City Could Renew Former Identity
ELY — The Ely that Mayor Chuck Novak knew as a child was very different from the one he governs today. Several of its mines were active.
And even when Ely was down to two, and then one remaining operation, the community that came to be because of the industry retained that identity. It was a mining town.
Sure, with a grand wilderness as its neighbor, those seeking outdoor adventures flocked to the town to traverse and camp amid what would become the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
And logging trucks and lumberjacks were part of the city’s personality as logging operations endured. But each day miners headed to work — just as they had since the 1880s. Mining was at the heart of Ely’s selfhood.
The son of a miner, Novak remembers as a child accompanying his dad to the Pioneer Mine on the weekends.
That was when the miners washed their iron-coated clothes at the facility to keep their home washers free of the staining material, he said.
Novak and his dad would climb down to the dry house, where the miners changed clothes before and after shifts. There were rows of lockers and baskets with hooks that could be raised to the ceiling to hang dry the attire.
Novak enjoyed listening to his dad and the other guys tell stories, and afterward when his dad stopped at Zaverl’s Bar for a “bump and beer,” the young Novak was treated to a nickel to buy candy.
“Families weren’t rich,” Novak recalled on a recent day. Like his own, they were first- or second-generation families who had left their homelands to find work and “a better life.”
“They invested in housing, raised families, supported a strong school system. … They were not afraid to do work,” Novak said.
The ore bodies of Ely — and Soudan to the southwest — were some of the richest in the world, the labor of mining that ore provided a living to many.
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