February 11, 1891: The Merritts organize the DM&N Railroad

The DM&IR ore docks in Duluth c. 1915. (Image: Duluth Public Library)

On this day in Duluth in 1891, five members of Oneota’s Merritt family, led by Alfred Merritt along with J. T. Hale, K. D. Chase, R. H. Palmer and S. R. Payne, organized the Duluth, Missabe, and Northern Railroad. The authorized capital was $5,000,000, and the officers were: K. D. Chase, president; S. R. Payne, secretary, and C. C. Merritt, treasurer. The railroad would be necessary to haul iron ore from their first mine on the Mesabi Iron range at Mountain Iron to the ore dock they were constructing in West Duluth. The group borrowed heavily to open the mine, build the railroad, and construct the dock, and they were forced to partner with John. D. Rockefeller to stay afloat. After the Panic of 1893 set them back even further, Rockefeller bought them out and took over all of their interests, including the DM&N. The railroad continued under Rockefeller, and a total of six ore docks were built by 1918 (two remain standing today; only one is in use). According to historian Walter Van Brunt, by 1921, “The D. M. & N. has its storage and repair plant at Proctor, where there are storage tracks for about 4,500 cars…. The railway company owns, in addition to the ore docks, coal, limestone and log docks, innumerable giant Mallet engines, a type made necessary by the heavy gradients, thousands of ore cars and a proper equipment of passenger rolling stock. The system embraces, in all, 676 miles of track, the main-line being 342 miles in length.” In 1938 the DM&R and Interstate Transfer Railway merged with the Duluth & Iron Range Railroad and the Spirit Lake Transfer Railway to form the Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railway. For a more complete history of the DM&N through 1922, click here.

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