The Iron Ranges

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Three iron ranges are located in Michigan: the Marquette Range and the Menominee and Gogebic ranges. The latter two ranges also lie in Wisconsin. For some forty miles the Marquette Range stretches in a three- to ten-mile-wide belt from the city of Marquette to L'Anse on Keweenaw Bay. The Menominee Range runs east and west north of Iron Mountain and includes the towns of Iron Mountain, Norway, and Vulcan. The twenty-five-mile-long Michigan section of the Gogebic Range stretches from the state boundary with Wisconsin at Ironwood to just west of Lake Gogebic. In Wisconsin it extends west to Atkins Lake.

The substance of the economy of Marquette County is found in the Marquette Iron Range, the valuable iron in the hills around Marquette. This promising resource was known to the Indians and French missionaries of the early seventeenth century, and to trappers of the early nineteenth century, but it was not until 1844, when William Burt and Jacob Houghton (1827–1903), brother of Douglass Houghton, discovered iron deposits near Teal Lake, twelve miles west of Marquette, that development of the region began. Their discovery substantiated Douglass Houghton's earlier reports of extensive iron deposits and this, together with subsequent findings, brought an onslaught of entrepreneurs and fortune hunters to recently organized Marquette County.

Following Burt and Houghton, in 1845 Philo M. Everett explored the area and located lands for the newly formed Jackson Mining Company, the first organized mining company in the region. In 1846, after sending one ton of ore to the mouth of the Carp River and then on to Pittsburgh for scientific testing, Everett opened the Jackson Mine. A year later, three miles east of Negaunee on the Carp River, he built the Jackson Forge for the production of iron.

By 1853 three mining companies—the Jackson, the Lake Superior, and the Cleveland—operated in the Marquette Iron Range, but further development required an effective means of transporting the ore from the mines to the large furnaces that were located near the coalfields of the Lower Lakes. The completion in the 1850s of the first railroad and modern ore docks at Marquette and Escanaba and the opening of the locks at Sault Ste. Marie provided such facilities. Mines at Ishpeming and Negaunee followed, with others at Gwinn and at Republic, Champion, and Michigamme. A network of railroads connected the mines to the docks at Marquette and Escanaba. The architectural consequences were the workers' and managers' houses that sprang up at the various mine locations and the more specialized utilitarian types of structures, such as headframes, shaft houses, warehouses, and machine shops.

Mining on the Marquette Iron Range continued to expand in the early years of the twentieth century. In 1909, Marquette's 48 operating mines employed 6,546 men and shipped 4.2 million tons of ore. Cleveland-Cliffs Iron (CCI) Mining Company, which had been formed in 1891 by the consolidation of the Cleveland Iron Mining Company, the Jackson Iron Company, the Iron Cliffs Company, and the Pioneer Iron Company, operated ten mines with 1,700 employees. In 1919 iron production peaked with 4.8 million tons. From there it was downhill, and large-scale production ended in 1929. Today Cliffs Natural Resources manages the Empire and Tilden mines only, the last of Michigan's great iron ore industry. Since the deposits of high-grade ore have been largely exhausted, the current method is to extract low-grade ore from waste rock by a crushing and grading process that eventually results in pellet-sized ore. Moreover, foreign competition and fluctuations in the North American steel industry have caused large-scale cutbacks in iron mining in general throughout the United States.

Today the Iron Ore Heritage Trail intends to interpret the history of the Marquette Iron Range on its forty-eight-mile route from Marquette to Republic.

Harvey Mellon, a U.S. surveyor, reported in 1851 the discovery of iron near present-day Iron River and Stambaugh, a finding that became known as the western deposits of the Menominee Iron Range. Exploration for ore in what are now the towns of Quinnesec and Vulcan, and the city of Iron Mountain in the eastern Menominee Range, took place in the 1860s and 1870s. Mining began at Quinnesec in 1873 and flourished after 1879, when the Chapin Mine at Iron Mountain opened and the Chicago and North Western Railway built a line from its ore docks at Escanaba to the eastern deposits. Iron Mountain took the lead with three mines, the Hewitt, the Ludington, and the Chapin. From 1880 to 1934 the Chapin Mine alone produced 27 million tons.

The western deposits of the Menominee Range were first exploited in 1880 by the Crystal Falls Iron Company in eastern Iron County. The last mines to be developed were in the vicinity of Iron River. They were aided by the arrival of the Chicago and North Western Railway in 1882. Discovery of new deposits of iron ore, coupled with the reopening of mines closed during the economic depression of the 1890s, contributed to the growth of the iron ore industry. The Hiawatha at Stambaugh ( IR7) became a leading producer, and by 1922 the iron mining industry employed 2,600 people, 25 percent of Iron County's population. Iron mining on the Menominee Range peaked in 1920, declined gradually in the 1930s, and eventually closed in the 1970s. Today the economy of the county is related to lumber and forest products and outdoor recreation. The Ottawa National Forest includes portions of Iron and Gogebic counties.

Lying south of Lake Superior, in a narrow belt that extends from Lake Gogebic to the Montreal River and on into Wisconsin, the Gogebic Iron Range was the last iron range opened in Michigan. In 1871, after examining William A. Burt's survey notes, Raphael Pumpelly, a Harvard geologist, discovered iron ore here and selected lands for acquisition by eastern speculators that were to become the Newport and Geneva mine sites. With the arrival of the railroad in 1884, the Colby Mine opened at Bessemer. Subsequently, a chain of mining operations was established on the Gogebic Iron Range at Ironwood, Bessemer, Ramsey, and Wakefield—twelve mines between 1884 and 1887, and at least twenty more by 1925. The ore was transported by rail to the great ore docks at Ashland, Wisconsin, and Escanaba, where it was loaded onto ore boats and shipped down the lakes to steel mills and outside markets. Eventually, however, the mines became too deep, the ores too impure, and the profits dissipated, so in 1966, the last mine on the Gogebic Range was closed.

Writing Credits

Kathryn Bishop Eckert

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