Iron Range, Minnesota – Home on the Range – by Molly Enich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

Iron Range, Minnesota – Home on the Range – by Molly Enich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and


[First picture: Chisholm High School, built 1912]

“Cabin country” is what people from the Twin Cities refer to the area north of Duluth as. However, this isn’t cabin country to me. It’s where I was born and raised. The Iron Range is a streak of iron ore-rich land that stretches 110 miles from Grand Rapids to Ely. More than twenty small towns with an average population of 3,000 people each are strung along the line of ore that is mined for steel. The red dirt and scarred land from more than 100 years of open-pit ore mining are telltale signs you are on the Iron Range.

Iron ore, which is the raw material for steel, was discovered on the Iron Range in the late 1800’s. The area was first mined underground, but then transitioned to open-pit mining in the early 1900’s. Years of open pit mining have created towering piles of rejected iron ore and huge “pits” that are now filled with water.

The Iron Range’s mining industry has always been globally connected. The area was the main producer of ore that was shipped to steel mills throughout both world wars. Between 1941 and 1945, the Iron Range produced 338 million tons of ore, which accounted for 90% of the nation’s output. The area grew to its fullest capacity during the war, but when it ended, the region started its slow decline. The high grade iron ore supply was finally depleting after nearly 100 years of steady mining, so the mines switched to mining a lower grade ore called taconite. With only 6 remaining mines on the Range today, the area still produces 50% of the nation’s ore. However, the mining industry is vulnerable to national and global economic cycles.


[Second Picture: Downtown Chisholm where nearly 1/3rd of the buildings are empty]

National and global demands for iron ore cause cycles of boom and bust on the Iron Range. Because the mining industry dominates the local economy, every business is affected by the mines highs and lows. If production in the mines is increased, the whole economy receives a boost and businesses flourish. However, if the mines lay off their workers, local grocery stores, shops, and businesses feel the effects as well. Because the mines have been in a steady decline for over 15 years, downtown businesses have closed leaving the main streets of towns nearly empty.

With few opportunities for jobs that aren’t involved with the mining industry, many people move to larger cities in search of more opportunities. Since 1982, the population has declined by nearly 20,000 people. Empty houses, streets, and storefronts make some towns feel abandoned. There are also more young people moving away from the Iron Range, which has caused class sizes at local schools to decline by 60%.

I graduated from Chisholm High School in 2014 with a class of 38 people. I knew everyone’s middle name, their dog’s name, and what their hobbies were. Although we were a very small school, it was fun to know everyone as well as I did. The teachers I had throughout high school were some of the same ones that taught my parents. Even while I was in class, there was no forgetting what the local industry was. Every Wednesday at 11:30, our 100-year-old school would rumble and shake from the aftershocks of the nearby mine’s blasting the ground to expose more iron ore.


[Third Picture: Pillsbury mine pit near Chisholm]

Even though the Iron Range is in a state of steady economic and population decline, it was a great place to grow up. It has a small town feel where everyone knows your last name or who your grandparents are. It’s a land full of hundreds of lakes and acres of untouched forests that comes to life in the summer with tourists and cabin-goers. The Iron Range is home to many diverse people, but they all share a connection to the region’s mining culture.

Please contact Professor Liang if you wish to write for The North Star Reports — HLIANG (at)

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The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy ( is a student edited and student authored open access publication centered around the themes of global and historical connections. Our abiding philosophy is that those of us who are fortunate enough to receive an education and to travel our planet are ethically bound to share our knowledge with those who cannot afford to do so. Therefore, creating virtual and actual communities of learning between college and K-12 classes are integral to our mission. In five semesters we have published 200 articles covering all habitable continents and a variety of topics ranging from history and politics, food and popular culture, to global inequities to complex identities. These articles are read by K-12 and college students. Our student editors and writers come from all parts of the campus, from Nursing to Biology, Physical Therapy to Business, and remarkably, many of our student editors and writers have long graduated from college. We also have writers and editors from other colleges and universities. In addition to our main site, we also curate a Facebook page dedicated to annotated news articles selected by our student editors ( This is done by an all volunteer staff. We have a frugal cash budget, and we donate much of our time and talent to this project. We are sponsored by St. Scholastica’s Department of History and Politics and by the scholarly Middle Ground Journal: World History and Global Studies (

For a brief summary, please see the American Historical Association’s Perspectives on History, at:

Hong-Ming Liang, Ph.D., Editor-in-Chief and Publisher, The North Star Reports; Chief Editor, The Middle Ground Journal; Associate Professor of History and Politics, The College of St. Scholastica.

