|• Total||2.93 sq mi (7.59 km2)|
|• Land||2.92 sq mi (7.57 km2)|
|• Water||0.01 sq mi (0.02 km2)|
|Elevation||1,434 ft (437 m)|
| • Estimate |
|• Density||1,148.19/sq mi (443.33/km2)|
|Time zone||UTC-6 (Central (CST))|
|• Summer (DST)||UTC-5 (CDT)|
|GNIS feature ID||0661205|
Ely (// EE-lee) is a city in Saint Louis County, Minnesota, United States. The population was 3,460 at the 2010 census. It is located on the Vermilion Iron Range, and is historically home to several iron ore mines.
The main street of Ely is lined with outfitters, outdoor clothing stores, and restaurants. State Highway 1 (MN 1), State Highway 169 (MN 169) and County Road 21 (Central Avenue) are the main routes in Ely.
The first Europeans to explore the area were fur traders who made their way into the wilderness in search of furs. But it was the Lake Vermillion gold rush that brought the first large numbers of pioneers to the area in 1865. Although hardly any gold was ever found, it was discovered that the area did contain large deposits of iron ore. Thousands of new immigrants were arriving in America at that time, and many of them came to the area later to be known as the Minnesota Iron Range, looking for work.
When the Duluth, Missabe and Iron Range Railway laid tracks extending the rails from Tower to Ely in 1888, Ely began mining operations with the opening of the Chandler Mine. Ore was shipped by rail to docks on Lake Superior in Two Harbors and Duluth. From there it was shipped by lake freighter for processing in Ashtabula and other points in Ohio.
That year the miners incorporated the town of Florence, population 177, near the east side of Shagawa Lake on a site now known as Spaulding. The miners named their settlement Florence after the daughter of the Chandler mine's Captain Jack Pengilly (also the town's first mayor). After ore was discovered farther west, the town relocated, changing its name as well. Since it was discovered that the name “Florence” was already used by another village in Minnesota, "Ely” was chosen in honor of mining executive Samuel B. Ely, a big promoter of Vermilion Range ore who lived in Michigan. (He was never known to visit the namesake town.) In 2020, The Ely Echo writes:
- The name Ely stems from the “Isle of Eels,” a wetlands near Cambridge, England. In historic times,those lakes swarmed with the slithery fish (similar to eelpout) that provided sustenance for ancestors of Samuel B. Ely. His clan arrived in the states (from Ely, England) in the1600s (one ancestor was a close associate of George Washington). Samuel, a mining executive, financed the railroad to Ely in 1888 which launched our town. He embraced Ojibwe culture and applied native names to some of his mining projects, including Ontonagon (hunting river) & Ishpeming (heaven), Michigan. Samuel’s great grandson, Courtland Ely III, was Grand Marshal at Ely’s 1988 Centennial Parade, stayed with Schurkes at Wintergreen & was given keys to the city by Gov. Rudy Perpich (an Iron Ranger from Hibbing).
The original town site consisted of forty acres. The first grocery store was opened in a small log building by a man named McCormick. A. J. Fenske built the first frame building in the fall of 1887; he also opened a hardware and furniture store. The Pioneer Hotel was also built that year at the corner of Sheridan Street and Fourth Avenue. The first school was opened in 1889 in a small frame building on Second Avenue; the school attendance was 112 during the first season.
According to a history written in 1910, "The first religious service was conducted by Father Buh, who came from Tower for that purpose, and the Catholic congregation erected the first church. The first Protestant minister was Rev. Mr. Freeman, who arrived in time to hold an Easter service in 1889, and located here permanently, organizing the Presbyterian church. There are now six churches, representing as many different faiths. The first white child born in the place was Samuel Ely Polkinghorn."
Soon other mines were opened in Ely: The Pioneer Mine (1889), the Zenith (1892), the Savoy (1899), and the Sibley (1899). The Pioneer was by far the most productive, producing 41 million tons or 40 percent of the Vermilion Range's entire output. Eventually eleven mines opened near Ely. In 1967 the Pioneer mine closed. It is on the National Register of Historic Places and its offices now house the Ely Arts & Heritage Center.
