History of Mountain Iron, Minnesota (through 1922)

The village of Mountain Iron will always figure prominently in any history of the mining industry of St. Louis County, Minnesota, for it was in that spot that attention was first centered when rumors spread in Duluth of the well-nigh incredible mineral wealth of the Mesabi range.

The discovery of iron ore at Mountain Iron, in 1890, by Capt. J. A.

Nichols, who was exploring for the Merritt brothers, has been referred to extensively in the review of the history of Nichols Township, but there is still much to be written regarding that important event, and of early mining at Mountain Iron.

Although geologists, surveyors, cruisers, and indeed mining explorers, had ‘discovered marked indications of the presence of iron ore deposits in different parts of the Mesabi range much earlier than the year in which it was detected in township 58-18 by Cassius C.

Merritt, the discovery by him of boulders of taconite in 1887, led to the first persistent and successful effort being made to uncover, or discover, the supposed deposit. Alfred Merritt writes: “M. B. Harrison and W. K. Rogers ran a survey for a railroad line from Duluth to Winnipeg, Man. The line was located to the Lake of the Woods. My brother, Cassius, was head explorer. Mr.

Banks was head engineer, and Charles Martz and his brother were on the engineering corps. My brother ran the exploring line from mouth of Sturgeon river around the south side of the lake, and then to Winnipeg. In locating this line through township 58 north, range 18 west, in section 5, just at the height of land, on the divide of the waterways, my brother saw a boulder of iron ore, and brought a piece to Duluth. This was the first chunk of pure ore taken off the Mesabi range. Exploration was not started on the Mesabi range for some time after that.” As a matter of fact, the Merritts, from that year, 1887, forward to the time when financial disaster came to them, centered their efforts upon the mining and marketing of Mesabi iron ore, mainly in township 58-18. According to one account, the Merritts in 1887 made an agreement with the Wisconsin, Minnesota and Pacific Railway Company to survey the ranges “and go halves on the cost.” However, the railway company, “having confidence in its experts, took the harder job, and the experts reported adversely on the Mesabi.” They “made camp where Mountain Iron was afterwards found.” The Merritts in 1888 made a survey of the Mesabi, from La Prairie to Gunflint, “marked the trend and crisscrossed it with dip needle,” which was, as the reviewer put it, “crazy, looking for non-magnetic ore with a magnetic needle.” They “took up all the locations they had money for.” Original Owners, Mountain Iron Property.-List No. 9, of school lands, was issued on about February 8, 1884. It included lots 3 and 4, and sw.-nw. of section 3, 58-18. But a new ruling by the Interior Department that “lists must be tract for tract,” resulted in preparation of new lists, submitted by W. W. Braden, state auditor. List; No. 12, of indemnity school lands, was filed January 26, 1888. It included lots 1 and 2, of section 2, 58-18, also se. and se. of nw. of section 3, 58-18, but omitted lots 3 and 4, and the sw. of nw. of section 3, 58-18.

Vol. 1-27 417On July 18, 1888, John Helmer filed a homestead entry on lots 3 and 4, the sw. of nw. of section 3, 58-18. He relinquished lots 3 and 4 not long afterwards, Chase and A. R. Merritt then filing scrip to claim it.

On February 26, 1890, Helmer relinquished the other part of his homestead entry, the sw. of nw. of section 3, 58-18, and on the same day Merritt scripped the land. On Dec. 31, 1892, James H. Long, of Ramsey, leased to C. C. Merritt, the ne.-se. of section 4, 58-18, the consideration being $3,125, first year, and $6,250 subsequent years, or a 50,000 ton minimum in 1893 and 100,000 ton minimum, subsequent years, at a royalty of 6’4 cents.

Exploring for Ore.-In March, 1889, the Merritt brothers organized an expedition, and reached Mountain Iron by way of Pike River and Rice Lake. The main facts are covered by Mr. Alfred Merritt in his autobiography, which in this connection reads: The year 1889 the first work was done on what is now the Mountain Iron Mine. I took a crew of six men in, by the way of Tower, on March 17th.

Started from Tower with three dog trains, and we were the dogs. We went in by the way of Pike river, and then to Rice lake, then to Mountain Iron.

We dug test-pits, and finally drilled. All work was done on the south half of south half of section thirty-four, township 59 north, of range 18 west. We found that we were too far north for ore, and on going south found the ore on section 4, directly south of our first work, the summer of 1890.

This of course is but the barest outline of one of the most important incidents in the mining history of Minnesota, and many more graphic stories have been written of the incident, most of the stories unfortunately being somewhat fictional. Upon one important and generally accepted fact, Mr. Merritt’s statement contradicts the official government report, that the date upon which ore was discovered at Mountain Iron was November 16, 1890, and that the discoverer was Captain J. A. Nichols.