Kathryn Marquis Hirsch, Managing Editor, The North Star Reports.

(c) 2012-present The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy ISSN: 2377-908X The NSR is sponsored and published by Professor Hong-Ming Liang, NSR Student Editors and Writers, The Department of History and Politics of The College of St. Scholastica, and the scholarly Middle Ground Journal. See Masthead for our not-for-profit educational open- access policy. K-12 teachers, if you are using these reports for your classes, please contact editor-in-chief Professor Liang at HLIANG (at)


Filed under Molly Enich, North Star Student Editors, Professor Hong-Ming Liang

38 responses to “Iron Range, Minnesota – Home on the Range – by Molly Enich. The North Star Reports: Global Citizenship and Digital Literacy, at and

  1. Holly Kampa

    Molly, thank you for sharing! It’s sad to see towns going from being so flourishing to destitute. It’s interesting how the iron range supplies over 50% of the nations iron ore, yet the mining industry is taking a turn for the worse and people are losing their jobs. Is there another reason for this, are we starting to use other resources? I know that things aren’t made like they used to be. Production quantity is increasing as quality is decreasing. I wish there was some other way to revitalize these small towns and to create more job opportunities. Thanks again for sharing.

    • Molly Enich

      Thank you! The main reason the mining industry is declining is due to a decreased demand for domestically made steel. Foreign steel, particularly Chinese steel, is cheaper so many companies are purchasing their steel from China over the US.

  2. Matthew R Breeze

    Thank you for this article! I am from Bemidji and we often get referred to as cabin country as well and it gets under my skin sometimes because it is a home for many people. The Range is a culture all of its own, unique in Minnesota and the whole country. I am glad you have taken the time to showcase the Range as a place that many people make a home out of where ties to the land are made obvious by the mines huge open pits.

  3. Sarah Burton

    Thank you for sharing Molly! I have only visited the range once or twice, so I do not know much about it. Hopefully there will be a different opportunity to bring in jobs for people so that the various communities do not completely die out. I have heard many stories about some of the different cultural aspects and it would be a shame to lose that. It is unfortunate that many people are being laid off from the mining industry. Hopefully things will work out on the range!

  4. Emily Ciernia

    Thank you for sharing, Molly! I am not from the Iron Range and have only visited a few times, so I don’t know very much about it. But I think that the sense of community that you described so well, is very endearing. I graduated with about 600 people in my high school class, and I didn’t even know everyone’s name when they had their name called. I think that it is really interesting how you class of 38 people were so close, and everybody in the town too. Thanks again for sharing!

  5. Rachel Reicher

    Thank you so much for sharing! I rarely heard of the Iron Range growing up besides what I had learned in history class. I grew up in Southern Minnesota where mining is not seen. It was only when I came to college at CSS did I begin to really get a sense of what the Iron Range was. I have many friends who grew up on the range as well, and their stories can definitely resemble the ones you shared. I grew up in a very small town of 1500 people, so knowing everybody in your town is one thing I can relate to in this article. I wish I would have visited the range while mining was still booming. Thank you for sharing once again!

  6. Catherine McConnell

    This is a really great article; not only did I learn about the Iron Range I felt for your home town and wished I could save it myself. It reminded me of my parents home town, a small town in southern Illinois that used to be populated with farmers but now the high school is now gone because there are not enough kids to have one there from the families moving out after they sell their farm because of foreign competition lowering the prices than what they can manage. I would spend endless summer days in this town wishing to be back in my home town, a suburb of Chicago. Even though I was only there for a couple of months at a time in the summer everyone knew my name, knew who my parents were and knew where my Grandparents lived. I appreciate this small town culture more than I ever realized and it breaks my heart to see this town, and other like it suffering from foreign competition.

  7. Sofia Pineda

    Based on my understanding, the reason the demand for ore is so low right now is due to the high steel production in China. They are able to sell the material for a cheaper price and they pay their workers salaries that are very low compared to those of the Minnesota miners. I think it s fascinating to see how dependent the US’s economy is regarding China. Do you think the ore industry will recover anytime soon and economically boost the Iron Range?

