The History of Coleraine (through 1910)

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 water works, sewers, electric 739  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 employes.

The tremendous expense involved in the improvements in the town is in harmony with the company’s general policy of trying to secure permanent, capable and reliable employes by insuring 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.

The great iron ore concentrating mill of the Oliver Mining Company at Coleraine is busy night and day, turning lean ore into the merchantable article. It has been at it since May 2, 1910, the day it started, without a hitch. Before that date the treatment of lean ore was a problem. The working out of it had been given the deepest thought by the minds of specialists schooled in the art of doing things; the process had also been demonstrated in a small way, but not until the ponderous machinery at the big mill started to revolve and the refined ore began to drop into the bins was it certain that the work could be carried on successfully on a very large scale. Now there is no doubt of it. The gigantic undertaking is an unqualified success; the barrier which nature, in a niggardly whim, created to the development of one of the world’s greatest mining sections, the Canisteo district of the Mesaba range, has been removed, and a period of prosperity opened for that section of northern Minnesota- a section which is destined to equal the wonderful growth of the cities and country surrounding the older mines farther east. The accomplishment of this tremendous, almost fateful, task has not caused much of a furore anywhere. The Oliver company expected it. John C. Greenway, general superintendent for the company in the Canisteo district, has little to say about it. There is one notable and extensive exception to the apparent equanimity with which the successful operation of the plant has been received. That exception is the people of the Canisteo district. It means much to them and they know it. As a consequence there is rejoicing, and plenty of it. Merchants look forward to increased business and wealth; owners of property rejoice in the assured increase of population and growth of value of their property holdings; the laboring man is assured of steady and remunerative employment and a happy and contented home.

It means that the period of development and experiment, and consequent uncertainty, is past, and that from now on every undertaking of human activity may be calculated upon the good, solid basis of a definite future.

The towns which will most directly benefit by the success of the project are Coleraine, Bovey, Marble, Taconite and small locations surrounding the mines. It is not too much to expect that in a very few years some of these places will be duplicating in population and commercial importance the thriving cities of Hibbing, Virginia and Eveleth, and the smaller but no less prosperous places on the old Mesaba range, and that the population of the western mining range, already large, will be six or seven times its present size within a decade. The only thing lacking to make this growth was the uncertainty about the mining situation, and the concentration plant has eliminated this. The completion of the concentration mill, while by all odds the most important event in the history of the Canisteo district, is but the most recent of the many long strides toward its development which have been made in an amazingly short time. Five years ago it was unsubdued wilderness. There was nothing but a dreary waste of underbrush and slashings, left by the ax of the woodsman, between Nashwauk and Grand Rapids, on the Mississippi river. Since then the development has been rapid. Coleraine, Bovey, Taconite, Marble, Holman and Calumet have come into being and the entire district has a population conservatively estimated at 10, 000 persons. All of these towns are places of commercial importance, and have a brilliant outlook for the future.

While the Canisteo district is the newest mining section of Minnesota, it was known prior to the discoveries of the great mines in the Hibbing section of the range that large bodies of ore existed there. But the ore discovered on the Canisteo was so mixed with sand as to be unmerchantable. That it was 741  valuable was fully understood by many. Some efforts were made to concentrate it, and a good deal of money was spent in the attempts; but the pioneers lost their nerve before success came, or considered the risk too great to warrant prosecuting their enterprise to the end.

It remained for Thomas F. Cole, late president of the Oliver Mining Company, to place his reputation behind the idea of the treatment of the lean ore as a business proposition. To this decision he and his company were induced, in great measure, by G. G. Hartley, who had explored and drilled the lands on which mines have since been opened, giving to that undertaking a great deal of his time and personal attention.

Mr. Cole, once having made up his mind, acted with characteristic energy and promptness, and the steel corporation entered the new range by the purchase of the Diamond lands; the Canisteo properties were added next, then the Walker mine, and finally the great Hill tracts.

In order to secure a low royalty rate, the steel corporation agreed to mine a very large yearly output, and as this would’be economically impossible with a great percentage of the ore lean and consequently unsalable, its concentration became the crux of the whole gigantic undertaking.