An attractive story of the discovery is that which depicts Captain Nichols as bearing very reluctantly to the northward in his drilling, doing so out of deference to the theories and wishes of the Merritts, but all the while arguing with them that he should be permitted to go southward. The story has it that “every foot (northward) took them further from the ore,” but that for a while Captain Nichols did as instructed. At last, however, he got impatient. “‘Twas as much as my reputation was worth” he was supposed to have explained, as he decided to disobey orders and go over the township line from 59-18 to 58-18, continuing to argue his theory on section 3, 58-18. They were, it appears, actually standing on the ore at the time, and if Captain Nichols had propounded his theory with more physical force, if someone had only kicked even a little viciously, goes the story, the ore would have been uncovered. It was stated that the Merritts went back to Duluth unshaken in their belief that the ore lay northward, and consequently firm in their orders to Captain Nichols to confine his explorations to township 59-18. Captain Nichols, however, is alleged to have flatly ignored his orders, and to have immediately started digging a test-pit in the northwest quarter of section 3, 58-18, and to have “come in one day later with a bushel of ore, found at a depth of six feet.” The story is a holding one, as a story, but, as a matter of fact, the Merritts were exploring in townships 59-18 and 58-18 for many months before Captain Nichols became associated with them in their enterprise.

They had spent $20,000 in unsuccessful drilling before he joined them, and the first work to which he was assigned was on the Helmer tract, in section 3, 58-18. There, on November 16, 1890, he struck ore, returning to Duluth with a shot bag filled with ore ten days after he had begun operations. The U. S. Geological Survey XLIII states that the discovery 418was made on November 16, 1890, on section 3, 58-18, and that it was the first discovery of Mesabi ore, but as a matter of fact, the Merritts had found ore some months earlier on section 4, 58-18. Also, it appears, that “ore was not found south until the wheels of heavily-laden timberwagons, that passed from a portable sawmill, had cut so deeply into the top-soil that the ore was disclosed.” Transportation Difficulties.-From the time of the first discovery, one of the most important, difficult, and vital problems the Merritts had to solve was that of transportation. How they stumbled forward, and accomplished the seemingly impossible, bringing the railroad through the marshes and into the wilderness, eventually reaching their mines at Mountain Iron, is elsewhere narrated in this work. How the linking of the railway with the docks ultimately effected their ruin, while another reaped the profits that came from their back-breaking pioneer enterprises, is also told. The Merritts were stalwarts in the wild places; could lay the surveyor’s chain blind-folded almost; but they were lost when in the maze of Civilization’s Wall Street; and when they again located themselves, they knew that they were almost as poor as when they started pioneer work at Oneota in the first years of Duluth. The millions of tons of rich ore discovered by them in the wilderness had, as it were, been deeded to a stranger, thousands of miles away, almost over night.

Cassius Clay Merritt, he who first found the outcrop of taconite and banded ore at Mountain Iron, in 1887, died poor and broken-hearted in the spring of 1894, regarding whose death, Alfred Merritt, a brother, wrote: “I often think that the Mesabi range was not worth the price.” However, it is not proper here to go extensively into personal history.

Still, the place of honor among the pioneers of Mountain Iron and the Mesabi range, has been deserved by the Merritt family-by the seven stalwart brothers and one nephew (John E. Merritt). Their enterprise established Mountain Iron in unique place in the history of St. Louis County. Through the Merritts, it was at Mountain Iron that the first iron ore mine of the Mesabi range was brought into operation; the first Mesabi mine reached by railway was the Mountain Iron, entirely through the dogged persistence of the Merritts; and Mountain Iron will always hold the unique position as being the place whereat the first shipment of ore from the Mesabi range was made. When the railway was brought to the mines, it seemed to be the triumphant consummation of an almost hopeless undertaking, and one can well imagine how proud those seven sons were when, after overcoming all obstacles and bringing the railway to the mines in 1892, they had taken their aged mother to the iron mines, and “in their strong arms carried her to the top of the mound that she might look down to see the work of her children.” Alas! They little knew then what disasters the next couple of years would bring them.

First Ore Shipped from the Mesabi Range.-The first development work on the Mountain Iron mine was done in 1891-92, by Captain A. P. Woods. A shaft was sunk, and from this, in 1892, the first ore for shipment was raised. At the Biwabik mine, which had been subleased by the Merritts to Kimberly and Jones, a steam shovel had been introduced in the spring of 1892, with indifferent success, at first, and although it was early decided by Captain Cohoe, who succeeded Captain Woods at Mountain Iron, that stripping was to be done there, the work was given out to Donald Grant, a railway contractor. He began the stripping at Mountain Iron early in 1893, using scrapers, teams, and dump cars. This equipment soon gave way to a steam shovel, Mr. Grant having brought one he had used in the construction of the Missabe road.