  8. From living in Duluth for almost three years, coming from England, it is always great to hear stories about Minnesota and especially the mining culture. Every time I visit the Range with friends they are always excited to tell me about the mines and the pits. I come from north London, so our high school days and community life must differ quite a bit! I can only begin to imagine what it must have been like to grow up in a small town; I guess I’ll never really know! But I can understand how troubling it must be for those in your community who are suffering from competition in the mining industry.

  9. Nancy Thao

    I have never really learned or heard much about the Iron Range until I came up to Duluth. I am glad to learn more about a part of Minnesota. One thing I find fascinating about your article is how big of an impact the mining industry has in the village. It shows how everything interrelates to one another.

  10. Kyle Dosan

    Thank you for this wonderful article. The Iron Range is a place that I am familiar with because many of my relatives live there (Eveleth and Virginia). Every time that I go and visit the Range I always feel welcomed by all the friendly people in the area. It is sad to see that the economy is slowing down and people are losing jobs. Hopefully this can be fixed and can restore the Iron Range for many years to come.

  11. Jodi Moran

    As bad as this might be, I had never heard of the Iron Range until I moved up to Duluth this year. Not originally from Minnesota, and then moving to the cities, I was completely oblivious to the Iron Range. I graduated from high school with a class size of roughly 400, and I thought that was small! I can’t imagine only 38. It is kind of cool that you knew everyone and had that connection with them, that is something that you will never forget. Thanks for sharing your article!

  12. Thomas Landgren

    Thank you for sharing Molly! It is amazing how close the town of Chisholm is. In elementary and middle school i had the same experience as you may eight grade class was 32 people and we all knew each other like we were distant relatives and i feel like it gave me a unique and better education experience. You touched base on the idea that everything is connected and that seems so scary if you are a small business owner up on the range because you don’t really know if this year or the next will be your last, it all depends on the mines. Thank you again for sharing!

  13. Martti Maunula

    In World History we’ve talked about and mentioned the Iron Range specifically when discussing jobs and how unlikely it is that we will all have the job that we intend to get our degree for. With jobs changing as quickly as they are it is concerning to see what will happen to these Northern Minnesota communities. Change is very likely in some form whether it be most of the locals move away or they find new ways of supporting their families. There is talk that mining will start up again at least partially, but there are both sides to that argument. It’s always helpful to see a more first-hand account though so that it is easier to empathize with those struggling with the mines being shut down. I wish them all the best and I look forward to seeing how this problem gets resolved.

  14. I didn’t know that the iron range supplied 50% of iron ore. When I was reading this I started thinking what happens when all the iron is gone? We use it to build and make many things. I think we should have started looking into new resources. However I am a supporter of the mining community and the fact that the mines are declining greatly saddens me because it affects many systems. It affects the towns in the iron range, where will they work now. What new jobs can be created on the iron range to support the next generation of iron rangers?

  15. Donovan Blatz

    Thank you for your story. It’s a shame that many historic towns are dying off with the loss of the mining industry. Many generations have lived in those towns and have lives that unfortunately have to pack up and leave their homes and jobs. I never went to a small high school so I didn’t get to know everyone in my school but it would be cool to know everyone and be able to connect with everyone. I hope the school will be able to stay open with such a decline in population.

  16. Connor

    Though I’ve lived in Duluth my entire life, I’ve only been up to the Iron Range a few times. I was never aware of the national relevance the Iron Range had concerning the production of ore, particularly during World War II. However, I remember hearing about layoffs on more than one occasion in the recent past. Do you have any predictions concerning the future of ore production in the United States? Is it expected to pick up again or continue declining?

  17. Samantha Wollin

    Thanks for your story!! I’m from Grand Rapids, and I felt like that was a small town, but our graduating class was around 250… I can’t imagine 38! A lot of my cousins live in Chisholm, so I’m familiar with that area! It’s sad to see that your town’s population is decreasing, and I wish there was a way to increase it! Thanks again for sharing!!!

