The four cities served by the Laurentian Chamber have a shared past that revolves around a great natural discovery – iron ore. Eveleth, Gilbert, Mountain Iron and Virginia are among a group of towns stretching across the low rolling hills of the Mesabi Iron Range, one of the world’s best-known sources of iron ore. United by their mining origins, each city also has a distinct and fascinating history of its own to tell.
The beginnings of Eveleth began with the discovery of ore deposits and the formation of the Adams Mining Company. On April 22, 1893 the first map of the village of Eveleth was filed with the Register of Deeds, which reported a population of 200 residents. (The name of Eveleth was adopted in honor of Erwin Eveleth, a timber cruiser who owned land upon which the city is now located.) In 1902 the city was incorporated, and City Hall was constructed in 1906. Today, Eveleth’s population is approximately 4,000, and mining continues to be a main source of business. Additionally, Eveleth has five sites on the National Register of Historic Sites and has provided six members of U.S. Olympic hockey teams.
Originally named Sparta and situated near a mining location that began in 1892, relocated to make way for iron ore mining. Simply taking the name of the nearest group of mines – Gilbert – the town moved near the city of Virginia and was incorporated into a village in 1908. The road that is now Broadway (State Highway 37) was originally built from pine trees growing in Gilbert, and was at once part of a twenty-eight-mile boardwalk connecting the eastern Mesabi Range towns. Additionally, Gilbert was the eastern boundary of the Mesabi Electric Railway, an interurban streetcar line that ran from Gilbert to the town of Hibbing. Recently, the city of Gilbert reclaimed the historical landmark Lake Ore-be-gone, which was the result of natural flooding from three local iron ore mines. With an approximate population of 1,900, Gilbert continues to develop and grow, and in 2008 will be proudly celebrating its 100th year.
Named for the Mountain Iron Mine, it was here in 1890 that Leonidas Merritt discovered iron ore. This is considered to be the origin of iron ore mining on the Mesabi Iron Range. In August, Mountain Iron celebrates this event with the annual “Leonidas Merritt Days Festival,” and a two-and-a-half ton, 10-foot high statue of Merritt stands in the heart of the city. A source of pride, Mountain Iron is known as “The Taconite Capital of the World.” Taconite, an iron-bearing rock, became viewed as a new resource once the supply of natural ore began to decrease. A process was developed to create Taconite pellets, and Minnesota’s iron ore mining industry was saved.
Because of that, mining continues to be Mountain Iron’s central industry. Currently Minnesota’s third-largest city in geographical size, Mountain Iron, with a population of 3,500, carries forward with its proud mining tradition.
The history of Virginia, “Queen City of the North,” began with mining explorations. Settlers first came to the area in 1890 and in 1895, it was incorporated as the first city on the Iron Range. Both iron ore mining and lumber milling were lucrative businesses for Virginia, and at one time the city was home to both the largest white pine mill in the world and the biggest ore-producing mine. Surviving two fires (one in 1893 and one in 1900), Virginia persevered and currently has fifteen buildings on the National Register of Historic Places. Virginia’s population has varied throughout the years. In 1895, approximately 1,000 people lived in the city. The population had reached 5,000 before the fire of 1900, and decreased to 2,900 shortly afterward. Now with an estimated population of 9,100, Virginia, proudly located at the heart of the Iron Range and centered around the Taconite industry, continues to flourish.
For further information on the history of the communities served by the Laurentian Chamber of Commerce, please visit http://laurentianchamber.org/info/history.htm.