Thereafter, the steam shovel.was in almost constant use.

“The first trainload of iron ore shipped from the Mesabi range was on October 17, 1892, from the Mountain Iron mine. It was a memorable day. Two years earlier literally “mountains of ore” had been discovered, in such formation that it could be mined at an infinitesimal cost, and demanding little or no experience in mining to produce thousands of tons daily, as soon as railway facilities were available. The distance from the railway was only forty-seven miles in 1890, yet it had taken a wellnigh superhuman effort to bridge the distance in two years, a period of impatient waiting to the mining men at Mountain Iron. The shipment of October 17, 1892, was what might be termed a demonstration shipment, no attempt being made to load another train until the following spring. The shipment of 1892 totalled 4,245 tons, and went almost wholly to Superior, traveling over the Merritt “bridge” from Mountain Iron to Stony Brook Junction, and over the Duluth and Winnipeg, or the Eastern Minnesota, from that point to the dock at Allouez Bay, Superior. In the following year, the Merritts built their line into Duluth, “in opposition to the advice of Foley and Grant,” their associates in the railway building.

They went forward to their ruin.

However, one carload of ore actually did reach Duluth in 1892. It “arrived at the Union depot at 11:15 a. m., Tuesday, October 18, 1892.

There were twenty tons of dark soft ore … in a new standard wooden ore car, No. 342. The shipment embraced twenty tons, and was consigned to Leonidas Merritt. It assayed better than 65 per cent metallic iron.

“Citizens began to gather at the Union station long before the car arrived. As it came up through the yards, switch engines saluted it with short sharp toots of their whistles. The car was placed on a track end, under the train shed, and stood there several days for inspection … ” The account continues: “That shipment of ore was mined at about 4 p. m., Monday, October 17. The car started for Duluth at 5 p. m. It started over the D. M. & N. and then took the Duluth and Wirnipeg, which ran from Duluth to Deer River in those days.” It seemed to mark the opening of a new era for Duluth. As a matter of fact, it did open a new era, although the depression of the next year, and the difficulty experienced for some years in adapting blast furnace processes to the peculiarities of the Mesabi ore, brought about a dampening of the early enthusiasm. Indeed, when the Mountain Iron, and other Merritt mining properties, passed into the control of John D. Rockefeller in 1893, the ore could not be marketed at a profit. It has been asserted that, at that time, the presumably fabulous wealth of the Merritts, in proved but unmined ore, was in reality a liability to them, not an asset-a liability of about 10 cents a ton on many millions of tons.

Indeed, it has been stated that some years later, John D. Rockefellerwho had to hold the properties for seven years through the period of depression- offered to sell his holdings on the basis of 3 cents a ton, and could not find a buyer. However, fabulous wealtth was indeed in the mines, although its winning demanded a strong and long purse-much longer than the Merritt family had ever had.

Winchell, writing of the Mountain Iron mine, at the end of 1894, or early in 1895, stated: “This was the first ore deposit discovered on the Mesabi range, and its discovery was not followed by another for nearly a year. Indeed, in the light of subsequent discoveries, the little basin of low-grade ore found by Captain J. A. Nichols, at the north end of the Mountain Iron deposit seems insignificant to a degree. It is not now considered worth mining; but it was looked upon as a bonanza in the early part of 1892, and thus 421furnished the incentive to further explorations and the discovery of better ore at this and other points along the range. It was on the strength of this discovery that the D. M. & N. Ry. was projected by the Messrs.

Merritt and Chase, the owners of the mine at that time.

“This mine is owned in fee by the Lake Superior Consolidated Iron mines. It is worked by the open cut method, the ore and overburden being loaded directly into cars by steam shovels. The early development of this mine was in the hands of Captain A. P. Wood, and later Captain J. G. Cohoe. Its record for the first three years has not been equalled in the annals of iron mining, its product having been as follows: 1892 ………………………………………… 4,245 tons 1893 ……………………………….. 119,818 tons 1894 ………………………………………… 573,440 tons Total ……………………………………. 697,503 tons In reality this product is of the first two years only. In the total for 1894 is included the product of the Rathbun, located on the same deposit and operated by the same company, but not owned entirely in fee. The superintendent is Mr. John Gilchrist. These mines are in the nw. qr.

section 3, t. 58, r. 18.” Before the beginning of the new century, 3,792,629 tons of ore had been taken from the Mountain Iron mine, and immense quantities each year until 1908 were mined, more than two and a half million tons being mined in one year, 1906. Altogether, the mine has yielded, to end of 1919, 17,198,871 tons, thus taking fifth place, in volume of output among the mines of the Mesabi range. In the several Mountain Iron mines, sections 3 and 4 of 58-18, all now the property of the Oliver Iron Mining Company, there are deposits totaling to more than twenty-five million tons of ore, of average grade. Not a pound has been mined since 1908, but all that immense quantity will, presumably, be mined eventually. Which probability indicates a substantial degree of future prosperity for the village of Mountain Iron.

