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- For the former USAF Bomber base in North Queensland and the National Park, See Iron Range, Australia
The Iron Range is an informal and unofficially designated region that makes up the northeastern section of Minnesota in the United States. It is a region with multiple distinct bands of iron ore. The far eastern area, containing the Duluth Complex along the shore of Lake Superior, and the far northern area, along the Canadian border, of the region are not associated with iron ore mining. Due to its shape, the area is collectively referred to as the Arrowhead region of the state.
The Iron Range and its economy
- Mesabi Range, the largest iron range, largely within Itasca and Saint Louis counties;
- Vermilion Range, northeast of the Mesabi, in Saint Louis and Lake counties;
- Gunflint Range is in the extreme northern portion of Cook County and extends into Canada; and
- Cuyuna Range, southwest of the Mesabi, largely within Crow Wing County.
The large size of the Mesabi Range leads many Minnesotans to equate it directly with the Iron Range, in exclusion of the other, smaller ranges.
The Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB), sometimes known simply as "the I-triple-R-B" or Iron Range Resources, is an economic development agency funded partly by taxes levied by the state on taconite-producing companies and charged with creating jobs.
Prior to the 19th century, the area that would become the Iron Range was inhabited mainly by Native American groups. The area was the site of intensive logging operations during the 19th century.
The history of mining on the Iron Range began in the late 19th century following a report that there were deposits of gold on the shores of Lake Vermilion. Although miners never found commercially valuable amounts of gold in the region, the reports led to an increase in the region's population. Iron ore was first discovered in the northern Vermilion iron range, where underground mines developed to remove the valuable ore. The discovery of hematite on the large Mesabi range cemented the area's position as the foremost source for iron ore throughout the early 20th century. Iron mining operations on the Mesabi range took place in enormous open pit mines where steam shovels and other industrial machines could remove massive amounts of ore. Amid worries that the rich hematite ore would give out, mining operations turned to low grade taconite as a source of iron ore in the second half of the 20th century.
The Iron Range contains several smaller cities. Some of the more significant communities in the region include:
- Aitkin (pop. 2,165) is located on the eastern edge of the Cuyuna Range. Aitkin was the birthplace of stage and film actor Warren William.
- Babbitt (pop. 1,475)
- Bovey (pop. 804) is located along U.S. Highway 169 between Coleraine and Taconite. Bovey was the birthplace of NHL goaltender Adam Hauser, San Francisco politician Richard Hongisto, and Eric Enstrom – photographer of the famous 1918 photograph "Grace."
- Buhl (pop. 1,000) is located along U.S. Highway 169 between Chisholm and Virginia. Buhl is known for its fine water and claims "The Finest Water in America" on its water tower.
- Chisholm (pop. 4,976) is the geographic center of the Mesabi Range, home of the Chisholm Bluestreaks. It is the home of Minnesota Discovery Center, the Minnesota Museum of Mining, and the Iron Range Research Center. Archibald "Moonlight" Graham, subject of the motion picture "Field of Dreams" settled in Chisholm. The motion picture "North Country" was also partly filmed in Chisholm.
- Coleraine (pop. 1,970) is referred to as the "start place of the Iron Range." The town was built in the early 20th century to accommodate the miners of the Oliver Iron Mining's Canisteo Mine. John Greenway was the superintendent of the mine; Greenway School District in Coleraine is named for him.
- Crosby (pop. 2,386) is an old mining boomtown on the southwestern edge of the Iron Range, home of the Crosby-Ironton Rangers.
- Duluth (pop. 86,265) The fourth largest city in the state, while not part of the Iron Range, is a destination for much of its product. The port of Duluth allows for the iron ore to be easily shipped through the Great Lakes system. Recently tourism has become more prominent in the local economy. While not a mining town, its prominence as a major shipping port for the Iron Range warrants its mention here.
- Deerwood (pop. 529) Mining engineer Cuyler Adams discovered the Cuyuna Range near Deerwood in 1895.
- Ely (pop. 3,460), in the Vermillion Range, is perhaps best known as the most popular entry point for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness.
- Eveleth (pop. 3,718) is where U.S. Senator Paul Wellstone and seven others died in a plane crash in 2002 two miles away from the municipal airport. It also the site of the conflict that resulted in the Supreme Court case Jenson v. Eveleth Taconite Co. and the film North Country. It is also home of the United States Hockey Hall of Fame.
- Grand Rapids (pop. 10,869) is named for the local rapids in the Mississippi River, which was the uppermost limit of practical steamboat travel during the late 19th century. Today, those rapids are hidden underneath the dam of the Blandin Paper Mill, which has its papermaking facilities in downtown Grand Rapids. The city is considered to lie on the westernmost edge of the Mesabi Range. The current economy has a large tourist footing, with many local resorts, golf courses, and regional hunting and fishing. Grand Rapids is the birthplace of entertainer Judy Garland.
