Cuyuna History...A trip back in time
Historical Cuyuna Country
Cuyuna Country Heritage Society
Review Volume III: A People's History
Archeological evidence show that human habitation in the area spans over 10,000 years, from the Paleo-Indians of about 8,000 B.C. to the modern American Indians of today. European settlement, fur trading, and exploration began in the seventeenth century. By the mid-1800's furtrading and exploration had given way to exploitation of the vast stands of pine in the area. With logging, came the railroads.
The Cuyuna area was a border area between the Dakota (Sioux) and the Ojibwe (Chippewa) Indians. The Cuyuna area also served as a long portage route from Mille Lacs Lake to the upper Mississippi River. There were many trading posts and missions in the general area. The 1870 General Land Office survey notes indicated the presence of an American Indian trail between Little Rabbit, Portage, June, and Little Mahnomen Lakes. The treaty of 1837 with the Mississippi Band of Ojibwe opened the area to European settlement.
The treaty of 1855 established the Mille Lacs reservation on the southwest shore of Mille Lacs Lake. In the early 1860's the Northern Pacific Railroad Company was chartered to build a railroad from Carlton, Minnesota to Puget Sound. A section house erected along the north shore of Reno Lake, a hundred miles west of Duluth, grew into a little community called Withington. The similarity of its name to that of Worthington in the southern part of the state later prompted it to change its name to Deerwood. It wasn't until 1871 that the Northern Pacific Railway came through town.
Several of Deerwood's earliest settlers, including a surveyor named Cuyler Adams, were struck by an unnatural deviation of the compass needle in certain areas and suspected the presence of iron ore, and the search was on for a viable body of ore.
The first active iron mine on what was to become the Cuyuna Range, named after the combined names of Cuyler Adams and his dog Una, was the Kennedy mine, located on the south shore of Rabbit Lake. In those days of difficult travel, a small village would naturally spring up near an active mine, and thus the village of Cuyuna was established as the second town in the area. Cuyuna was incorporated in July of 1910.
As more mines were opened, small towns sprang up to house and supply the needs of the miners. The largest of these, Crosby and Ironton, are the active hub of the area today. During the active mining period, this area had a multitude of railroad lines and many of these former grades will be used for the proposed trail system. Originally, the nearest rail link to the Cuyuna Range was about six miles away at Deerwood, where the Northern Pacific had a track. The Soo Line was built from Deerwood to the towns of Cuyuna, Crosby and Ironton in 1910. The Northern Pacific then built rail lines into the Cuyuna Range in 1912. Crosby was incorporated as a village in July of 1910, while Ironton was incorporated in June of 1911.
Small portions of Riverton and Trommald remain as bedroom communities, but the communities of Iron Hub, Manganese, Klondike, Oreland, and Wolford (which supported the Milford mine location), have disappeared. Trommald lies at the northern edge of the recreation area and the former mines. Today, it has a small residential population. It would be connected through the recreation area, and eventually along a loop to Cuyuna that would connect to the former Milford Mine site, with a future memorial to the 41 miners who died on February 5, 1924.
Riverton lies at the western edge of the recreation area and the former mines. It began as a mining location and today has a small residential population. It was incorporated in January of 1912.
Total iron ore production from the Cuyuna Range eventually exceeded 100,000,000 tons. Today the mines are closed but the pits between the mountainous tree-covered piles of overburden that was removed from them have filled with pristine clear water and are a Mecca for scuba divers, anglers and nature lovers who visit them annually. They remain as a living memory of the mining era. The industrial archaeology scattered throughout the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area from Riverton to Cuyuna tells of the many cultures brought together to mine the land and offers an insight to the mining history of the area.
Signage and other techniques will be used to build an image of the miners and their sacrifices in these communities. Tourism, now the major income producing industry in the area, has always been important throughout the history of the Cuyuna Range.
The beauty of the many lakes and forests in the area struck the entrepreneurs who sought to develop the rich resources opened by the railroad. Deerwood, with its first hotel, became a favorite stopover. Tales of the fabulous fishing and hunting to be found in the surrounding area soon began to lure men to take the train, usually from Duluth, and rent a room at the Shannon Inn. From there they could engage a team to take them to a favorite lake where they could rent a boat for the day's hunting or fishing.
One of those locations was Bay Lake, and the lake became a destination for city dwellers that wanted to visit northern Minnesota and the lumber country. Access was only by train and wagon trail until about 1900, when more improved roads reached the area. Today, the community features resorts and seasonal residents, many of whom seek trail access to the nearby Crow Wing County Lansin R. Hamilton Memorial Forest and other points of interest.