Organization of Village.-During 1889 and 1890, Mountain Iron was, of course, but a “prospector’s camp in a bleak wild spot,” almost “beyond the fringe of civilization.” Wilbur Merritt, then in his teens, was entrusted with the responsibility of looking after the camp store, and in 1891, when the Merritts were exploring at Biwabik, two townships to the eastward, he had charge of that store and office also. And all the supplies they needed had to come in from Tower, or from Mesabi station, a week’s trip over an Indian trail. Albert Merritt wrote: “No one who has not gone through the hardships and the discouragements of keeping a camp going, so far from the base of supplies, can realize what one has to contend with.” However, no matter what the discouragements, the principal explorers were resolved to bear them, as they were confident they were going to find the ore; and the Mountain Iron camp soon lost its temporary aspect, settling into a permanency. In 1890, of course, they discovered ore, and thereafter the little community constantly swelled in size and in importance.

Still, the residents of Mountain Iron were bent more upon the mining of iron than the planning of a village. Other communities, of later establishment than Mountain Iron, had gone ahead of that place in the matter of incorporation. Mesaba Station, the nearest point on the railway (D. & I. R.) to the new mining field, had grown almost overnight into a place of fifteen hotels and some very active and comprehensive general stores, which endeavored to supply the demand of the countless bands of explorers delving into the range 422to the westward, had been granted the dignity of corporate government in July, 1891; and the village of Merritt, at which place no prospectors had started operations until 1891, became an incorporated place almost before Mountain Iron townsite had even been platted.

And the villagers of McKinley and Biwabik had both held their initial elections upon the question of incorporation before a petition for incorporation of Mountain Iron had been passed upon by the county commissioners.

Townsite.-A townsite of 80 acres was platted in April, 1892, the territory embraced in the townsite the sw.-sw. of section 3, 58-18, and the nw-nw. of section 10, 58-18. The plat was marked “Plat of Grant,” and filed with the Register of Deeds, at Duluth, on April 16, 1892.

Petition to Incorporate Circulated.-In October, 1892, a petition was circulated among the residents of the townsite. It was addressed to the “County Commissioners of St. Louis County,” and asked “that a time and place be set when and where the electors residing upon lands described as sw.-sw. section 3, t. 58 n., r. 18 w., and nw.-nw.

section 10, t. 58 n., r. 18 w., might vote for or against the incorporation of such lands into the Village of Mountain Iron,” under the authority of chapter 145 of the Laws of Minnesota, 1885 compilation.

As if to signalize the linking of Mountain Iron with the world.

the petition was sworn to by George S. Brown. Patrick Sullivan and John W. Lant on October 17, 1892, the day upon which the first trainload of iron ore left Mountain Iron for the Head of the Lakes. (Passenger trains had begun to run from Mountain Iron to Superior in August.) Signers of Petition.-The petition was signed by George S.

Brown, S. Murray, R. Merritt, Neil McLean, Hans Christiansen, R. L. Giffen, A. J. Shea, R. Schen, J. A. Ranburg, E. R. Murphy, Robert Hooper, H. E. Clark, Patrick Sullivan, Wm Hannah, G. A.

Gemmell, Quinlan O’Brien, Joseph Hostetter, Wm Walsh, James Morgan, A. F. Coulter, John Brennick, E. E. Burley, John Morten, Kenneth McLeod, Anthony Grace, W. H. Shea, J. W. Murphy, Max Bowok, Geo. R. Sutherland, John W. Lant, Mike Moyan, Al Smith, David Carpenter, Peter Grant, Ed. Haugh, Jos. Kidd, David Harrington, J. H. Sibbald.

Petition Granted.-The petition came before the county commissioners on October 26, 1892, and met with their approval. They ordered an election to be held, to decide the question of incorporation, on November 28, 1892, at “a certain building just north of the post office, being on’ lot 16, in block 4, of town plat of Grant,” appointing Roscoe Merritt, Thomas Wood and Alex. Burns inspectors of that election.

First Election; First Village Officers.-A majority of the electors having voted in favor of incorporation, an election of officers for the village of Mountain Iron followed, that event occurring on December 13, 1892. The following named residents came into office as the first village administration: George S. Brown, president; A. L. Culbertson, recorder; John Brennick and H. L. Chapin, trustees; Albert Free, marshal.

