A Company Town: The Story of Silver Bay
Back in The Day: Combining Taconite With Tourism
Mining operations have kept Northeastern Minnesota alive for decades. It’s no easy task, dealing with filthy working conditions, intensive labor, and life-threatening situations. But often, those aren’t the biggest worries on the mind of workers.
In Part Two of “Back in the Day,” we take you to one city by the bay, still thriving after six decades in the mining industry.
“When I was little on the farm, I didn’t know very many people because there wasn’t many people here. I lived here before Silver Bay even did,” said Jenny Hanson, a resident of Silver Bay, Minnesota.
Jenny, is a North Shore native.
“We used to laugh at our little school and say if nobody else came along we would be marrying our cousins.”
A joyful joke, quickly turned around with the building of Reserve Mining Company.
“When I was 10 years old, I lived up where the golf course is now,” said Hanson.
A family homestead, passed down by grandma and grandpa.
“Our family moved down on the Shore into a little house that was already bought by Reserve,” said Hanson.
Although Taconite Harbor [25 miles north] eventually closed up shop, the City of Silver Bay was just getting started.
Jenny recalls, “My dad always said, stay no higher than the top of that hill, because if you get down below there, it’s all solid woods and you’re going to get lost. And that’s where this town is today!”
Originally known as “Townsite” to natives of the land, before the mining boom turned it into Silver Bay. Jenny remembers the land being rich with fresh blueberries.
“I know that the farmers and stuff inland were approached first because they had the biggest pieces of land,” said Hanson.
Reserve Mining, quickly purchased from locals in the early 1950s
“Reserve Mining Company built our schools here. It was kind of exciting to see a town being built where there used to be a big valley and some good hunting grounds,” said Hanson.
Many newcomers, moving in from the Eastern Coast. Jenny remembers many Pennsylvanians relocating for the mine, and the money.
“To move into new houses, that nobody had ever lived in, and drive on streets that had no cracks or holes. Everything was new!”
“We had a large family and the money was good,” said Lillian Miller, a longtime resident of Silver Bay.
Lillian and her husband Jim, moved the the Bay, back in 1957.
“That’s right, we raised 13 kids in here,” said Miller.
A good life, in a three-bedroom home. At the time, homes were selling fast, with a pricetag of $8,000 dollars. The average monthly payment, costing only sixty bucks.
“The kids came one at a time and well what do you say? Move over you have a brother coming to sleep with you and that’s it!”
“We bought a home here, the rest is just how life happens,” said Hanson.
Rocky Taconite moved to Silver Bay back in 1964. He was built to welcome visitors to the City, and also symbolize the importance of taconite in the area.
“We never got rich, but we had a good living,” said Miller.
Hundreds living life, in a Company Town.
Lillian says, “We lived payday to payday, and Jim always found extra work. When the big strike was on, he went out to Indiana and cut brush and stuff; we managed.”
Managing until the mining roller coaster took a downward spiral. Reserve Mining filed bankruptcy in 1986. After three years of struggling, Cyprus Mining opened the operation back up in 1989. Owner Cleveland Cliffs now runs the downsized operation, after purchasing in 1994.
“Some came and were here for a year, and some came and are still here,” said Hanson.
“This is my home, and I know how these old people feel when they don’t want to leave their home, because I don’t want to leave my home. Living is cheap up here, so no reason I shouldn’t stay,” said Miller.
“We always are knocking on wood,” said Silver Bay Mayor Scott Johnson.
A stern knock, toward the next step in mining news.
“This latest set of layoffs were very scary, because we didn’t see an end to it, and our legislators stepped up to the plate, including the President, and started enforcing tariffs,” said Johnson.
For the residents of Silver Bay, production continues for pellets. As for Taconite Harbor, only 25 miles north on Highway 61, only birds continue to soar, bringing some life back to the now desolate Company Town.
Mayor Johnson tells FOX 21 News, the City still receives financial assistance from the CLIFFS Foundation. He says the recent opening of a popular destination known as “Black Beach” which was once maintained by the mine, is bringing more revenue into the City.
In the future, Johnson hopes to see more businesses boom in the Company Town.