Mr. Cole was determined to meet and subdue this situation as he had so many others of almost overpowering difficulty. He felt certain that it was possible-that if approached in the right way, and handled with intelligence, mechanical knowledge and unswerving courage, there was no question of the outcome. The main thing was to find the man for the task. In the employ of the corporation down in the Marquette district was a young man of varied experience, who had attracted his favorable attention before. He was John C. Greenway, and Mr. Cole resolved to put him in charge of the Canisteo district as general superintendent, and hand over to him the working out of the great problem of concentration. Greenway, always partial to big tasks, accepted the job, and in the spring of 1905 he first trod the tangled brakes on the shores of Trout lake. He came in from Grand Rapids, there being no road from Duluth or the eastern Mesaba range, and took a look at the country for which he was destined to accomplish so much. It was not a pleasing prospect. The only thing that appealed even to a lover of nature in that unkindly wild was the placid surface of the lake, which dimpled then as now to the kiss of the winds and smiled back at the sun and stars.

It was not a question of mining “on the jump.” There were things to be done before a shovelful of ore could be taken from the depths of the earth. There must be a large output or none, and as there was no population out of which to make miners, there was nothing to do but see that the district was peopled first, and then take up other details. Bringing population to a wilderness is in itself no small undertaking, yet it was but a preliminary to the development of the Canisteo.

It was easy to reason that there would be no population until there were houses in which that population could live. Therefore he must build the necessary dwellings and the places of business in which to carry on the traffic of the place. The foundations of Coleraine were consequently laid. In mapping out the future city in his mind he made a picture not at all resembling that which comes to the person who closes his eyes and sees again with the inward vision the typical mining village, with its rows of monotonous “company” houses, each as like the other as two peas, its crowded saloons, its dilapidated business houses, its dives and dirty streets, through which its discontented people surge to or from burdensome tasks. Instead he resolved that the future Coleraine should be a place in which men and women would like to live, where there would be clean, moral surroundings, long, well-lighted streets, abundant pure water and a sewer system to insure the sanitation and conduce to the good health of the community.

That his plans in this particular have been realized one needs but to visit Coleraine to determine. Nowhere in Minnesota are there better homes for the laboring people. Roosevelt street, with its rows of gleaming lights on artistic standards, is a “great white way, ” as creditable and as beautiful as may be found in pretentious cities ten times the size of the mining town on the eastern finger of Trout lake.

In building Coleraine Mr. Greenway began in a way that points unerringly the sort of man he is. The first four walls reared on its site now enclose the Coleraine high school, a building that cost $100, 000, paid for entirely by the Oliver company, and which is one of the foremost educational institutions of the northern part of the state. It has a manual training and domestic science department, and its graduates enter the Minnesota and other universities without examination.

Mr. Greenway insisted that every cottage should differ from the others, so that each family could have a house in which the particular tastes of the woman who was to preside over it could have the fullest play-in other words, a home which should have an individuality. In all Coleraine no two houses built by the company are just alike on the outside. The wife of the miner tells what she wants in the way of interior arrangement, the color it is to be painted, and how it is to be finished. The result is a town of artistic and pleasing aspect, a town in which the worker realizes he is a man, and the wife that she is still the director general of the home from the time its first foundation stone is laid.

The residence lots are large, 75 by 125 feet, giving room for a small lawn and shade trees facing the street, and a truck garden in the rear; they are all modern and exceptionally well constructed.

When the town was platted these lots were offered for sale at very reasonable rates and are still so sold.

In treatment of his workmen in the matter of homes, Mr.

Greenway has made another great and beneficient change from old conditions. When a miner or other employe of the company comes to Coleraine he can rent one of these beautiful cottages at a monthly rate not larger than prevails in any village of the size anywhere in the country. From the moment he enters this house it is his own, and when in the course of time the monthly rental paid has equaled the actual cost of the house and lot, a deed is turned over to the tenant and the home becomes his property.

