Before Iron County’s establishment as a county in 1885 – after its separation from Marquette County – the area was populated by the Ojibwa Indians who used the land for hunting and fishing. The discovery of the region’s outcroppings of iron ore, coupled with its dense forested areas, in the 1840s and 1850s, set the pace for a strong economy led by the industries of mining, logging and agriculture.
Upon its establishment as a new county, the city of Iron River was chosen as the temporary county seat, which was eventually given a permanent site in Crystal Falls. Most accounts from the site-changing event correspond to the story of a poker game that was organized after a board of supervisors meeting in Iron River’s temporary courthouse. Two men, residents of Crystal Falls, left the game to sneak back into the temporary courthouse and clear the safe of all county records – or so the story goes.
Stories of imported lumberjacks, destroyed ballots and registered voters from the grave were attributed to both communities in the elections of 1888 – the elections of which led to Crystal Falls taking over the county seat designation by a miniscule margin of five votes.
Since its inception, Iron County has been enhanced in every way by the diversified ethnic mixture that lies within its borders, an aspect which is highlighted at the Iron County Museum. Twenty-two historical buildings, situated upon a former mine site, comprise the museum’s complex. Its beautiful Heritage Hall has been decorated by local ethnic artists, reflecting the area’s rich cultural dynamism.
More than 150 historical sites and contributing structures within Iron County, including the historic courthouse, the Harbour House and further architectural treasures, are all listed on the National Register.