Early history of Tower and Soudan, part 2

Lumber industry | Lake Vermilion | Civic organizations
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A view of McKinley Park on the shore of Lake Vermilion.

A view of McKinley Park on the shore of Lake Vermilion.

Lumber Industry

Although the first attractions to this wilderness area were the gold mines and the iron ore, to those who were interested in lumbering business, the fine stands of virgin Norway and white pine timber were of interest. Large numbers of cruisers, loggers and others took advantage of their rights to file on these timbered lands. This brought on the practice of “jumping” claims that had already been filed. It was a case of the best man wins.

The story goes that there was bitter feeling between a man by the name of Phillips, and one named W. H. Cook, both of whom were trying to get title to as much timber as possible. The upshot of this feud was that one morning at Tower, Phillips got together an angry mob for the purpose of lynching Cook, but Cook was warned and made his escape up the track to the depot, where he jumped into the baggage car of the morning train that was just pulling out.

Cook went to Virginia where he organized the Virginia & Rainy Lake Lumber Company. The company built a railroad (now the DWP) up to his timber holdings, and hauled the timber to Virginia where his company built what was reported to be the largest white pine sawmill in the world. Thus was the future destiny of Tower changed over a rather insignificant affair.

Looking west on Tower’s Main Street toward its intersection with Poplar Street in the early 1950s.

Looking west on Tower’s Main Street toward its intersection with Poplar Street in the early 1950s.

The first lumber to be cut here was by John Owens who operated the mill for the mining company at first, but later bought them out and established his own company. Other companies to follow were the Howe Lumber Company, the Tower Lumber Company which was the largest of them all, Alger-Smith Company, Cook & Ketchum, Trout Lake Lumber Company, Vermilion Lumber Company, and Pike Bay Lumber Company.

The Tower Lumber Company, operating from 1900 to 1909, employed some 500 men in their sawmill, planing mill, and lumber yard. It was a year-around operation. In addition to this they employed as high as 2,000 men during the winter months in their many logging camps. As the logs were cut, they were then hauled to “landings” on the lake and when spring came and the lake opened again, the logs were assembled into large rafts and towed down the lake by strong, steam tugboats to the mill here on Pike Bay.

Tower City Hall as it appeared in the early 1950s.

Tower City Hall as it appeared in the early 1950s.

In order to have a high water level the logging companies built the first dam at Vermilion River by building up the banks on either side of the river and then placing bags of sand across the stream. At Trout Lake they built a dam on Trout River from which they built a sluiceway down to Vermilion and then as the logs were towed down Trout Lake they were sluiced into Vermilion and then towed again to Tower. The same practice was followed at Pike River to get their “log drives” down in the spring. They had a sluice there also to take care of the logs that were driven.

Lake Vermilion

Tower-Soudan, one of the first tourist cities in the Minnesota Arrowhead Country, is the gateway to beautiful Lake Vermilion. The Chippewa Indians still live here at Boise Fort [sic.] Village, and call Lake Vermilion “Lake of the Sunset Glow,” because of the beautiful sunsets seen on the lake.

Tower City Council, 1954. Pictured (l. to r.) are William G. Smith, treasurer; William E. Carlson, alderman; Walter H. Bystrom, mayor; Rose Stefanich, clerk;

Tower City Council, 1954. Pictured (l. to r.) are William G. Smith, treasurer; William E. Carlson, alderman; Walter H. Bystrom, mayor; Rose Stefanich, clerk;

Lake Vermilion is nearly 40 miles long, with over 1,200 miles of beautiful wooded and beach shoreline. There are 73 vacation resorts of every description that cater to the many thousands of visitors who come here each year from all parts of the United States, Canada and Mexico. It also has places of historical interest on its shores. There are ruins of old cabins, trading posts, and Indian burial grounds. The first motor boat on the lake was named Comet. It was wrecked in Big Bay and so Comet Island got its name.

[Lake Vermilion] is said to have been the scene of many hard-fought battles between the two Indian tribes which inhabited this country in the early days, the Chippewas and the Sioux. More than 150 years ago, a trading post was established at the “Narrows” near Tower by the Hudson Bay Company and was in charge of a man by the name of McLaughlin.

One of its outstanding features is the number of private houses built around its shores. These number nearly 4,000. They have mostly been built by visitors who found here everything they desired for a summer home. Among them is Doctor Preston Bradley, the nationally known Pastor of the People’s Church of Chicago. He owns an island on the lake where he has built a home on which he has spent four months of each year for the past 39 years. Dr. Bradley is a conservationist in every sense of the word, and advertises this region on his many radio programs. The Izaak Walton League Chapter at Tower is named for him.

