Former Miners Create Book to Preserve Mining History

Northland Uncovered: Erie Mining Company

HOYT LAKES, Minn. – A three-year-long project is highlighting the hard work and legacy of a taconite plant that helped build a town.

Former employees from Erie Mining Company are working together on a new project.

They’ve been researching a writing a book detailing the beginning and end of the taconite plant.

“We’re dying off. If we don’t do it now, ten years from now, somebody will try to start this, it just couldn’t happen. It has to be done, and we think we’ve got a story to tell,” said Daniel DeVaney who worked at the plant for nearly 40 years.

The book will cover the entire life of the plant, “the pioneering work, the construction of the plant, operation of the plant, and finally the end of the plant,” explained Ronald Hein, who worked at the plant for nearly 30  years.

Hein is the co-project manager for the book and believes this project needs to be done now.

“If we don’t tell the story it’s gonna be lost, it’s gonna be lost,” said Hein.

More than 135 oral interviews have been done to ensure this part of the Iron Range’s development is never forgotten.

“We came up with the patents on the shaft furnace and a lot of the process was patented by Erie Mining Company,” said DeVaney.

The company was started, in part, by Daniel DeVaney’s father, Fred D. DeVaney.

The U.S. Bureau of Mines hired him in 1941 to start a laboratory in Hibbing to test lean ore.

A pilot plant was set up within the laboratory with test sized equipment, then came a preliminary taconite plant North of Aurora, followed by an investment of $300 million to build a commercial plant North of Hoyt Lakes.

“For companies to commit that kind of money to a project that’s not fully developed was a big risk,” explained Hein.

The commercial plant opened in 1957 and it was a constant work in progress.

“It was a continual upgrading as we went along, modifying equipment as we went,” said DeVaney.

The move and production changed the landscape of the Iron Range for the better.

“You could buy a house there if you worked there, I think it was three months with Erie, and it would cost you $400 down,” said DeVaney.

New houses weren’t the only new thing you’d see.

“They built a shopping center there, they built a whole town. We had a bowling alley, we had it all,” DeVaney remembered.

All the people filling the town and plant are what DeVaney remembers most.

“It takes people to run a place like that and you find out a lot about people and I guess you find out a lot about yourself, too,” DeVaney said.

A traveling exhibit will be on display at the St. Louis County Historical Society on March 6.

Once the book is finished, 2,700 will be distributed to Minnesota schools for free.

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