  18. Jessica Richart

    Thank you Molly for sharing! I am also an Iron Ranger, so your article touched close to home for me. A lot of people wonder why we would ever like living in such a small town with so little to do, but the fact is that this will always be our home and where we grew up. It is sad for me to see the Iron Range struggling knowing how great it was to grow up in. I worry for all the families losing business. I wonder what it will be like another decade from now? There is just so much history throughout our small towns and I love that people come and visit. It really is beautiful “way up north!” Thank you again for sharing some of the history with us!

  19. I really enjoyed reading your article. I think it’s cool how an area like the Iron Range can connect the people in that area, whether it’s through the small population or the school shaking. Even growing up in Duluth, I know exactly what you’re talking about with the Iron Range being referred to as “cabin country.” Also, I never really got to experience the “small town” vibe. I think it’s cool how small towns are so close-knit and I think that’s why I like St. Scholastica so much. Thanks for sharing!

  20. Mike Zupfer

    It always stinks when a town is suffering due to economic reasons among others. I have gown up in a decent sized town in the cities. I am by no means one who loves to be in big crowds, however, i do not like when there are little to no people around either. Like so many have said already though, home is where we grew up and it will always be home no matter what kind of population there is. I hope that in the next few years, everything will be sorted out so we do not lose a valuable city in Minnesota.

  21. When I tell people my hometown they either have no idea where it is or say “oh, my family has a cabin there!” I’m from this area and used to live on the North Shore. I enjoyed reading your story about Chisolm, My grandpa grew up in Biwabik and actually worked as a steel worker until a strike caused him to lose his job. There is such a rich history in the Iron Range!

  22. Always good to read about the Iron Range from someone from there. Thanks for writing this! As you not early in your article, people from the Twin Cities or elsewhere see it as a vacation destination, not a critical economic area. I’ve been following the mining crisis a bit this past year and just read that 400 workers returned to work today. Hopefully this is a trend that continues!

  23. Breena Alfredson

    I felt as if I were reading something that I could have written, I am from the Iron Range as well! I find myself conflicted as I don’t wish hardship upon my community, I can’t help but challenge the notion that mining is the only way for the Iron Range to prosper. In addition, the politics behind the bleak economic environment is the result of a political economy. American steal is too expensive, so it would stand to reason, in a capitalist society, that producers would seek more cost efficient method, effectively not considering some human rights.

  24. McKenna Holman

    Being from a small town myself I definitely know what it is like to have people leaving for the bigger cities where jobs and larger schools with more opportunities. This is a struggle we have had back home in my town as well. It is unfortunate to see that with mining dominating the economy in the Iron Range and the need for iron is not what it used to be, that it brings the rest of the area down. I hope that in they can find a way to add more jobs to either the mining community or find a way to add more jobs in the area in general. I know first hand what being form a small town can be like, I hope that with such a full history in the Iron Range that somethings gives!

  25. Kalley Friederichs

    Molly, thanks for sharing some background of where you grew up with us! I come from the suburbs down in the cities and graduated with a little under 700 kids, so the thought of only graduating with 38 students is crazy to me. It is neat that your parents grew up in the area as well and did not leave. I feel like often once people grow up they end up venturing out of these small towns to areas that offer more jobs, especially with the decline in mining. I have lived in Minnesota my entire life, but have never been out on the range. I will have to come check it out sometime!

  26. Ashley Kittelson

    This past Saturday I had the opportunity to attend a panel discussion on jobs in Northern Minnesota. Panelists included, among others, a Minnesota state senator and city counselor from Virginia. The panel agreed that the mining jobs on the Iron Range are not sustainable or reliable. However, the moderator pointed out that governments cannot just “create” jobs. They can encourage investment from companies from certain policies, but they do not control where and if companies hire new workers. Currently there is not a significant investment from corporations to create the number of jobs demanded in the region. It is unfortunate that there are not more jobs available because I understand the connection and commitment in small towns.

  27. Brandon Pickeral

    Thank you for sharing this. I am relatively new to the Iron Range (Coleraine since 2012) and it is nice to get some history about the area. Having an outsiders view of the Iron Range and the mining industry, I must say that I struggle to understand the undying devotion of the people to mining. Just in the last few years, I have seen two mining companies buy pits/land, start operations, promise hundreds of jobs to the local community, lay people off, and close operations down. It strikes me that the industry does not have any loyalty or concern for the people of the range, and I wish that there was another way to provide quality sustainable employment in the area. The people and communities of the Iron Range deserve better in my opinion.

