Iron Ranges of Minnesota, 1909

Coleraine and Bovey | Massive beneficiation plant at Trout Lake
Trout Lake beneficiation plant near Coleraine circa 1918. Beneficiation treats raw iron ore to separate the ore into the usable mineral and the part of the ore that is unusable. Photos courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth.

Trout Lake beneficiation plant near Coleraine circa 1918. Beneficiation treats raw iron ore to separate the ore into the usable mineral and the part of the ore that is unusable. Photos courtesy of Archives and Special Collections, Kathryn A. Martin Library, University of Minnesota Duluth.

The Canisteo District

One of the most remarkable undertakings carried on by the United States Steel Corporation on the Mesabi Range comprises a series of improvements which have been in progress for the last four or five years in the Canisteo District, Itasca County.

This district, near the western extremity of the Range, was one of the earliest in which exploration work was begun, and it has long been known that numerous deposits of ore existed there but the fact that much of it was mixed with considerable quantities of silica or sand, rendering the ore unfit for furnace use, prevented the properties being worked to any extent. The Oliver Iron Mining Company, having secured control of much of the ore lands in this district, began making experiments to ascertain the practicability of washing the sand from these ores. Temporary washing plants were erected in which a practicable process was demonstrated and preparations for working the property have since been in progress on a gigantic scale.

Coleraine Hospital circa 1915. It was completed in 1907, and its superintendent in 1909 was Dr. N. D. Kean.

Coleraine Hospital circa 1915. It was completed in 1907, and its superintendent in 1909 was Dr. N. D. Kean.

One of these preliminary moves involved the stripping of the overburden from several hundred acres of ground, the average depth of the ore beneath the surface being some 80 feet or more. Approximately 12,000,000 yards have been stripped and several miles of railroad track built expressly for the purpose of transporting this overburden to convenient dumping places.

Three of the largest open pit mines on the range are being developed and no less than six incorporated villages have sprung into existence in the district. These stripping operations have required the services of hundreds of men with several steam shovels and locomotives and many dump cars besides other implements, for the past two years or more. Much of the ore bed is uncovered and shipping began early in the season of 1909.

Doubtless the most interesting feature of the developments in this district is the mammoth concentrating plant now being constructed for the purpose of treating the sandy ores. The establishment is located on the eastern shore of Trout Lake at a point central to the principal mining properties of the district and the ultimate expense of its erection is estimated at over one million dollars.

Loaded cars will be taken from the mines by easy grades to a point 100 feet or more above the lake shore where they will be dumped and the ore allowed to descend by force of gravity over a series of inclines. Streams of water forced against the descending ores at the proper pressure will carry with them the lighter sands while the washed or concentrated ores fall into empty cars ready for shipment. After treatment by this process, these ores are of much higher grade than any other shipped from the range.

Coleraine, a model town

This model town is one of the novelties of the range and probably has no parallel among mining towns in the world. The townsite was admirably selected upon a slight eminence overlooking Trout Lake, one of the most attractive sheets of water in the state, and was planned with deliberate care and commendable foresight.

Public improvements, including waterworks, sewers, electric lights and street grading, were made at the expense of the Oliver Iron Mining Company, which also erected many of the buildings intended for the use of its employees. Lots, both improved and unimproved, are sold to employees at very low prices and on the most favorable terms.

The tremendous expense involved in the improvements in the town was not laid out by the company as a speculation or with any expectation of total reimbursement from the sale of its property but is in harmony with its general policy of trying to secure permanent, capable and reliable employees by ensuring them comfortable and attractive homes with the best social and educational advantages for themselves and families. One of the first buildings erected on this site was a magnificent high school costing $85,000.

The stores and other business places are owned by individuals or firms and are mostly built of brick and stone, with the public improvements mentioned, giving the place a decidedly metropolitan appearance, though the present population does not exceed 2,500. The village government, which was not established until May 1909, is continuing the public works and is about to erect a village hall costing $40,000 and a Carnegie library, as well as to pave several blocks of the main street with cement.

