - half of which is now empty, save for ruins. For more reading on Iron Range ghost towns, visit ZenithCity.com.
I love exploring and it was a phenomenally beautiful evening in Superior in mid-December. Imagine all this metal (1000-foot lakers, conveyer bridges, docks, tracks) was flipped upward - the red contents of the pits now sit on the surface of the earth formed into structures and transportation that allow the creation of more pits.
In 1910, the world production of pig iron was 66.5 million tons. In 2012 1.1 billion. (Source: minerals.usgs.gov) It requires 2 tons of ore to make a ton of steel. And a half ton of limestone. More info here.
For more about the Allouez docks, check out Substreet.
The Duluth Works was an industrial steel and cement manufacturing complex that operated from 1915 to 1987. Owned by U.S. Steel, it was “built as part of a ‘gentleman's agreement’ between U.S. Steel and the State of Minnesota to not impose hefty iron ore taxes on U.S. Steel in exchange for a fully integrated steel plant within Minnesota, whose mines furnished 80% of the ore to U.S. Steel. The combined works of the steel and cement plant were the largest employers in Duluth and the fourth largest industrial complex in Minnesota.” More on Wikipedia.
Duluth and the Iron Range have been economically connected since the beginning of the iron ore industry. Railways bring ore from the Mesabi range to Duluth, and limestone from Duluth ships to the iron ore plants. Limestone is used (as well as clay) as a binding agent to make taconite pellets. Until 2004, the rail was run by Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway. It was purchased by Canadian National (CN), but the DMIR logo still graces the sides of many cars. Have a look and listen to my early explorations of the railway and loading docks in Duluth.
Maps are beautiful and artistic, practical and imaginative. They are also instructional, showing historical changes. I have encountered lots of maps recently, as I try to understand the changing landscape of the Iron Range. It is impossible, that task. On a smaller scale, I am only trying to identify a few of my favorite pit lakes - the ‘exhausted’ or abandoned cavities that have filled with water after anything deemed valuable was removed.
Some of my favorite map words:
MINE EXHAUSTED INACTIVE INTERESTS
OPEN PIT STRIPPING DUMP
CAVED AREA ROCK DUMPS
(These are USGA topographic maps, and maps from ‘Mesabi Range Maps’ prepared by Great Northern Iron Ore Properties. If you’d like more info, visit the resources page.)
Recorded in an old sample processing laboratory that Lerch Brothers built around 1917.
“It served many the local natural ore mines like the Leonidas, Fault, Hull- Nelson, Alice, Spruce, Adams, Dorr, and Cloquet Annex. Lerch Brothers had these facilities all along the Iron Range, and in Superior, Wis. so they were close to the products they were handling, just like the resident locations were built close to the mines since transportation was always a problem. This facility operated until around 1961-62. By then the natural ore was running out and several of the lab buildings along the range were abandoned and the operations moved to the Hibbing facility as that was the Northern Headquarters for the company. Rhude and Fryberger evidently purchased the property around 1966 for the same use. They have a long history of cleaning up the natural ore deposits of old mines, with rather good profitability, some of their more productive operations have carried on for over 25 years at individual locations.”
Emailed to me by my Uncle Bill in September 2018.