This Week in Range History: THE MESABI IRON COMPANY: TACONITE PIONEER – by Donald C. Wright (Home Town Focus – January 9, 2015) Northern Minnesota

This week we’re sharing a story written by Eveleth native Donald C. Wright about the Mesabi Iron Company, predecessor to Reserve Mining Company in Babbitt. Although the Mesabi Iron Company operated the plant in Babbitt for only two years (1922 – 1924), they were taconite pioneers who “proved that high grade iron ore could be produced for America’s steel industry from hard, tough Minnesota taconite.”

Wright’s story was originally published in the June 1984 edition of Range History: The Mesabi Perspective, a quarterly publication of the Iron Range Historical Society, and is reprinted here with their permission. All of the photos published with the story here are also courtesy of the Iron Range Historical Society.

Thank you Iron Range Historical Society for sharing your stories of our history. Cindy Kujala HTF Staff Writer

About the time the American Civil War was coming to a close in Wilmer McLean’s parlor in Appomattox, Virginia, Michigan’s bright copper boom was fading and miners began to cast interested glances at the new state of Minnesota. Minnesota’s North Shore had been opened to settlement by terms of the Treaty of LaPointe with the Chippewa in 1855 and prospectors already were drifting in to investigate rumors of gold, silver and copper.

One of the new arrivals was a German immigrant named Christian Wieland who, with his four brothers, hacked out a settlement on the shore of Lake Superior and called it Beaver Bay. In 1865 Christian Wieland guided Minnesota state geologist Henry Eames into the region around Lake Vermilion in search of gold. Wieland’s dip needle detected something else: iron ore imbedded in the rocks. No one seemed particularly interested but Wieland chipped out a few samples and later showed them around Duluth and among the copper miners in Ontonagon, Michigan. Here, the samples stirred great interest.

Before making any commitments, however, the miners and businessmen decided to investigate further. They grouped together to form the Ontonagon Pool and combine their resources to sponsor an on-site survey before acquiring any land in northern Minnesota. The trek into the wilds would be made by one of their members, a 41-year-old explorer, timber cruiser and amateur geologist named Peter Mitchell.

The heavy-bearded Mitchell landed at Beaver Bay in 1870 and outfitted for the trip at Wieland’s trading post. With Wieland as guide he and his party set out through the north woods, probably following the Greenwood Lake trail.

South of Birch Lake near the present city of Babbitt Mitchell paused in the rugged country of Giant’s Range – a place the Wielands called “Missabay Heights.” Here, where the hills reached a height of 1,200 feet above Lake Superior, Mitchell found bands of high grade magnetic iron ore, sometimes inches thick, imbedded in the exposed rocks. He sank several test pits, using primitive methods and crude tools. One of them became the first test pit registered in Minnesota.

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