Re-incorporation.-The village was administered under the charter granted in 1892 until 1913, when the residents sought to be brought under the powers and privileges of the Revised State Laws, 1905, compilation. An election was held on June 2, 1913. twentv-seven of the thirty-six votes cast then being in favor of re-incorporation.

423Additions to Corporate Limits.-In April, 1909, a petition was presented to the village council by residents upon certain land contiguous to Mountain Iron, the signers being mainly employees of the Iroquois mine. They wished their location brought within the village boundaries. It was resolved to hold an election “at the office of the Iroquois Mine, ne.-nw. section 10, t. 58 n., r. 18 w.,” on May 1, 1909. The election showed that a majority of the electors were in favor of the proposed annexation, sixty-five of the seventy-two votes cast being in favor of the proposition.

Then in 1918, a petition signed by C. M. Van Pelt and others sought to bring within the village limits an immense acreage in townships 58 and 59 n., r. 18 w., in all 7,368.23 acres. Election held Jan. 31,. 1918, brought only 22 voters to the poll, but all votes cast were in favor of annexation.

The First Two Years.-At one time, it was expected that Mountain Iron was destined to become the metropolis of the Mesabi range. When the railway project crystallized, it “was expected that Mountain Iron would be the northern terminus of the road,” the Duluth, Missabe and Northern.

The years 1892 and 1893 were years of fluctuating prospects, the bright prospect of the first year changing to a dimness that became despondency and disaster for the men who brought the village into existence, and to an uncertainty of operation of the mines upon which the existence of the village depended. An early review of the village reads: “Early in the year 1892 settlers, prospectors, ‘boomers,’ and others who contemplated engaging in various lines of business began to flock into the prospective city. When the first passenger train arrived, in August of that year, the timber had been cleared from the main street, and six or seven frame buildings had been erected, the material for which was drawn by team from Mesabi Station, about twenty-seven miles east. Besides these buildings, there were a number of tents, and several log shacks serving, altogether, to shelter a considerable population, representing many nationalities; and gathered from various parts of the world. For the most part, however, they were English speaking people.

“In January, 1893, a sawmill was started by E. R. White and Company, which was operated for about two years, and cut most of the lumber used in the place, besides shipping considerable of the product.

“Roscoe Merritt opened a small store at the Mountain Iron mine location. He was also the first postmaster, the office being called Marfield, as a compliment to the fourth assistant postmaster general at that time, but the name was subsequently changed to correspond with that of the village and the mine.

“The first store on the townsite was opened by Murphy Brothers.

Laut and McNaughton were also pioneer merchants.

“In the fall of 1892 the village was incorporated, and Charles Brown became the first president. He was also cashier at the Mountain Iron Bank, which began business about the same time. A school was opened the same fall, with Miss Richardson as principal, and Miss Sharp as her assistant. The first church was built by the Methodists, but it, together with the schoolhouse, burned down June 20, 1893. The balance of the town was threatened with destruction at the same time, but was saved by diligent labor on the part of most of the population, adjacent buildings being covered with 424blankets soaked in water drawn from a spring near the sawmill, which was then the only available source of supply for the embyro city.

“For a time, subsequent to the completion of the original line of the Duluth, Missabe and Northern Railroad, all building material  and other supplies for other towns on the western part of the range were drawn by team from Mountain Iron, but the construction of branches to Virginia and Hibbing diverted much of this traffic.” The Village in 1920.-The growth of Mountain Iron can be readily grasped by comparison of county statistics. In 1893 the village had an assessed valuation of $2,406. In 1919 the county tax sheet lists Mountain Iron as then having a total taxable valuation of $10,596,733.

425The growth, as represented in city conveniences and public improvements, may be summed up as including an imposing village hall of brick, a municipal power plant furnishing electric light and heat, a modern sewage-disposal system, some wood-block and concrete paving of public highways, a magnificent high school building, a public library of which any small city might well be proud, a spacious and well-laid-out park system, and a fire-fighting equipment adequate for all ordinary emergencies. The streets are well lighted, the main thoroughfares having a “white-way” in keeping with the standing of the village.

Village Hall.-The original village hall gave way, in 1910, to a more convenient village and fire hall, adjoining which was a brick jail, the total cost of the three buildings being $5,000. ,The village hall now used was built in 1915, at a cost of $20,000. It is of brick, with terra cotta facings, and is two stories in height. It provides offices for the president and the recorder on the first floor, and also fire hall, police station and jail. On the second floor is an auditorium designed to serve a communal purpose. It provides seating accommodation for 500 persons, and is available for any public meetings, dances and other community functions. On the second floor also are council and band rooms.

Power Plant.-Originally the village water supply was obtained at a spring nearby. That however soon had to be supplemented, and an excellent supply of water was found in a.shaft of the Mountain Iron mine, from which water was pumped into a tank of 40,000 gallons capacity, at an elevation of 65 feet above the highest ground of the village.