John C. Greenway is the general superintendent of the Oliver Iron Mining Company for this district. To his genius and philanthropic instincts are largely due the conception and execution of the ideals which are being wrought into practical form in this district. He has attracted to his assistance in various departments of the work many men of special training who co-operate in the undertaking with the greatest enthusiasm. A. S. McCullough is superintendent of the townsite.

Coleraine Hospital

This institution is conducted by the Oliver Iron Mining Company for the treatment of its employees in the Canisteo District. The building, in this case, was erected and equipped by the company expressly for this purpose and it is managed on a plan similar to that which prevails with the privately conducted hospitals in other range towns, a small monthly assessment on each employee covering the expense of all medical or surgical treatment which may be required by himself or family.

The building, which was completed in June 1907, is located in one of the most sanitary and attractive spots in northern Minnesota, commanding a magnificent view of forest, field, lake and stream, and in all respects will bear comparison with the most modern sanitariums in the country.

The interior appointments conform to the most advanced methods of treatment: there are two operating rooms equipped with up-to-date surgical appliances; a chemical and microscopic laboratory and a general electric room for x-ray machines and electrical treatments.

The hospital staff includes Dr. N. D. Kean, Manager; Dr. G. G. St. Clair; Dr. M. L. Strathern and Dr. Jas. H. Cosgrove. Miss Snyder is matron of the institution. Dr. Strathern is located at Taconite and Dr. Cosgrove at Marble, in which places branches of the hospital are maintained for emergencies.

Dr. Kean, superintendent of the Coleraine Hospital, is a graduate of the university of Michigan at Ann Arbor, where he completed the medical course in 1890. He conducted the Ishpeming Hospital at Ishpeming, in the same state, for 16 years before locating at Coleraine, where he is considered one of the most useful and influential citizens of the town.

Village of Bovey

This was the first village founded in the Canisteo District and it has always maintained the first place as a trading center therein. Its settlement began at a time when prospecting and exploration work in this district was beginning to show some activity although no active mining operations were commenced until several years later. The nearest railroad station was at Grand Rapids, and the only routes of transportation were the rude trails worn through the woods by the prospectors. Freighting by team was possible as far as Bovey, which at once became the headquarters and source of supplies for many expeditions into the wilderness.

As a natural consequence, there was a great demand for hotel accommodations, and many of the first settlers in the hamlet turned their chief attention to the entertainment of travelers. The fame of the town, in this regard, has not abated and there is probably no other place of equal population in the state which contains as great a number and variety of hotels, restaurants boarding and rooming houses, nor in which this line of business is better patronized. All tastes and purses can be accommodated, from those of the humblest laborer to the demands of the most fastidious traveler. Many commercial travelers make this a base of operations for doing business through the entire district.

The village was incorporated in September 1904, at which time the population was barely sufficient to comply with the legal requirements, but it now includes fully 1,200 people. With the coming of the Duluth, Missabe & Northern railroad in 1907, the place began to take on more metropolitan airs, and many substantial buildings and other improvements have since been made. A system of water works was constructed that season, and the place now has two miles or more of water main. A sewer system constructed in 1908 is being extended and considerable street grading is in progress. The water supply, obtained from artesian wells, is forced into a tank at an elevation of over 100 feet above the business center of the town and furnishes abundant pressure for all purposes. The tank has a capacity of 65,000 gallons and a well-drilled volunteer fire company equipped with several hundred feet of hose has shown itself equal to any emergency, though some quite formidable blazes have broken out at times. A growing spirit of civic pride is evident and about $10,000 has been spent this year in the construction of cement walks.

A substantial brick school building was erected in 1907, and several churches minister to the spiritual needs of the people while the social instincts are well developed.

Despite some inevitable local jealousies, the commercial interests of Bovey are closely linked with those of Coleraine, which is less than one mile distant. Both derive their chief support from adjacent mining industries and, regarded as one business center, it promises soon to become the chief city of Itasca County.