  28. Angela Pecarina

    Thanks for sharing Molly! I am from Virginia so I definitely understand when you mentioned you knew everyone in your graduating class. The Range was once booming and it sadly is diminishing now. I wish I was around to see what it was like up there while the mines were at their peak. Although a small community and not much to do, it is a tight knit group of people that I wouldn’t change.

  29. Andrew Bailey

    Hello Molly, fascinating to read your article on mining in the Iron Range, especially after the tariffs that have been implemented by the Trump administration on Steel and Aluminum imports this past summer and following the debate in the 2018 midterm elections on jobs and the future of the Iron Range (in terms of the 8th Congressional District candidates weighing in). I am not too familiar with the Iron Range region, but my family lived in a small town (population ~4,000) in Northern Maine, right on the Canadian border. In Fort Kent, Maine where I lived and in Madawaska, Maine (recognized as one of the four corners in the United States) where my parents are from, the paper industry was booming until about 10-15 years ago. Most of the mills have downsized and many families have left the area. It is disappointing to see the populations in these areas decrease and people seek opportunity for employment and education elsewhere. I also agree, for the short time that I lived in a smaller town before moving to Wisconsin, that the sense of community and proximity was like nothing I have experienced anywhere else (except for the community at CSS).

  30. Kendra Trudeau

    Being that I’m from a smaller town in south-west Minnesota, before I moved to Duluth for college, I had never met anybody from the Iron Range. In the last year I’ve been hear I’ve made a few friends from the Range and I’ve heard many stories about what it’s like to grow up there! I think the Iron Ranges decline in production is a sad but almost inevitable event that happens in a lot in smaller towns. And not only in mining towns. In my hometown of Hutchinson, we have a tech company that once employed thousands of people, but because of the economic crisis of 2008, at least a third of the tech company was laid off. This company around the same time built a factory in Thailand and outsourced much of it’s production labor to save money. Thanks for sharing, I found this article really interesting and relatable.

  31. Nicholas Burski

    I grew up not far from the range and through high school sports, I visited there often. I enjoy the small town feel where it seems everyone is friendly when you talk to them. I was surprised at the facts about the amount of product that the range was capable of putting out. I had always figured that it contributed an almost insignificant amount to the world. The fact that it supplied around 90% of the ore during world wars is astonishing! Makes me a little proud even though I am not from the range even! Hopefully the industry can maintain the jobs of its current employees despite the decline over the last few decades. Thank you for the informative article!

  32. Molly,

    Thank you for sharing about your hometown. I’ve been in Duluth for nearly four years now, and have been up to The Range several times. The orange valleys and the sites where water and trees have sprung back up are truly remarkable. But yes, being completely vulnerable to the global economy in a boom and bust market is difficult to sustain for too long.
    Do you see any economic alternatives in your native area? Do you think sulfide mining is the way to go in order to continue the industry?


  33. Audrey Tusken

    Dear Molly, thank you for such an informative article. I grew up in Duluth near railroad tracks that I presume run to Virginia or further. My cousins and I spent a lot of time playing in the woods behind them and collecting stray taconite pellets, for some odd reason. I had no idea that there is a difference between taconite and iron ore.
    There is no doubt about the importance of the Iron Range to both Northern Minnesota’s economy, and that of the entire nation. I have visited the Range many times and my grandmother grew up in Eveleth, but I never fully understood the workings of the industry until now.
    I think it is very important to understand the way of life of people that are unlike ourselves. Although mining today is often seen as unfriendly to the environment, we forget that there are actual humans making a living off of it.

  34. Mykaila Peters

    This article was very interesting and I think more people should know the history of the area. Thank you for sharing. I can relate to a lot of what you wrote as I am also from a small town that once boomed during its mining years and is now left seemingly abandoned with young people moving to bigger cities to get jobs and local stores closing down. People talk all the time how there once was a department store, ice cream stores, movie theaters, a bakery, several banks, candy shops and multiple grocery stores. Now there is one restaurant that is open only three days a week and a grocery store that sells outdated food and loses more money than it makes. It is sad to see and I think people have learned the cost of mining both environmentally and economically much more thoroughly now.

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