An Abandoned Town: The Story of Taconite Harbor

Back in The Day: Taconite Town, Turned Ghost Town in a Matter of 30 Years

“It was really a bustling area, there was also a wood products industry here at the time, besides the tourism industry.”

If you take a trip up Highway 61 along the North Shore of Minnesota, history whispers in the waves.

“As a kid, we could go down and watch them build the plant, we could watch them take out the rock,” said Schroeder Resident Skip Lamb.

With every scoop, inches of an industry was being built.

“For me it was great, I mean I was a kid, I was in sixth grade or seventh grade, and we were waiting for the boom again,” said Lamb.

Skip, knows many secrets of the land near Schroeder.  

“They had to build the coffer dams; they had to remove tons of rocks to get the 30 foot depth so the ships could come in.”

Sights and sounds, this native Northlander will never forget.

“My father took me on a trip to the bottom of Taconite Harbor when the coffer dams had kept out Lake Superior so they could excavate the rock,” said Lamb.

The Town of Taconite Harbor. Chances are, mention of the name doesn’t ring a bell for many.

“We had 500 plus trailers down here at Taconite Harbor, they had a whole village at Taconite Harbor.”

A village, with a view. Skip recalls the area being a fun place to be a kid, adding you were only two steps from the wilderness.

Brandon Drive was home to 24 homes, built by Erie Mining Company.

Back in the day, hundreds called Taconite Harbor home. Now, there are no more traces of taconite to be found in the blanketed “Ghost Town.”

“Most of this follows the steel market, so when the steel market crashes, they cut back on taconite production, when the steel market is enhanced, and there’s big demand, obviously the demand for taconite goes back up,” said Lamb.

With a pricetag of $300 million dollars, Erie Mining Company ramped up shipping production after completing construction in 1955. Taconite shipped down to the shore from a facility in Hoyt Lakes, Minnesota.

“At the time I would work in the store, this was also a store,” Lamb recalled.

Skip, now stands in history at the Cross River Heritage Center along Highway 61, just a short distance north from the ghost town.

“In the morning, I would wait here for the bus and sell cigarettes and gloves to the newcomers of the Taconite Town,” said Lamb. “Taconite is still a boom and bust, and steel is still a boom and bust industry.”

Year after year, the mining industry continued on its fickle future. Taconite Harbor reached its peak in 1981, producing 200 million tons of Taconite per year. But it wasn’t always fun int he filth.

“We lost the families that lived here,” said Lamb.

In 1986, the boom town, quickly started turning into a ghost town. Hundreds of folks, forced to move as demand for steel declined. Erie Mining Company, sold their production to LTV steel.

“Once all of this downsizing started, they basically sold the 24 homes and moved them away, they took those 24 families out of this Schroeder, Tofte community,” said Lamb.

Twenty-five miles down the road, a new adventure was just beginning.

“I moved to the area in 1979 and it was like the Alaska Pipeline,” said Silver Bay Mayor Scott Johnson.

Coming to Silver Bay, back in the day, for a job. Thirty-seven years later, Scott Johnson is the Mayor of this neighboring boom town.

“Silver Bay is a wonderful place to raise a family, with the opportunities for kids and the education,” said Johnson.

Much like Taconite Harbor, Silver Bay was built for business.

“We had not ever really thought of leaving the area,” said Johnson.

But it wasn’t the future plan for many. Reserve Mining Company pushed into the North Shore wilderness in the early 1950s.

“I worked at the plant for about six to nine months when I was in college and I ran out of money,” said Johnson.

Mayor Johnson, hiring on at the plant, in a pinch. At the time, the mine employed nearly four times as many employees as it does now; only 60 years later.

“In 1986, the plant went bankrupt and essentially went out of business and that was absolutely devastating,” said Johnson.

The demand for steel once again, taking a tumble. Young residents, leaving in droves. Some were never seen again.

Thirty years of hard work and dedication, shipping over 200 million tons of taconite from the North Shore.

“One in three homes was for sale, foreclosed, or abandoned,” said Johnson.

Mayor Johnson remembers seeing the town, change quickly. Many were forced to find new sources of income as they continued to raise families. Others, leaving the land, for good.

“People that have been around, we are used to the ups and downs,” said Johnson.