Originally the mining was an open pit operation, but when the abundant ore was mined out, deep shafts were made to start mining underground. With the need for wooden support beams to keep the tunnels from collapsing, along with the need for lumber to meet the needs of the ever-expanding growth in the area, the logging and milling industry grew. Logging continues in the region, though on a limited scale and only for paper pulp—the major operations virtually disappeared by 1920 when the area's tree reserves were depleted. 
Ely is served by two community–oriented newspapers, the Ely Echo and the North Country Angler, and a radio station WELY. Ely is host to many community events located in Whiteside Park such as the Blueberry Arts Festival in July, the Harvest Moon Festival in September, and the Winter Festival in February. There is also an Ely-only artist gallery, Art & Soul Gallery.
In May 2012, Ely was threatened by a fast-moving wildfire started by a downed power line on Highway 1. Due to the rapid fire fighting response, including the use of airtankers, the fire was limited to 216 acres (0.338 sq mi; 87 ha) just outside town.
The post office In Ely contains two tempera on plaster murals, Iron-Ore Mines and Wildernesss, painted by Elsa Jemne in 1941. Federally commissioned murals were produced from 1934 to 1943 in the United States through the Section of Painting and Sculpture, later called the Section of Fine Arts, of the Treasury Department.
Geography and climate
On the Köppen climate classification, Ely falls in the warm summer humid continental climate zone (Dfb). Summertime is warm (sometimes hot) and wintertime is cold (sometimes severely cold) and drawn out, sometimes beginning in October and lasting well into April.
On February 13, 2021, Ely set a new daily state record low with an actual air temperature of -50F.
|Climate data for Ely, Minnesota (1991–2020 normals)|
|Record high °F (°C)||49
|Average high °F (°C)||15.2
|Daily mean °F (°C)||4.1
|Average low °F (°C)||−6.9
|Record low °F (°C)||−44
|Average precipitation inches (mm)||1.06
|Average snowfall inches (cm)||13.8
|Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in)||11.4||9.1||8.6||9.5||14.0||14.9||12.6||11.1||12.2||14.4||10.0||11.4||139.2|
|Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in)||12.1||8.7||5.7||3.2||0.4||0.0||0.0||0.0||0.0||2.1||6.8||11.7||50.7|
|Source 1: NOAA|
|Source 2: The Weather Channel (records)|
|U.S. Decennial Census|
As of the census of 2000, there were 3,724 people, 1,912 households, and 916 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,369.5 people per square mile (528.6/km2). There were 1,912 housing units at an average density of 703.2 per square mile (271.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 96.86% White, 0.86% African American, 0.54% Native American, 0.19% Asian, 0.30% from other races, and 1.26% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.67% of the population. 21.8% were of German, 12.2% Slovene, 11.7% Finnish, 8.7% Norwegian, 6.4% English, 5.6% Swedish and 5.4% Polish ancestry.
There were 1,912 households, out of which 21.4% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 41.6% were married couples living together, 8.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 45.9% were non-families. 39.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 21.1% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.05 and the average family size was 2.72.
In the city, the population was spread out, with 17.8% under the age of 18, 16.2% from 18 to 24, 21.6% from 25 to 44, 22.9% from 45 to 64, and 21.6% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 41 years. For every 100 females, there were 101.0 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 102.6 males.
The median income for a household in the city was $27,615, and the median income for a family was $36,047. Males had a median income of $34,559 versus $18,833 for females. The per capita income for the city was $16,855. About 9.5% of families and 14.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 10.9% of those under age 18 and 12.5% of those age 65 or over.
As of the census of 2010, there were 3,460 people, 1,681 households, and 814 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,267.4 inhabitants per square mile (489.3/km2). There were 2,022 housing units at an average density of 740.7 per square mile (286.0/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 95.9% White, 1.0% African American, 0.8% Native American, 0.7% Asian, 0.1% from other races, and 1.6% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.1% of the population.
There were 1,681 households, of which 19.1% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 37.1% were married couples living together, 8.4% had a female householder with no husband present, 2.9% had a male householder with no wife present, and 51.6% were non-families. 45.3% of all households were made up of individuals, and 19.8% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 1.93 and the average family size was 2.66.
The median age in the city was 45.3 years. 16% of residents were under the age of 18; 13.4% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 20.3% were from 25 to 44; 27.4% were from 45 to 64; and 22.9% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 49.7% male and 50.3% female.