The plan of the town also included the segregation of business buildings, all of which are limited to one street, the entire absence of dives and the presence of but two saloons, which are compelled to obey the law to the letter. Marble is laid out and governed along the same lines as Coleraine. Bovey sprang into existence simultaneously with the latter, but the paternal hand of the company is not felt there. Great numbers of workers make their homes in Bovey, and it is a busy, hustling place, with a fine location, good liberal government, and is assured of its share of the growth which must come to that section.

Taconite, Holman, Calumet and other small towns cluster around the mines and throb with life and activity.

While the plans for the building of Coleraine were being carried out and Bovey and other places were coming into life, Mr. Greenway and his assistants were busy with plans for the development of the mines. The first actual work was at the Canisteo and Walker pits near Coleraine, the Holman and North Star underground workings in the vicinity of Taconite and the Hill pit near Marble. In this work 16, 000, 000 cubic yards of earth have already been removed.

The first development work was done over deposits of ore that did not need concentration to give time for the study and working out of the concentration problem. Shipments from the district started in 1909, when 500, 000 tons of ore were sent down the lakes, and in 1910 the output will be about 2, 000, 000 tons.

This is a flattering record when it is considered that only a few years ago the general public believed the Canisteo mines were to be considered only in calculating on the distant future, if at all.

During the period of town building and development work at the mines the task of solving the concentration problem had been going steadily forward. A temporary mill was erected in 1908-9, and every phase of the project thoroughly discussed and checked.

Results were found so satisfactory that in 1909 plans were started for what is destined to be the largest ore concentrator in the world, the Trout lake mill at Coleraine. Active work was started on the structure in April, 1909. On May 2, this year, the mill began operations, fifteen days ahead of the time promised, and the great plant is now turning out high-grade ore for the market of a better quality and in greater quantity than had been anticipated or hoped. While dealing with this very important topic it may not be out of place to describe the great mill which is to play the chiefest part in the development of the Canisteo district, and make lean ore everywhere and for all time a factor in the industrial life of the world.

The mill consists of a concentrator building proper, 255 feet long by 162 feet wide, boiler house 120×53 feet, and power house 132×82 feet. The two buildings last named constitute the power plant, and are located about one and one-half miles from the concentrator building proper, on the shore of Trout lake. All buildings are of steel construction, there being in the mill building, including its 650 feet of steel trestle approach, 6, 500 tons of steel.

In the entire plant, including all buildings, there are used approximately 7, 000 tons. The mill building proper consists of five units of concentrating machinery, each unit complete in itself and capable of independent operation, and a small machine shop.

These units are so constructed that no piece of machinery is set directly over any other piece, so that if one wears out or becomes damaged it may be removed by the big electric traveling crane without disturbing the rest of the machine.

Crude ore is being mined by steam shovel at the Canisteo and Holman mines and delivered to the mill over standard gauge, double track approaches. The distance from the mill to the Canisteo pit is slightly in excess of two miles, and to the Holman pit entrance about four miles. The tracks for crude ore are owned and operated by the mining company.

The tracks of the railroad company for the receiving and transportation of concentrated ore are ninety feet below those delivering the crude ore, this difference in level being necessary to obtain a gravity plant. The tracks for receiving concentrates are four in number under the mill, and are laid on a 1.2 per cent grade favoring the load, so that the process of letting down empties from the empty yards, and the handling of loads between the mill and the ore yards is one of gravity.

The ore which it is intended to treat is of a sand character, occurring in the ground as alternating layers of hard hematite and free sand, with varying quantities of taconite (rock) and paint rock. The process of concentration consists in a removal of the free sand rock and paint rock.