At the west end of the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail system lie Brainerd and Baxter. Brainerd was founded in 1870, when the Northern Pacific Railroad's survey determined that the Mississippi River crossing should be located there.
Today, Brainerd is the region's largest city and trade center. Trail resources in the community include several parks, many restaurants, a YMCA, many lodging units and service businesses. The community also has an arboretum adjacent to the proposed trail. A comprehensive trail system is planned, a portion of which will connect the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail System to the Paul Bunyan State Trail.
The origins of Brainerd can be featured near the west end of the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail where the redeveloping rail yards exist and the Mississippi River has been dammed to support a paper mill. Baxter borders Brainerd on the west, and is a trailhead for the Paul Bunyan State Trail. From Baxter, trail users will be able to go south to Crow Wing State Park once the expansion of the Paul Bunyan State Trail is finished, north to the lakes area and Bemidji, or east to the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area.
At the eastern end of the trail is Aitkin, with a rich heritage of the Mississippi River lumber days as well as a stop on the railroad. Today, Aitkin is the county seat of Aitkin County and is a focal point for tourism along trunk highways 210 and 169. It was incorporated in August of 1889.
Croft Mine Historical Park
The Merrimac Mining Company first operated the Croft mine located in northeast Crosby. The initial shaft went down through 110 feet of glacial drift to reach the ore body and ultimately reached a total depth of 630 feet. Lateral shafts or drifts were then extended into the ore body from which the ore was blasted and hauled to the surface. Ore from the Croft mine was exceptionally rich, being 55% iron and of Bessemer quality. Bessemer quality refers to a high quality ore needed in the Bessemer process of making steel. The Youngstown Mining Company operated the mine from 1928 to 1931, and the Hanna Mining Company operated the mine from 1931 until the last ore from this property was shipped in 1934.
The total production of the Croft mine was 1,770,000 tons. The original smokestack and dry house, where the miners cleaned up after a day underground, remain on the site. There is also a realistic simulation of the cage, in which the miners rode down to work, and a life-like mock-up of a drift with mannequins performing the usual jobs. The guided tour includes Cuyler Adams office and ends in the dry where many original artifacts are displayed.
The Milford mine, originally named the Ida Mae, was located approximately 2 miles north of Crosby about 1000 feet from the northwest side of Foley Lake. The property was first leased and exploratory drilling started in August of 1912. It was not until December of 1917 however, that the main shaft was sunk and development started. By February 5, 1924 the shaft was down 200 feet, including 120 feet of wet, sandy overburden. Operating drifts extended out toward Foley Lake. At 3:25 p.m. on that fateful day mud and water broke into the lower level of the mine and within 20 minutes the mine was completely flooded. Seven miners managed to climb a ladder to safety.
Forty-one perished in the disaster, worst in the history of the lake states mining industry. Today, evidence exists of the structures and hardships associated with mining. Local trails are planned to connect to the Milford Mine site, where interpretive displays will memorialize the miners and the mine.
Other points of interest
The Ironton Sintering Plant Complex, located approximately one-half mile north of Ironton, is on the National Register of Historic Places. It is on the west bank of Portsmouth Mine lake. This site is significant due to the fact that it was the second major beneficiation plant built in the United States. Beneficiation is a term used to describe the collective processes of, but not limited to, sintering, crushing and washing of non-selectively mined iron ore. The mined iron ore from the Cuyuna Range was of lower grade quality and had to be processed and improved to meet user specifications. Sintering, the technique of concentrating the iron ore into a mass by heating without melting was unique to the Cuyuna Range. According to the National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form, the Ironton sintering plant reflects the capacity of the iron.
Historical Significance of a Rail Route
By Paul E. Nordell DNR Trails & Waterways
The corridor between Aitkin and Brainerd served initially as a segment of a regional rail route transporting lumber and general supplies, then as a transcontinental route. The transcontinental route was later augmented to become a strategic transporter for a manganese-rich iron-mining district.
On the developing western end of the corridor, Brainerd became the railhead of the future transcontinental rail route from Duluth to the Pacific Ocean on March 11, 1871, when the first train reached this village. For many river towns such as Brainerd, a railroad line contacting or crossing the river either created or re-defined the town site. For example, in August 1870 a rail line began service between the Mississippi River in Saint Paul and the Great Lakes port of Duluth, putting that young seaport on the map. Duluth was incorporated earlier that same year,on March 5, 1870.