Copper mining controversy
Since the 1960s as Iron Range iron mines began closing leaving only a few in operation, Ely, like many northern Minnesota communities, including Duluth, faced economic decline. Duluth, on the shores of Lake Superior, has successfully built a tourist trade which has helped to sustain their city's economy. Ely, seen as the gateway to the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness, has also developed a lively tourist trade. However, due to environmental concerns the area has recently seen controversy regarding a proposal to build a mining operation for copper just outside of the BWCAW. The company involved, Twin Metals Minnesota, is operated by a Chilean company, Antofagasta PLC. They say that they "plan to build modern mines that must go through a rigorous regulatory process before they can move forward." However, environmentalists are concerned that runoff from the mining operation could damage the BWCA wilderness area. The copper deposits that lie underneath the forests and lakes of northeastern Minnesota are encased in sulfide ore and when that is exposed it produces sulfuric acid which has resulted in severe water pollution in copper mines in several western U.S. areas.
There are many Minnesota wilderness hiking trails in the Ely area. Echo Trail (Saint Louis County Road 116), considered one of the most scenic trails in Minnesota, is a former logging road that runs north and west out of Ely and provides the primary access to the lakes of the western Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness (BWCAW). The trail is a 72 miles (116 km) road on asphalt and gravel through the wilderness of the Superior National Forest and Kabetogama State Forest. Numerous trailheads and canoe portages along the trail provide access to the BWCAW. A side trip passes north to the resort village of Crane Lake, a gateway to Voyageurs National Park. Special attractions include views of sharply rolling forest, lakes, wetlands, rivers, and granite crags in one of the most remote areas in the contiguous United States. Recreation opportunities include canoeing, fishing, cross-country skiing, snowmobiling, and primitive camping in the Superior National Forest and Boundary Waters. Wildlife includes bald eagles, ospreys, moose, bears, wolves, and beavers. The area also offers blueberry and other wild berry picking and wildflower viewing.
Trezona Trail offers historic views of the old iron ore mining operations that first brought new immigrants to the area. The trail passes through the Pioneer mining pit with views of the old mine shaft headframe and historic buildings. Hidden Valley trail, one mile east of Ely, passes through paper birch and white pine stands. Kawishiwi Falls Trail offers views of Kawishiwi Falls, a 70 ft. drop. The name Kawishiwi in Ojibwe language means “river full of beaver or muskrat houses”. Native Americans, explorers and voyageurs portaged around the falls. The watershed drains from the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and flows 2,000 miles north to Hudson Bay. Bass Lake Trail, a 5.6 mile trail six miles north of Ely, has an interesting history. In 1925 a sluiceway created by logging operations washed out leaving a gorge over 250 feet wide and Bass Lake was lowered 55 feet in 10 hours, reducing it to 1/2 its original size. The trail hosts backpacking campsites. 
In 2015, the Ely Marathon kicked off, sending runners from the north side of Burntside Lake down the Echo Trail and into the city. It has become an annual event and grown to include several races. The marathon is known for being the only marathon in the world with a "canoe portage" category and holds the world record time for a marathon-length canoe portage.
Ely is the largest "jumping off" town for the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness and a major one for Quetico Provincial Park. The BWCAW is renowned as a destination for both canoeing and fishing on its many lakes, and is the most visited wilderness in the United States. With extensive outfitting and other services, Ely can credibly be claimed to do the most wilderness canoe outfitting of any town or city in the world.
Long-time Ely resident Sigurd F. Olson was instrumental in creating the BWCAW. Author, environmentalist, and advocate for the protection of wilderness, for more than thirty years he served as a wilderness guide in the lakes and forests of the Quetico-Superior country of northern Minnesota and southwestern Ontario. He worked for the protection of the Boundary Waters, helped draft the Wilderness Act of 1964, and helped establish Voyageurs National Park in northern Minnesota. He was known honorifically as the Bourgeois — a term the voyageurs of old used for their trusted leaders.