The crude ore is brought to the mill and dumped directly into the receiving bins, separate for each unit, and with a capacity of about 300 tons each. From the bin the ore is slushed down over a set of grizzly bars, where large pieces of rock are removed, into a revolving cone screen or trommel, with two-inch perforations. The oversizes from the trommel go out onto a picking belt, where the remaining coarse rock is removed, the product being concentrated lump ore. The undersize from the cone trommel is fed to two sets of 25-foot log-washers of the usual type except that provision is made for hydraulic water through the bottom. The products of the log washers go to the bins for concentrates, while the overflows after going through revolving screens, which remove chips and other light material, are fed to settling tanks. The products of these tanks are fed each to a small type of log-washer, locally developed and known as the Oliver turbo. (This machine differs from the large log-washers in being built of cast hollow bottom sections perforated with h)-inch holes with feed water pressure. This machine is four feet wide by eighteen feet long, inside measurements.) The overflows from the settling tanks are fed to a second set of tanks, the products of which go to Overstrom tables, and the overflows are wasted as tailings. The products from the turbos go to the concentrate bins, and the overflows to a third set of settling tanks, the products of which are treated on the Overstrom tables and the overflows disposed of as tailings.

The concentrating equipment for each unit consists of one receiving bin and set of grizzly bars; one cone screen with 2-inch perforation; one picking belt; two 25-foot log-washers, two chip screens, two 18-foot Oliver turbos, six settling tanks, twenty Overstrom concentrating tables and concentrate bins.

The disposal of waste products from the mill is accomplished as follows: Tailings from settling tanks and tables are collected throughout the mill by launders, which discharge into a main flume at the rear of the mill, which conducts them 2, 000 feet, discharging finally into Trout lake. The rock from grizzly bars and picking belts is thrown into rock pockets built for the purpose, from which it is transferred by electric haulage and dumped at the north end of the mill.

The boiler house at present accommodates an installation of six 6×18 tubular boilers, arranged in two batteries of three each, with provision made for the ultimate installation of four additional boilers.

The installation of the engine house (or power house) consists in one 26x52x48-inch cross compound Corless engine, direct connected with one 1, 250 K. W. R. C. generator, carrying 6, 600 volts; one 26×52-16×48 Prescott cross compound pumping engine, with a capacity of 8, 000, 000 gallons per twenty-four hours. Provision has been made for future extensions.

The water supply for the mill is obtained from Trout lake, and pumped through a surface pipe line thirty inches in diameter and 7, 000 feet long, to a great cylindrical steel tank on a 125-foot steel substructure.

Transmission of power is effected by means of a surface pole line connecting the power plant with the mill. Power is transmitted at a pressure of 6, 600 volts, which is stepped down to a working pressure of 440 volts in the mill.

All concentrating machinery is electrically driven. Each unit is supplied with one 100-horsepower motor and two 15-horsepower motors.

747  The First National Bank of Coleraine opened for business August 17, 1906, with a capital of $25, 000. It has a surplus of $10, 000. Its officers are John C. Greenway, president; Daniel MI. Gunn, vice-president; G. E. O’Connor, cashier. These gentlemen, with M. Curley, W. C. Gilbert and C. C. McCarthy, constitute the board of directors. There are twenty-three stockholders, a number of whom are officials of the United States Steel Corporation.

Coleraine Hospital. This institution is conducted by the Oliver Iron Mining Company for the treatment of its employes 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 employe 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, 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. Ml. L. Strathern and Dr. James 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.

The first issue of the Itasca County “Independent” appeared November 1, 1902, and was issued by David C. and E. J. Anderson, who have long been among the best known newspaper men of northern Minnesota. The paper was under the personal management of the latter until March 1, 1905, when it was purchased by A. L. La Freniere, the present editor and proprietor. Mr. La Freniere has improved the equipment of the “Independent” office by adding a Babcock cylinder press, two job presses, an electric motor and a folding machine. The paper has attained the largest circulation of any publication in Itasca county.

The Coleraine “Optic” was founded in June, 1907, by the present proprietor, C. E. Seeley. He fitted the office with an entire new stock of printing material and is prepared for handling all kinds of printing. Mr. Seeley has been identified with the press of Minnesota for many years. He displayed noteworthy sagacity in occupying the field at Coleraine, which is destined to become the metropolis of the western Mesaba range.


  • Woodbridge, Dwight and John Pardee, eds. History of Duluth and St. Louis County Past and Present Vols. 1 – 2. C. F. Cooper & Company, Chicago: 1922.
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