Even before railroad service began to Duluth, the Northern Pacific Railroad (NP) had begun construction of a transcontinental route to the Pacific Ocean. On February 15, 1870, the NP began building west from Northern Pacific Junction, a place just outside Duluth. This place was later known as Carlton, where the line linked to the nearly completed line between Duluth and Saint Paul. The Brainerd Tribune, beginning on February 10, 1872, had much to say about rail's impact on the Brainerd area. It reported that, although the first house was built in October 1870, the place=s only real claim to significance was borne out in its original name, The Crossing.
This was where the NP had chosen to cross the Mississippi River. The newspaper reported thatthe population, by early 1872, had grown to 1,300 people. On March 2, the paper reported that the Duluth Herald claimed the work was progressing finely on the NP steamboat wharfs on Lake Superior, with a dock at least 1400' long to be completed in two weeks, ready for the first arrival of boats in the spring.
The Brainerd Tribune report of April 15, 1872 (published on April 20th ) says it all: ...no town on the line of the Road presents more attractive features or impresses one more with a sense of its future greatness than yours. Be the first harbor of the lumber borne upon the sweeping current of the Mississippi, it must supply mainly the prairies of the West with this indispensibly necessary article. Already the energetic and worthy contractor, Lyman Bridges, is in process of construction of fifty Station Houses, of the latest style of architecture, made from materials obtained here.
The same report talks about the imposing and substantial bridge being pushed to completion at the western end of the NP construction in Moorhead, where the new depot buildings are now already Moorhead was yet another town experiencing the economic boom of becoming a rivertown railhead.
Railroads and water ports generally work together to strengthen the local economy. Brainerd was one of those towns where, because of its water location, it was built into a transportation center. Brainerd suddenly became a destination for any products and services transported by 73 river. This rail development on the Mississippi would permanently change the face of northern Minnesota. It all began in the spring of 1872.
The importance of rail as a new way of life was underscored in the newspapers of the time, suchas this quote from the Brainerd Tribune of February 24, 1872: This is beyond question an age of railroad excitement. Throughout the whole country, and the whole civilized world, railroads are the rage.
Inside of five years you can go to mill, to church, to your neighbors, or if you desire, to the old scratch, on a railroad.
Timeline of Events Shaping Rail Development in the Aitkin to Brainerd Corridor
1850, J.G. Norwood, assistant geologist with the D.D. Owen survey, took samples of iron ore from the Gunflint Iron Range on the Canadian border. This area was mined for a few months in 1888, but never developed further because of financial reasons, and because of the high titanium content of the ore. It was the first attempt to mine iron in Minnesota, and pre-dates the Cuyuna discovery by 45 years.
1864 - July 2 - The Northern Pacific Railroad (NP) was incorporated, with the purpose of linking Lake Superior with the Puget Sound.
1865 - Iron was discovered on Lake Vermilion during the Vermilion Gold Rush. The mining of iron ore was not yet an issue of interest.
1869 - May 10 - The nation's first transcontinental rail route coast-to-coast began, as the Union Pacific Railroad met the Central Pacific track. The NP was scrambling to participate in this lucrative transcontinental market with a northern transcontinental route, beginning at Duluth.
1870 - February 15 - NP begins construction west from NP Junction (later called Carlton).
1870 - September 13 - Village of Aitkin founded. It had a NP station.
1871 - March 11 - NP completes its line from NP Junction (Carlton) to Brainerd, with the first train arriving.
1873 - The Panic of 1873 brought the collapse of Jay Cooke's NP financial empire, and Duluth was totally dependent upon the NP's lake terminus for its livelihood. Duluth went almost totally bankrupt in a few days. The population shrank from 5,000 to 1,300. Brainerd's population shrank to less than half, and the NP closed its shops in Brainerd.
1882 - New Orleans and California were linked by rail, providing a southern rail route between the Pacific and Atlantic Gulf Coast. The NP would join the transcontinental shipping bonanza by completing its own route to the ocean the following year.
1883 - September 8 - The NP completed its connection to the Pacific, with a golden spike driven at Gold Creek, Montana. This put the Brainerd area strategically along a transcontinental route. The NP was now one of four such transcontinental routes, including the Atchison, Topeka and Santa Fe Railroad, built through Kansas that same year.
1884 - July 30 - The Vermilion Iron Range began production with its first shipment from the Breitung pit (Mountain Iron) to Agate Bay (Two Harbors). The third iron range to open would be the Cuyuna Range, discovered just 11 years later.