The present power plant was built in 1912. It is a good plant, engine room, boiler room, and water shaft 228 feet deep, with supplemental drills down to a depth of 500 feet in three directions. An adequate supply of excellent water is thus obtained, and a pressure of 70 lbs. is afforded. It is stated that Mountain Iron water ” is the purest in the state, and so stamped, after chemical analysis, by the State Board of Health.” The municipal power plant furnishes electric light, water distribution and municipal heat, covering forty acres of the original townsite.

Sewage Disposal.-A septic tank is being installed half a mile southwest of the village to take care of the sewage. There are one and one-half miles of sewerage mains and three miles of water mains.

Public Park.-Mountain Iron Park covers nine acres at the west end of the village. It was opened in the spring of 1919, fenced with woven wire, graded and laid out with graveled walks and driveways: It is, of course, in an initial state of growth and development at present, but gives indication of eventually comparing well with other municipal parks of the range. E. T. Heinson is the present park commissioner.

Transportation.-The highways approaching Mountain Iron are good in almost every direction. It will be on the Babcock highway, and particular attention has been given to the maintenance of roads connecting with outlying farming sections. The electric trolley system gives an hourly service east and west, in addition to the steam railway service.

Hospital.-The Mountain Iron Detention Hospital is a well constructed building, modernly equipped, for twelve patients. It is under the direction of Dr. W. W. Weber, the school physician, and Mrs.

Bellmore is the nurse-in-charge. Dr. Weber is on the medical staff of the Shaw Hospital, Buhl, but has a good practice in Mountain Iron.

426Churches.-The first church society was that of the Methodists, and the church they erected in 1892 was burned in 1893. Another Methodist Church was built and used for many years. It was, however, abandoned some time ago. The churches now in use in the village are those of the Roman Catholic, Presbyterian and Finnish Lutheran societies.

Banking.-The Mountain Iron First State Bank now in operation has no connection with the Mountain Iron Bank established in 1892, and of which Charles Brown, first village president, was cashier.

The present institution, the Mountain Iron First State Bank, was organized in November, 1916, by H. P. Reed, Patrick Hagan, A. L.

Gerry, H. C. Hansen and W. R. Spensley. The original capital was $15,000. It is still the same, but the bank now has a surplus of $3,000.

The banking house is a substantial brick two-storied structure built in 1916, at a cost of $11,000. It was opened for business in April, 1917.

The directors are: Patrick Hagan, of Mountain Iron, president; H. P.

Reed, of Hibbing, vice president; G. Orcutt, W. R. Spensley and C. L.

Oman, directors, the last-named being also cashier. At the end of banking on June 30, 1920, the bank had total deposits of $197,473.38.

Commercial Club.-The Mountain Iron Commercial Club has had material part in the advancement of the village. The club was organized in May, 1913, and is an active body, embracing almost all the business men of the place.

Mountain Iron Public Library.-The Carnegie Library at Mountain Iron was built in 1914-15, at a cost of $25,000, exclusive of the site.

The building was dedicated to the public, for their free use and benefit, on July 16, 1915. It takes the name of the great ironmaster and philanthropist not perhaps only in recognition of his co-operation in its establishment; Andrew Carnegie, of course, will always be linked with Mesabi and Vermilion history because of his connection with its main industry and mining company. He contributed $8,000 to the building of the Mountain Iron Library, which is located on the corner of Second Street and Mountain Avenue, the main business streets of the village.

The library is quite up to the high standard of the average Carnegie library. It is not a large building, but it is elegantly finished, both in exterior and interior, and is adequately equipped. On the main floor are adult and children’s reading rooms, stock room and office; in the basement is an auditorium large enough to seat 100 persons; a men’s club, a smoking room; a-kitchenette, and other conveniences. For the maintenance of the library, the city council has voted a yearly sum of $2,500.

The library at time of opening consisted of about 2,624 volumes, 1,100 having been given by the high school library and 75 volumes by private donors. In June, 1920, the library possessed 5,814 volumes, a satisfactory growth. Fourteen thousand three hundred and ninetyfive books were borrowed from the library during its first year, and the borrowing has since correspondingly increased. The range of books and magazines covers works and periodicals in many languages, Finnish, Swedish, German, French, Italian and Slovenic. Miss Stella Stebbins, the present librarian, has had charge of the institution since it was first opened, and has proved herself to be an able librarian. The original board was: Charles Walker, chairman; John F. Muench, secretary; Vernon Keech, treasurer; Mrs. J. Hocking, Mrs. D. E. Burley, Miss Esther Peltier, H. J. Henderson, Geo. Eilertson and H. Schwartz. The present president is J. F. Muench, superintendent of schools.

