Aaron J. Brown is an author and community college instructor from Northern Minnesota’s Mesabi Iron Range. He writes the blog MinnesotaBrown.com and hosts the Great Northern Radio Show on Northern Community Radio (KAXE.org).
Soon the Hull Rust Mine View in historic North Hibbing will be closed for good, set to reopen next year at a new location to the east. Shortly thereafter Hibbing Taconite will blow to bits the very mountain of taconite on which the viewing stand sits to send the iron ore on its way to become steel.
A quick review of Iron Range history shows that such displacement is hardly new. They call Hibbing, after all, “The Town That Moved,” relocated some ninety years ago to accommodate mining in the same North Hibbing area where Hibbing Taconite will expand its pit.
Similar movements happened this summer as the state relocated Highway 5 near Chisholm for mining. The highway out of Mountain Iron changed, too. And we can’t forget that the state built the tallest bridge in Minnesota on Highway 53 between Virginia and Eveleth as part of a near quarter-billion dollar multi-highway relocation. Again, we move infrastructure to access the long established Mesabi iron ore formation.
One of the struggles that seems to dog the people of the Iron Range is the sense that our towns are both permanent and temporary. What if the mines close? What if the mines move us entirely? It’s one of the reasons our best buildings were built pre-taconite. Most architecture since then is of the Morton building variety. Easy to build. Easy to move, or scrap if it comes to that.
Thus the struggle for the Iron Range is not for or against mining, for or against a political party or even for or against the Twin Cities. We instead strive for permanence in an impermanent world. Let’s take a brief tour of the challenges facing Iron Range cities.