- Gilbert (pop. 1,799) is home of one of Minnesota's most well known off-highway vehicle parks. It is also the location of Lake Ore-be-gone, which is actually an artificial lake created by flooding three open-pit iron ore mines.
- Hibbing (pop. 16,361) is the largest city by area in the state of Minnesota and is the former boyhood home of Bob Dylan, basketball great Kevin McHale and the location of the Hull-Rust-Mahoning Open Pit Iron Mine, is one of the largest open pit iron mines in the world. Hibbing is also the birthplace of Roger Maris.
- Kinney (pop. 169) is an old mining boomtown on the Iron Range, located between Buhl and Mountain Iron.
- Mountain Iron (pop. 2,869) is home to Minntac, the world's largest taconite processing plant.
- Nashwauk (pop. 983) is a small town between Grand Rapids and Hibbing, 4 miles from Keewatin. There are a few pit lakes in the area that now hold bass, lake trout, and northern pike. Currently (2010), Essar Minnesota Steel LLC is constructing a new direct-reduction steel producing facility north of town. It is a first for the Iron Range, as it will have blast furnaces on-site to produce steel from the mining of taconite.
- Soudan is an unincorporated community in Breitung Township, Saint Louis County. It is located immediately east of the city of Tower on Minn.Highway 169 / Minn.Highway 1, where the area school and business district are located. It is the home of the Soudan Underground Mine State Park which contains the University of Minnesota's Soudan Underground Laboratory which houses detectors, including MINOS, over 700 meters below the surface of the Earth.
- Taconite (pop. 360) named after the taconite pellets from iron ore was a town many miners lived in. The town recently celebrated its centennial year and is famous for its rich hockey tradition.
- Two Harbors (pop. 3,745) is the county seat of Lake County, Minnesota along the shore of Lake Superior. The town was historically an important port for loading and shipping iron ore from the Range. However, like Duluth, Two Harbors is not itself a mining town.
- Virginia (pop. 8,712), perched next to the Rouchleau mine pit which is nearly three miles long, a half-mile wide and 450 feet deep. Virginia is the major retail shopping center of the northern part of the Iron Range, and has the Thunderbird Mall. Four miles north of Virginia is the Laurentian Divide, which separates the watershed of the streams that flow north to the Arctic Ocean from the watershed of the streams that flow southeast through the Great Lakes to the Atlantic Ocean. The motion picture "North Country" was also partly filmed in Virginia, notably the courthouse sequences.
- Winton (pop 172). Once several times larger than Ely, Winton sits just 3 miles north of Ely, and was once home to a very large lumber mill and was a lumber boomtown.
The area has a recognizably Italian, Slavic, and Scandinavian heritage. A strong Midwestern Minnesota accent is present in the area, especially among the older part of the populace, hence the popular nickname, "Da Range". See also North Central American English. Ice hockey is a predominant sport in the region, which has produced several NHL players as well as all three members of the "Iron line" from the 1980 U.S.A. Hockey Miracle on Ice team.
Bob Dylan memorialized the Iron Range in the 1963 song North Country Blues, a lament portraying hard times in the region. Presented in his 1964 album The Times They Are a-Changin', it includes such lines as:
- So the mining gates locked and the red iron rotted
- And the room smelled heavy from drinking
- When the sad, silent song made the hour twice as long
- As I waited for the sun to go sinking 
The rural area has remained a Democratic-Farmer-Labor Party stronghold because of its history of a largely unionized workforce in the mining industry, the mainstay of the economy of the Iron Range. In 2004, John Kerry carried most of the counties in the region by a comfortable margin. This was perhaps aided by George W. Bush referring to the area as the "Iron Ridge" in a campaign speech. Barack Obama outperformed Kerry in 2008, carrying every county in the Iron Range. The area remains the greatest Democratic stronghold in Minnesota along with the urban centers of Minneapolis and St. Paul.
The region is known for unrelentingly harsh winters, and pleasant, albeit mosquito-infested summers. The average year-round temperature is in the 30s °F (between about 2 °C and 4 °C). Temperatures below -40 °F/°C occur somewhere in the region during most winters. For example, statistics from the Midwestern Regional Climate Center climate summaries , record that Virginia, MN has a mean annual temperature of 38 °F, with an average January low temperature of -6.2 °F (about -21 °C) and July high of 77.4 °F (25 °C). Precipitation there averages 27 in (690 mm) annually and snowfall 53.2 in (135 cm). Near Lake Superior, the temperature differences are somewhat less extreme, but due to its proximity to the lake annual snowfalls over 100 inches are common.
- Iron Range attractions, recreation, tours & lodging
- Iron Range Beginnings with a map
- Mining Communities in Northeastern Minnesota with a map
- Mn DNR
- Minnesota Historical Society
- Iron Range Research Center Digital Collection Minnesota Reflections
- RangeCities.com - "The Hub of Minnesota's Iron Range!"
- Iron Range Resort Directory