427Agriculture.-The business people of Mountain Iron are cognizant of the possibilities, for permanent advantage to the village, there are in the development of agricultural tracts in its vicinity. One writer has estimated that “the farming zone that is tributary to Mountain Iron alone would support a city of 5,000 population, and make for a more prosperous and contented people.” Undoubtedly, the trading center of a thriving agricultural community is a place of good business and sturdy growth. Generally, the advancement is slow, but without setbacks. As a mining village, of course, Mountain Iron is certain of a good place for many decades, but if its outlying land is cleared and profitably tilled, it will never become a decadent community. And, apparently, the agricultural pioneers of that part of St. Louis County have as a whole been well satisfied with the prosperity that has come to them as the result of their hard work in clearing the land. The soil is wonderfully rich, and although the range of produce is limited by climatic conditions, suitable crops, especially potatoes, bring return in abundance. Among the agricultural pioneers of the Mountain Iron district should be included T. Letti, H. Cocknen,.Charles W. Murphy, Andrew Anderson, Andrew Koski, William Lehtinen, John Duff, Nels Anderson, John Lind, George Severson, John Anderson, John Stewart, Nick Hill, Edward Carlson, Oscar Kolvunen, Andrew Ronkainen, Sam Rikala, Robert Maxwell, Wm. Linval and John Eklund.

Village Presidents.-George S. Brown, first president, was re-elected in 1893. In 1894 J. W. Lant (or Laut) was president; J. D. Gilchrist held the office from 1895 to 1898; WV. H. Harvey was president in 1900; M. S. Hawkins succeeded him. Patrick Hagan was president in 1910, and again in 1913, also 1914. A. W. Saari was chief executive in 1916; and from 1917 Charles WV. Murphy has been president. The 1920 council includes D. C. McGregor, A. Derido and J. S. Henderson; E. P. Eilertson is clerk; J. A. Beck, assessor; Bert U. Merritt, treasurer; F. R. Ross and J. L. McMahon, justices.

Population.-In 1892, at the time of the circulation of the petition for incorporation, it was stated that the number of persons then living upon the townsite of Grant was 200. The Federal censustaking credited the village of Mountain Iron with a population in 1900 of 470; in 1910 with 1,343, and in 1920 with 1,546. The village has not fulfilled its earliest roseate promise; but it nevertheless has grown satisfactorily.

War Record.-Mountain Iron has a good World War record, both in home activities during that time and in contribution to the armed forces. And the time of stress has been perpetuated in the establishment of a fairly strong American Legion Post. The H. J.

Henderson Post No. 220 of the American Legion has a building fitted up exclusively for its purposes. The post has fifty members in good standing. WV. W. Weber is the commander.

Publicity.-There is a newspaper in the village, the Mountain Iron Reporter, which was established in 1917. It has only a small circulation, and is printed on the press of the News-Tribune. Messrs. Early and McMahan are the editors-owners.

Education.-This covers a big field, and, like most of the Range school districts, covers it thoroughly. Mountain Iron is the principal part and the administrative center of Independent School District No. 21, which is responsible for public school education in Nichols Township.

The First School.-In the fall of 1892 the first school was opened a small one-story frame building having been built for the purpose on the Mountain Iron townsite. It was burned on June 20, 1893, during a 428forest fire which razed Virginia and Merritt completely, and seriously threatened Biwabik, McKinley and Mountain Iron.

The First Teachers.-The school term of 1892-93 was directed by Miss Richardson, as principal, with Miss Sharp as her assistant.

Position in 1909.-Mountain Iron, in 1909, had “a commodious public school building, in which 300 pupils were accommodated and ten teachers employed, besides the superintendents.” At that time the district included schools at Wolf and Mud Lake.

Position in 1920.-Independent school District No. 21 at the end of the school-year 1919-20 had a total enrollment of 1,068 scholars, and a teaching staff of forty-eight, six male and forty-two female. The school property included one frame school house, and five substantial ones of brick, the six valued at $665,444.

Mountain Iron High School.-The leading school of the district of course is the Mountain Iron High School, even though the building of the Mountain Iron Grade and Athletic School, in 1919, entailed a greater expenditure of money. The high school was erected in 1911, at a cost of $95,000: The length is 150 feet and the width 95 feet. and the building when opened provided two kindergarten rooms, ten grade rooms, an auditorium 44 feet by 73 feet, chemical and physical laboratories, three recitation rooms, superintendent’s office and gymnasium. Lighting, heating and ventilation were of the highest standard then obtainable, and sanitary drinking fountains were on each floor.

The high school building had to serve for a graded school also, and at the outset the departments housed were: kindergarten, grades, high school, home economics, and manual arts.

