The Tower-Soudan Historical Society Historical Center 404 Pine St. P.O. Box 465 Tower, Mn. 55790 Open Daily 9 A.M. to 5 P.M. Daily Memorial Day to Labor Day 218-753-5021
We are located on about an acre of land at the western entrance to the city of Tower. The center includes a museum in the historic train depot. A steam locomotive, a railway passenger car, Caboose, and homesteaders cabin. The land, steam locomotive, coach and depot were donated to the City of Tower for historical purposes by the Duluth, Mesabi & Iron Range Railroad Company.
The Depot was built in 1915 through efforts of the city, the Historical Society, and the Tower Women's Club it has been kept in near original condition. The depot not only houses a museum with hundreds of artifactsand photos but also the information service for the Lake Vermilion Resort Association.
The Homesteaders cabin was located in the woods near Smart's bay on Lake Vermilion. It was built in 1915. It was brought to Tower in the winter by hauling it across the lake.
This year we celebrated the 125th anniversary of the first shipment of Iron ore from the Soudan Mine and the birth of Minnesota mining in Minnesota with our annual Depot Days event. This year was extremely successful and look for it again next year in June 2010.
Incorporated in 1884, is the oldest city north of Duluth.
First Family: The first white family to
take up residence in the vicinity of Tower was probably headed by
George E. Wheeler. Mr. Wheeler was a government agent at the Indian
Reservation and his wife was school mistress threre.
Survey the Townsite: George R. Stuntz
knew the Vermilion country better perhaps than any other white man,
excepting possibly the Wheelers. In l880 he was the principal guide,
explorer and advisor of Professor Chester and at the same time having
an important governmental commission, that of surveying the township.
Stuntz is credit with having surveyed the townsite of Tower in l882 for
the Minnesota Iron Company.
First Men to Arrive: The first
crew of miners did not leave Duluth until June 1882, however John Owens
was in Tower in April of that year. His job was to construct a sawmill
for the Minnesota Iron Company.
John Owens was also the first
building contractor in the area, working on the mill as well as company
buildings. The first independent contractor is said to be O. W.
Transportation Before the
Railroad: The Vermilion Trail between Duluth and Tower was no picnic.
It took three days and 2 nights to cover the more than 100 miles by
wagon. It was stated that only in the winter could teams be used. In
the summer, the swamps were many and long, and no horse could negotiate
the trail, so the only way north was by foot. Yet, at time there were
as many as 200 people at one time enroute for Tower and Soudan.
First Post Office: There was a
weekly mail service. The first post office was located in a log hut
southwest of the depot, John Anderson being the first postmaster. Mail
was brought from Duluth by dog trains driven by Barney Lynch.
Tower Incorporated: Tower was
incorporated as a village under the General Laws of the State of
Minnesota, which took effect on November 11, 1884. The first election
of village officers was held at the Cody House in Tower, a boarding
house erected by the Minnesota Iron Company and later known as the
First Village Officers: John
Owens, president; John G. Brown, John Sawbridge and James Bale as
trustees; Neil McInnis, treasurer; William N. Shepard, recorder;
Horace N. Blanchard and James W. Goss, justices and Michael O'Keefe as
First Council Meeting: The first council meeting was held in the office of James W. Goss on November 28, 1884.
First Marshal: On December 16, 1884, Michael O'Keefe was appointed village marshal at a salary of $50 month.
First Village Attorney: W. G. Bonham was appointed village attorney at at salary of twenty-five dollars a month.
Some of the Pioneers: Andrew Bystrom, Gus Bystrom, William Holter, M. Kellow and Ted Wheeler.
School History: A small schoolhouse was built in l885. A.W. Jones was the first teacher at a salary of $60 a month.
First Newspaper North of Duluth:
It was at Tower that the first newspaper of the Vermilion and Mesabi
ranges was started. The "Vermilion Iron Journal" was founded in l888,
by Dr. Fred Barrett.
Click the image above for the Lake Vermilion Chamber Of Commerce website
A Brief History of the Lake Vermilion Area
Lake Vermilion derived its name from the translation of "Onamuni", the Ojibwe name meaning "Lake of the Sunset Glow"- which the French translated to "Vermilion", a Latin word for a color ranging from yellow to red.
There is evidence of a long history of human habitation in the area. Archaeological evidence places a succession of American Indian cultures at Lake Vermilion, starting before 7000 B.C. and continuing to the present day. Archaeological and cemetery sites can be found throughout the area, and early prospectors noted evidence of jasper and quartz mining that predated European exploration.
In the mid 1600's, French explorers and fur traders became the first Europeans to discover the shores of Vermilion. They immediately began a trade friendship with the Sioux Indians who already inhabited the lake, and several decades later with the Chippewa who still reside in the area today. Fur trade flourished, and in 1670 the French established the first port on the lake. Vermilion was an important link in the chain of rivers and lakes that connected Lake Superior to Rainy Lake, and ultimately Hudson Bay. Voyageurs would enter Vermilion through the Pike River on the south side of the lake and leave through the Vermilion River on the north side. Another important route took Voyageurs through Mud Creek, located on the east end of Vermilion, and eventually on to the fur trading center of Grand Portage.