Prof. J. A. Van Dyke

Perhaps no clearer illustration of the startling progress made in the last three years on the western Mesaba range could be found than is shown by the transformation which has taken place in the public school system of District No. 2, Itasca County, which includes territory amounting to five and one-half townships in the eastern part of that county.

In March 1906, when Mr. Van Dyke was elected superintendent of this district, it contained four small buildings, two of which were located in the village of Bovey. Six teachers were employed in the district and the total attendance did not exceed 120 pupils. Including the new school building which is in course of construction at Marble, the district now has $165,000 invested in buildings and equipment. There is an attendance of 700 pupils and 28 teachers are employed. The most conspicuous building is the John C. Greenway School at Coleraine, from which the first high school class, consisting of six students, graduated in June 1908. This school is in many respects a model institution representing the most modern ideas in construction, equipment and administration.

The school is kept in close touch with the life of the community and the course of instruction includes lessons in manual training and domestic science, as well as music and drawing for which special teachers are employed. A foreign department is conducted each winter in which adult foreigners receive evening lessons in English and other branches, a feature which is highly appreciated by many of the young men and women of various nationalities included in the population of the place.

Prof. Van Dyke has been engaged in teaching in Minnesota since 1887 and is one of the foremost educators in the state. He has conducted a number of summer training schools for teachers and has lectured in many places, his travels having taken him through all but four of the counties in the state and enabled him to become familiar with the conditions and progress in school work. He has served as president of the Minnesota Educational Association and is an enthusiast in promoting the work of the profession.

Village of Taconite

This is one of the towns which owes its existence to the operations begun in the last few years by the Oliver Iron Mining Company. It is a compactly built village of about 800 inhabitants in which a number of public improvements have commenced, the arrangement of the place favoring an economical administration of its public utilities.

This location is near the site of some of the earliest exploration and development work on the Mesabi Range. A number of the men prominently identified with the early history of the Range visited this locality in the late ‘80s and about 1890, the Diamond Mine was opened by Griffin Bros., who sunk a shaft and started a stock pile. After exhausting their capital, they were succeeded by the Buckeye Iron Mining Co. of which Gov. Campbell of Ohio was president. A spur of the Duluth & Winnipeg Railroad was laid out to connect this location with the main line at La Prairie and about two miles of track was graded, but the enterprise failed for lack of funds, like many of the early undertakings on the range. A rude attempt at reducing the ores by washing was also made at the Diamond Mine and the plant was subsequently removed to the Arcturus mine, a mile or two distant, where further experimenting was done but all this work seems to have been rather primitive and premature.

In 1904, G. G. Hartley opened the Holman mine on property which was originally homesteaded by a man of that name and which adjoins the old Diamond Mine. A shaft was sunk to a depth of 130 feet but no great amount of ore was taken out owing to the lack of transportation. The next year the property was leased to the Oliver Iron Mining Company which acquired considerable adjacent property and prepared to open a large open pit. Stripping began July 1, 1906, and has been in continuous progress since, the Holman now being one of the large open pit propositions of the range. With the exception of an occasional carload sent to the experimental washing plant at Coleraine, no ore was taken from the mine until the present season, this being the first mine in the Canisteo District to begin shipments. Four steam shovels are now employed in stripping and loading ore and an average of 400 men are kept busy.

L. R. Salsich, local superintendent at the Holman Mine, has been connected with the Oliver Iron Mining Company since 1901 and has had charge of this work from the beginning of the company’s operations here. In addition to the business capacity which he has displayed, he is entitled to much credit for the improved living conditions which prevail among the foreigners employed in these workings. Sanitary regulations are strictly enforced and the camps are models of neatness.

Source: Iron Ranges of Minnesota, an illustrated supplement to the Virginia Enterprise published in 1909, provided by the Virginia Area Historical Society.

2 responses to “Iron Ranges of Minnesota, 1909”

  1. Peter Esala says:

    Iron Range History is quite interesting. Thanks. Having worked for U S Steel accounting from 1968-99 , I went to every One of their mines and plants in operation during that time from Coleraine to Aurora.

  2. Matt says:

    Very nice article. Thanks!

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