It was stated that “it would be difficult, if not impossible, to find a community of the size of Mountain Iron with a better and more serviceable school building.” The enrollment in the high school building (presumably of all grades from kindergarten to high-school-senior) in the year 1911-12 was 277.

In 1915-16 it was 459.

Night School.-A night school was also conducted in the High School building, “especially for teaching the English language to foreigners,” and it became an institution of distinct value in Americanization.

Mouritain Iron Grade and Athletic Building.-The rapid increase in enrollment is a constant source of concern, almost perplexity, to the school districts of the Mesabi range, where the building of one costly, and seemingly more than adequate, school must soon be followed by the erection of another, larger and more costly. In 1917-18, it became evident that the high school building at Mountain Iron was much overcrowded.

The building of another school became imperative, and plans were passed and contracts let, which eventually resulted in the facilities afforded by what has been designated the Mountain Iron Grade and Athletic Building “recognized as one of the miost complete school buildings on the Mesabi range.” It was erected in 1919, at a cost of $305,000, and in architecture and materials harmonizes with the high school building, which it adjoins. It provides in the basement “four rooms for manual training, mechanical drawing and finishing rooms, besides rooms for study of gas engines and automobile work.” On the first floor are six class rooms, boys and girls shower rooms, swimming pool, 25 by 60 feet.

With the building of the Grade and Athletic building, the school district estimates that the requirements of Mountain Iron for the next five years have been met. The standard of education is high and comprehensive.

One reviewer recently stated: “The growth and development of the curriculum of the schools (Mountain Iron) has shown great ad- 429vancement during the past six years. There was then no college or university in the country that had heard of Mountain Iron through any of its graduates. Today, graduates of the local high school are in pursuit of higher education at Duluth State Normal School; Stout Institute, Menominee, Wis.; Hamline University, St. Paul; Macalester College, St.

Paul; Carlton College, Northfield, Minn.; University of Minnesota; University of Chicago, and Columbia University, New York.” Leonidas School History.-Next in size and importance to the Mountain Iron schools is the Leonidas School, which stands out as strikingly in that little village as do the high school and grade building in Mountain Iron. The original school building at Leonidas was erected in 1910, at a cost of $12,000. It was a frame structure, having only two class rooms. It soon became overcrowded, and a brick school building was erected in 1916, at a cost of $31,000. That school building was divided into four classrooms, but soon it, too, became inadequate, and in 1919 the building was enlarged at a cost of $173,000, the enlarged school building adding eight classrooms, and making provision for manual training, and domestic science departments, and a gymnasium.

Parkville School.-The Parkville school, a brick building erected in 1916, at a cost of $32,000, has two stories, four classrooms, library, and facilities for community gatherings.

West Virginia School.-The West Virginia school was erected in 1914, at a cost of $20,000. It is a brick building, and an addition to it became necessary in 1919, and was then made at a cost of $32,000, the addition furnishing two extra classrooms and a gymnasium.

Teacherage.-The question of providing satisfactory living quarters for school teachers has been a difficult one to solve in most of the range school districts. Latterly, teacherages have been favored by school boards. In Mountain Iron the teacherage is a two-story building, on the first floor being dining room, living room, kitchen and pantries.

The second floor provides quarters for “the help.” Meals are provided for thirty teachers daily.

Athletic Field and Playgrounds.-Mountain Iron school board has laid great stress upon the importance of playgrounds and has, it has been stated, “one of the finest athletic fields in this part of the state,” including a quarter-mile track, and football field.

Transportation of Pupils.-Pupils from outlying locations are brought to the excellent schools of the district by autobusses. The school district has three busses at Mountain Iron, and in the new school building is a garage with four stalls. Leonidas also has accommodation for two busses.

School Board and Officials.-The Board of Education of Independent School District No. 21, in 1920, consisted of: Frank Canute, chairman; C. A. Webb, clerk; G. A. Apuli, treasurer; P. J. Erickson, A. B. Carman and D. A. Mitchell, directors.

J. F. Muench has been superintendent since 1912, when the teaching staff was only thirteen. Now the corps of instructors consists of six made and forty-two female teachers. The average monthly salary of the former is $190, and the women teachers average $136 a month for the school-year of ten months.

Mr. Muench has a good record as an educator and executive, including a period in the Philippine Islands. Earlier he was, for five years, at Chisholm. During his administration at Mountain Iron, the school has grown from an enrollment of 340 to one of 1,068, and the local high school has been admitted to state high school class. The school district is an important one, as the tax levy indicates. The school tax in 1919 was $225,621.91, approximately 30 mills.


  • Van Brunt, Walter, ed. Duluth and St. Louis County, Minnesota Vols. 1 – 3. The American Historical Society. Chicago: 1922.
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