So important was the Duluth to Rainy Lake travel route, it was used as the definition of the international border under the Treaty of Paris in 1763 in which France ceded Canada to Great Britain. The northeast shore of Vermilion, and the area that is now Tower, were considered part of Canada, while the southwest shore, and what is now the Cook area, were considered part of the American territory. With this, the British made economic claim to all of Lake Vermilion and built their own trading posts on the lake. All furs from the region were sent north to the Hudson Bay Company in Canada. Due to the vague description of international border, the U.S. and Great Britain argued its course for many years. In 1842, American officials convinced Great Britain that the Grand Portage travel route located to the north was the proper border described by the Treaty of Paris and thus both Lake Vermilion and the Arrowhead region were brought into the United States.
In 1865, deposits of gold along Vermilion were reported by a geological survey team and the gold rush was on! An expedition was sent to cut and clear a crude road from Duluth to the gold fields along a centuries-old travel route used by Native Americans. The road they built became known as the Vermilion Trail and is roughly followed by County Road 4 and State Hwy 135 today. The Vermilion Trail between Duluth and Tower was no picnic. It took three days and 2 nights to cover the more than 100 miles by wagon. It was stated that only in the winter could teams be used. In the summer, the swamps were many and long, and no horse could negotiate the trail, so the only way north was by foot. Yet, at times, there were as many as 200 people enroute for Tower and Soudan. Mining began in 1866, but after several years of effort, no appreciable amount of gold was found. The gold prospectors abandoned the area by 1867.
About this same time iron ore was found. However, technological advancement and capital investment did not combine until the 1880's to begin Minnesota's iron industry and give birth to Minnesota's "Iron Range".
The Soudan Iron mine is the oldest and deepest mine in Minnesota. The first crew of miners left Duluth in June 1882. Initial evacuations were underway when the town site of Tower was laid out in 1882 in anticipation of the iron mining industry.
The official opening of the mine was in 1884 with the first shipments of ore being delivered via a newly completed rail line to Two Harbors. This marked the beginning utilization of one of the richest iron ore deposits in the world. The first workings were open pits. Over time, the mine would include fifteen major open pits and shafts, with twenty other minor workings. By 1890, above ground mining ceased and all operations were underground. Eventually, the main shaft extended to a depth of almost 2,400 feet. The mine reached its peak production in 1892, shipping over 568,000 tons of high-grade ore and employing over 1,800 men. The mine produced over 17.9 million tons of ore during its operation.
As the mine grew, so did the communities of Tower and Soudan. Founded at the very edge of the mine, Soudan was a classic company town - the mining company and the community almost indistinguishable. The town began as two sites named Stone and Breitung, each named for a nearby ore pit. The company managed the settlement and built houses, a hospital, a community center, and a sawmill, as well as cleaned the streets and developed wells for clean water.
Tower grew independent of the mining company, but still existed to serve the mine and its workers. The City of Tower, incorporated on Nov. 11, 1884, is the oldest city north of Duluth, and grew with the success of the mine. People from all over America and immigrants from many countries came seeking their fortunes. Tower was literally the end of the road. The daily train from Two Harbors and Duluth brought captains of industry, loggers, immigrant miners, and union organizers by the car load and Tower was the only outpost of civilization on the Vermilion Iron Range. Thousands made regular trips to Tower's Main Street to partake in the "amber glow" flowing freely out of saloons and taverns.
Lumber camps, homesteads and businesses developed quickly across the lake. To maintain water levels, Tower's logging interests erected a dam in 1890 at the head of the Vermilion River. The site was also the location of a lumber camp and sawmill. In 1907, the camp was converted to a moose hunting camp named Hunter's Lodge, making it one of the first resorts on the lake. Tourism began as many lodges and resorts were founded in the late 1800s to early 1900s, and steamboats were used to transport visitors around the lake. Although the steamboats are gone, some of those early resorts still operate today.
In May of 1890 Tower had a population of about 3,000. By 1891 the population of Tower doubled to 6,000. But by 1892 the mining boom was over and the Tower population was 5,000 and declining. In 1904 the mines were closed for a period of time causing the population to drop severely.
Maintaining the growth of the mining industry demanded food and lumber. The lumber producing town of Ashawa began to develop near the west end of Vermilion in 1902. The town was renamed Cook (after a local lumberman) because "Ashawa" was similar to the name of another town in Minnesota. Today, Cook remains closely tied to the same forest products industry that helped shape the town one hundred years ago.
Mining operations ended in 1962, with the last stockpiled ore shipping the following year. U.S. Steel Corporation donated the mine and surrounding lands - including shoreline along Lake Vermilion - to the State of Minnesota in 1963. That same year, the Minnesota Legislature created Tower-Soudan State Park (now called the Soudan Underground Mine State Park). U.S. Steel made a second donation of land in 1965 which is also part of the current park. In 1966, the Soudan Mine was designated a National Historic Landmark.
Starting in 1979, the Division of Parks and Recreation began working with the University of Minnesota concerning the use of the Soudan Underground Mine as a laboratory for physics research. The mine offers a unique research environment. The depth of the mine shields equipment from cosmic radiation and other high - energy interference that would hamper data collection. Also, the age of the surrounding rock means it emits virtually no radioactive particles of its own. The first physics experiment, intended to observe proton decay, began operating in the mid-1980s in a cavern carved at the mine's 27th level. A second experiment - called Cryogenic Dark Matter Search or CDMS II - also operates Neutrino Oscillation Search or MINOS experiment. The experiment detectors were assembled underground.
Tower made national news in 1996 when, around 9 AM on February 2, a new Minnesota record for the coldest official temperature ever recorded was set. The -60 degrees Fahrenheit record still stands
TOWER CEMETERY RECORDS ONLINE
There are on-going efforts to update this site and people doing research should check back periodically for newly posted information.
To View the current records simply click the picture on the right or