-A A +A

Founded in 1885 and incorporated in 1889, Ironwood rapidly became the leading city on the Gogebic Iron Range. It was named either after James R. Wood, a mining captain on the range whose nickname was Iron, or after its two natural resources, iron and wood.

The arrival of the Milwaukee, Lake Shore and Western Railroad (later the Chicago and North Western Railway), at Watersmeet in the southeast corner of the county in 1884, brought a flood of immigration to Ironwood, transforming the wilderness hamlet of trailblazers attracted here by the 1884 report of iron ore by New York speculator J. Lansear Norrie into a center of activity. Shortly after, the Wisconsin Central Railroad linked Ironwood with ore docks at Ashland, Wisconsin. Then within a few years the Duluth, South Shore and Atlantic Railroad arrived. In 1900 Ironwood had a population of 10,000 and had developed as a respectable business and commercial center. By comparison, its twin city, Hurley, Wisconsin, which is nestled among the hills on the west side of the raging Montreal River, had many saloons, was plagued by prostitution and gambling, and was known as the hellhole of the range.

The Norrie, Aurora, Newport, Pabst, and Ashland mines operated within the city limits; most of them were eventually run by the Oliver Iron Mining Company. Ironwood embraced the suburban towns of Jessieville and Monticello, with their mines, miners' houses, and stores. Railroad tracks divide the city in two, with the residential quarter on the northwest and the commercial, industrial, and an earlier residential area on the south. In 1887, fire destroyed the downtown business section and it was rebuilt in a more substantial manner. By the 1890s, handsome business blocks, many of Lake Superior sandstone, and comfortable houses replaced wooden stores and shacks. Municipal sewers were installed and the Gogebic Electric Railway and Light Company streetcar connected Ironwood and Hurley.

By the 1960s, the demise of iron mining had resulted in a 30 percent countywide reduction in population from its 1920 high. Residents of Ironwood and of Gogebic County have compensated for that loss by developing a year-round outdoor recreation industry. Today, with a population of 6,290, Ironwood is the center of western Upper Peninsula skiing, canoeing, fishing, hunting, and hiking.

Writing Credits

Kathryn Bishop Eckert

If SAH Archipedia has been useful to you, please consider supporting it.

SAH Archipedia tells the story of the United States through its buildings, landscapes, and cities. This freely available resource empowers the public with authoritative knowledge that deepens their understanding and appreciation of the built environment. But the Society of Architectural Historians, which created SAH Archipedia with University of Virginia Press, needs your support to maintain the high-caliber research, writing, photography, cartography, editing, design, and programming that make SAH Archipedia a trusted online resource available to all who value the history of place, heritage tourism, and learning.