1892 - October 17 - First shipment of iron ore from the Mesabi Range, from Mountain Iron (St. Louis Co.) to Superior, Wisconsin. By 1895, when the Cuyuna Range was discovered, shipments from the Mesabi were up to 3 million tons per year.
1893 - The NP failed again during the Panic of 1893. This time J.J. Hill and associates reorganized the company. In July the Mesabi Range began shipments from Mountain Iron (St. Louis Co.) directly to Duluth.
1895 - Cuyler Adams and his prospecting dog Una discover a magnetic anomaly (iron) under the surface near the future site of Crosby.
1904 - Prospector drilling began on the Cuyuna Range.
1909 - The Minneapolis, Saint.Paul and Sault Ste. Marie Railway (MStP&SSM) built west from its mainline at Lawler Junction, to the Cuyuna iron mines of Ironton, Crosby and Deerwood, a distance of 27.89 miles.
1909 - October 8 - Deerwood incorporated. It was a station for both the NP and the MSTP&SSM.
1910 - July 6 - Crosby incorporated. It was both a NP and MStP&SSM station.
1910 - July 7 - Cuyuna incorporated. It was a MStP&SSM station.
1911 - First shipments of iron ore left the Kennedy mine on the Cuyuna Iron Range.
1911 - June 6 - Ironton incorporated. It was spurned by a bypass of the MStP&SSMA in 1911. It was connected by the NP in 1912.
1911 - September 25 - The Cuyuna Northern Railway incorporates. It built two branch lines, one from Deerwood to Mille Lacs ore shaft and one to Oreland.
1912- January 5 - Riverton incorporated. It was a MStP&SSM station.
1912- January 20 - Oreland platted. It was a NP station.
1913 - March 21 - Wolford platted. It was a MStP&SSM station.
1913 - November 10 - Manganese incorporated. It was a MStP&SSM station.
1914 - March 6 - Woodrow platted. It was a NP station.
1914 - The MStP&SSM built 6.3 miles of track to Iron Hub and Iron Mountain, connecting with various iron mines.
1914 - June 18 - The NP acquires the Cuyuna Northern Railway along with another company. This gave NP access to various iron mines in the Cuyuna iron district.
1914, August 3 - As Europe breaks out into the Great War, the Cristobal becomes the first ocean-to-ocean ship to go through the new Panama Canal. The canal took only light traffic during the war, but in July 1919, after the war, the first dramatic use of the canal took place when a U.S. armada of 33 ships locked through, returning from the war zone. This signaled a major shift in the way America would transport transcontinental goods. The Duluth to Puget Sound route would never again be as vital to the America national interests. However, the manganese-bearing iron of Cuyuna created an intense need for rail transport because foreign supplies of manganese, a crucial steel hardener, were cut off during the war. During the following year 1.1 million tons of ore were shipped from Cuyuna.
1915 - United States Steel Corporation opens its mill in Duluth. That same year, the NP built a line from Iron Mountain Switch to Iron Mountain (Aitkin Co.).
1917 - August 9 - Iron Mountain (Trommald) incorporated. It was a NP station.
1930 - The MStP&SSM abandoned all of its lines, except for a short spur west of its mainline at Lawler Junction, a total abandonment of 34.19 miles. This left only the NP operating lines into the Cuyuna Range iron mines. However, a court case determined that both the MStP&SSM and NP had a 50-50 shared ownership of the various rail lines in the Cuyuna iron district. Between 1904 and 1984, when the mines stopped shipping, over 106 million tons of 10% manganese ore were removed.
1987, February 28 - By this time, the NP had changed to the Burlington Northern Railroad (BN) and the MStP&SSM had changed to the Soo Line Railway (SOO). They abandoned the following portions of rail in the Cuyuna district: SOO abandoned Crosby to Crosby Junction (0.98 miles); BN/SOO abandoned Ironton to Cuyuna (4.77 miles); BN/SOO abandoned Huntington Junction to Riverton (2.31 miles); BN/SOO abandoned Deerwood to Trommald (9.83 miles).
1993 - A multi-agency effort resulted in the creation of the Cuyuna Country State Recreation Area, with enabling legislation being Laws of Minnesota, 1993, Chapter 172, Section 34. Subdivision 3 of the law concerns future mining in the area. The future mineral commodity of concern would be manganese-rich iron ore. Manganese is a hardening agent in steel production. It was of strategic importance during WWI and WWII when foreign sources were threatened or curtailed.