The lake is the headquarters of rivers flowing northward to Hudson Bay. It has long been famous for its walleyed and northern pike fishing. Muskies, crappies, bass and trout are found here and in nearby lakes. Those who like sailboating find large reaches of open water and good harbors. All of the main boat channels are carefully marked by buoys which are furnished and taken care of by St. Louis County through a special fund sent up for that purpose. Walter A. Aronson, the pioneer boatman on the lake, is the “‘mailman” during the summer months. He has a contract with the government to deliver mail to the resorts and private cabins along an 87-mile route.

The St. Louis County Board of Commissioners have made many worthwhile improvements in recent years. These include accessible roads, bridges and dams.

The first actual “stopping place” on the lake was at Vermilion Dam which was started to take care of the travel across the lake that connected with other lakes. Among the early operators of this place was Ben Everett. It was later taken over by his son Clarence and then his daughter, Mrs. L. R. Shively. The patronage of this place was gradually changed from the transient travelers to tourists, so in reality Vermilion Dam was one of the first, if not the first resort on Lake Vermilion. This was followed by Goodwill’s summer home, Fabins, Idlewild and Birch Point Inn.

Indian Reservation

The Chippewa Indian Reservation is located in a Bay on Lake Vermilion, 10 miles from the City of Tower. The Indians are closely connected with those on the Nett Lake Reservation. The reservation does not receive supervision from the United States Government. The population of the reservation is now nearly 100. It was in excess of 800 in 1900. The Indians became citizens of the United States in 1924 and from then on had to earn their own living working with beads, leather and birchbark; others make their living trapping or working in the local mines. A few of the younger Indians work for the resort owners during the summer, guiding tourists. Of course, a number still continue to gather rice.

Wa-Kem-Up Bay in Lake Vermilion is named after the Indian Chief of the same name. Years ago 150 Indians lived here. Chief John Gooday lived here until his death in 1951. He was 108 years old and served as Chief for 40 years, succeeding Chief “Quake Conne.” The present chief is John Sahabadio, age 80, whose wife is a daughter of Chief John Gooday.

Vermilion Range Old Settlers’ Association

This association, organized in 1914, is what the name implies. The group meets annually at McKinley Park on Lake Vermilion on the third Saturday in July. This makes an opportunity for the pioneers to get together and recount some of the happenings in the early years on the Vermilion Range. Qualifications for membership states that the applicant must have lived here 20 or more years.

At the reunion, a program is arranged by a committee appointed by the President for that purpose. They select a speaker conversant with the area and its problems. The annual meeting and election of Officers for the ensuing year takes place during the afternoon. Current Officers and Directors are: Arthur I. Naslund, President; Albert St. Vincent, Vice President; Rose Stefanich, Secretary; John Dragavon, Treasurer; and John H. Hickey, John E. Micklech, Ronald Morcom, William G. Smith, Vern Hill and Charles Berglund, Directors.

Tower-Soudan Today

Tower and Soudan today in the Township of Breitung, although originally famous for its mining explorations, is now one of the finest resort areas in this region. Known as a “Town of Homes,” Tower at the present time is governed by a mayor and four aldermen; the mayor and two aldermen being elected for a two-year term. It has a combined population of 2,000, which includes the Township of Breitung.

The present officers of the City of Tower are: Walter H. Bystrom, Mayor; Robert L. Hendrickson, John Axelson, Glenn J. Bystrom and William E. Carlson, Aldermen; Rose Stefanich, Clerk; William G. Smith, Treasurer; J. A. Johnson, Municipal Judge; David B. Anderson, Chief of Police; and Russell J. Napier, Fire Chief; Board of Health, Dr. T. P. Mollers and Robert L. Hendrickson.

Tower has always been fortunate in having substantial business establishments. At the present time there are three general stores. ten hardware-electric-appliance stores, three confectionaries, two dry goods and clothing, five garages, a bakery, bank and hotel. Three restaurants, three barber shops and two lumber yards are located within the city limits.

The businessmen are alert and active, and they make every effort to keep their places of business clean and attractive. Because there are no places of business in Soudan, this entire population depends on the Tower business houses for most of their needs, which represents a large part of the total volume of business done by local merchants.

Tower has a spacious and well-constructed City Hall which was built in the WPA days. On the first floor are housed the city’s own liquor store, the jail and Fire Department. On the second floor are the City Council Chambers, Library, a general meeting room, and the offices of the Judge, Chief of Police, and City Clerk.

The Volunteer Fire Department was organized over 50 years ago and has rendered efficient and faithful service. For a small department they have fine equipment, which includes a modern fire engine, respirator and other needed equipment.

The City owns quite an extensive tract of cut-over timber lands which is under the direction of a Forestry Board consisting of Walter L. Holter, Chairman; Wm. E. Noyes and Herman T. Olson as Secretary.

The Town of Breitung owns and has direct charge of McKinley Park, which was also named for the late President William McKinley. It is at McKinley Park that the communities of Tower and Soudan gather during the summer months for picnics and celebrations. The annual meeting of the Vermilion Range Old Settlers Association is held here.

Officials of the Town of Breitung are: Edward C. Arola, Chairman; Joseph Jamnick and Louis Spollar, Supervisors; Fanny Branwall, Clerk; Mark Tezak, Treasurer; John Pahula and Tony Pecha, Constables; Harry Chiabotti and Ronald Morcom, Justices of Peace; and Louis J. Zupancich, Assessor.

In addition to an aggressive Chamber of Commerce, Tower and Soudan have several other groups which are active in the civic life of the community. There is the Tower Homecraft Club, which is affiliated with the Saint Louis County Club and Farm Bureau Association. Its present Officers are: Ethel Anderson, President; Carol Schmid, Vice President; Julia Nelson, Secretary; and Helga McNulty, Treasurer.

The Officers of the Women’s Civic Improvement Club are: Madeline Pearson, President; Betty Ilse, Vice President; Esther Helstrom, Secretary; and Minnie Stevens, Treasurer.

The Officers of the Nelson-Jackson Post No. 245— American Legion are: Sulo Holm, Commander; George Bluneau, 1st Vice Commander; Raymond Peil, 2nd Vice Commander; Curtis Pearson, Adjutant; Harvey Ilse, Chaplain; H. H. Stevens, Sergeant at Arms; Russell Pearson, Historian.

The following are the present Officers of the Women’s Auxiliary to Nelson-Jackson Post No. 245-American Legion: Mary Musich, President; Betty Ilse, First Vice President; Lempi Lindstrom, Second Vice President; Molly Larson, Secretary; and Helia Wiebke, Treasurer.

The Officers of the Lake Vermilion Post No. 1209—Veterans of Foreign Wars are: George R. Hiltunen, Commander; Ernest Mustonen, Senior Vice Commander; Michael S. Musich, Junior Vice Commander; Paul Chiabotti, Quartermaster and Adjutant; and Rudolph Znidarsich, Chaplain; also Officers of the Women’s Auxiliary to Lake Vermilion Post No. 1209— Veterans of Foreign Wars are as follows: Eleanor Gornick, President; Ida Ronkainen, Sr. Vice President; Regina Kotzian, Jr. Vice President; Justine Dragavon, Secretary and Jean Pechek, Treasurer.

The Officers of the Soudan Study Club are: Lempi Lindstrom, President; Fanny Branwall, Vice President; Helia Wiebke, Secretary; and Ina Carlson, Treasurer.

The local Izaak Walton League Chapter is named for Dr. Preston Bradley. He still is a member and takes an active part in securing legislation on conservation projects. The present Officers are: Ray Landmark, President; Jack Goode, Vice President; Herbert O. Bohlin, Secretary; and John Dragavon, Treasurer.

Officers of the Tower-Soudan Veterans Club are: Curtis Pearson, President; Oscar Nyberg, Vice President; Mrs. Frank Gornick, Secretary; Francis Shafer, Treasurer; Walter Wellander, Robert B. Olson, Sulo Holm and John Vesel, Directors.

The community has many active Fraternal organizations who always do their part whenever called upon. These are: Vermilion Lodge No. 197 A.F.&A.M., Loyal Chapter No. 156 O.E.S., Tower Lodge No. 104 I.O.O.F., Victor Rebekah Lodge No. 143, Tower Lodge No. 241 L.O.O.M., Tower Chapter ‘Women of the Moose Auxiliary No. 528, St. Cyril & Method Lodge No. 4 K.S.K.J., St. Barbara Lodge A.F.U., St. Peter & Paul Lodge C.F.U., Slovenian Ladies Union, Branch 34, and Ladies of Kaleva Lodge.

The Tower-Soudan churches include all principal denominations. The present Tower-Soudan Churches and their Pastors are: Tower: St. James Presbyterian, Rev. Kenneth C. Nordvall; Immanuel Lutheran, Rev. Oliver M. Wilson; St. Martin’s Catholic, Rev. John J. Jershe; and St. Mary’s Episcopal, Rev. C. W. F. Goddard; Soudan: St. Paul’s Lutheran, Rev. J. Eugene Kunos; Bethel Lutheran, Rev. Oliver M. Wilson; and Soudan Baptist, Rev. John E. Brown.

The sewer and water plant of Soudan was donated to the Township of Breitung and is in charge of a Water & Sewer Commission, with the following officers: Earl Holmes, Chairman; Louis Zupancich, Vice Chairman; Mrs. Fanny Branwall. Secretary. The City of Tower is furnished water by this commission under a favorable agreement with them.

Source (images and text): Missabe Iron Ranger, a publication of the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway, July 1954. No author or sources for historical information were provided in the original text. More installments from this account will continue in future editions.

One response to “Early history of Tower and Soudan, part 2”

  1. Linda L Halvorson says:


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