North American Bear Center
Ely is home to the North American Bear Center, which opened in May 2007. It is an interactive museum and educational facility featuring American black bears. The North American Bear Center, the only science/nature museum of its kind, is dedicated to helping people learn from the bears themselves about bear behavior, ecology, and their relations with humans. A wall of windows overlooks a 2.5 acre naturally forested enclosure with a pond and waterfalls, which is home to four resident bears. The center also features exhibits, a theater, children's activities, and interpretive nature trails.
International Wolf Center
The International Wolf Center is one of the world's leading organizations dedicated to educating people about wolves. Founded in 1985 by a group of biologists led by Dr. L. David Mech, a world-renowned wolf biologist, the center opened in 1993. The center features gray wolves viewable through large windows that allow visitors to watch the wolves communicate, play, hunt and eat. In addition to the onsite ambassador wolves, the center offers a variety of educational programs at its Ely interpretive facility as well as other locations in northern Minnesota and across North America. Afternoon, weekend and week-long programs include howling trips, radio tracking, snowshoe treks, family activities, dog sledding, videos, presentations, flights over wolf country, demonstrations, and hikes.
Arts & Heritage Center
The Ely Arts & Heritage Center is located in the historic Pioneer Mine complex. It is managed by a non-profit arts organization, Ely Greenstone Public Art. They offer classes, hold exhibits, and festivals.
Dorothy Molter museum
Today the Dorothy Molter cabin and museum are located in Ely. Known as the "Root Beer Lady", Molter lived for 56 years on Knife Lake in the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness. She had gradually gained national prominence and extensive coverage in media, books and documentaries, and over the years tens of thousands of canoeists stopped by to visit and drink her homemade root beer. Molter first visited her future home (The Isle of Pines Resort) on Knife Lake in 1930 and it became her home starting in 1934. Up until the mid/late 1940s, the Isle of Pines resort was typical of many north woods resorts. It was reachable by seaplanes and motorboats, and later by snowmobiles as they came into use.
But when the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness was designated, eventually nearly all motorized transportation to her lodge was eliminated, and residences, buildings, business and the few roads from the wilderness were removed, leaving Molter as the only full-time resident in a wilderness area three times the size of Rhode Island. After Molter's death, her cabin was dismantled and moved to Ely. Her residence and a second cabin of hers were reconstructed at this site, and the Dorothy Molter Museum was established to preserve her legacy.
Camp Widjiwagan is a wilderness camp for girls and boys located on Burntside Lake. The camp is nationally recognized for its canoeing and backpacking programs; it also has an environmental education program, the Widjiwagan Outdoor Learning Program. During the summer months they run canoe and backpacking programs offered at several degrees of experience, with more advanced trips for experienced campers. Environmental education programs are held during the fall, winter and spring seasons, with students studying wilderness survival, plant and tree identification, basic hiking skills, animal tracking, the night sky, snowshoeing, and cross-country skiing. Master builder of wood-and-canvas canoes Joe Seliga lived in Ely and was an instructor at the camp. When Seliga died in 2005, Camp Widjiwagan received his canoe form.
Hegman Lake pictographs
The Hegman Lake Pictographs, located within the BWCAW about 15 miles north of Ely, have been described as "perhaps the most visited and photogenic pictograph within the State of Minnesota." Located on a large overlooking rock wall on North Hegman Lake, this ancient rock art is believed to have been created by the Ojibwe Indians. The meaning of the painting is uncertain. It appears to represent the Ojibwe meridian constellations visible in winter during the early evening. While some anthropologists believe that the pictographs may have served as a guide for navigating in the deep woods during the winter hunting season, others see it as a visual representation of the connection between the spiritual and temporal worlds. In the summer the site can be reached only by canoe. In the winter when the lakes are frozen, travelers can reach it by foot, or with snowshoes if the snows are deep.
Ely-Winton History Museum
The Ely-Winton History Museum is located within the Vermilion Community College Campus. The museum depicts local history through the use of displays, photographs, and oral histories. Logging and mining histories are told using geological samples and old logging and mining tools. Examples of past businesses are demonstrated as well as the importance of women on the frontier. In 2018 the museum opened an art exhibit which features paintings representative of Ely mining history featuring the works of artist Albin Zaverl. They also feature a collection of the work done by Ojibwe artist Carl Gawboy, who grew up in Ely. The museum offers programs about the history of the area twice a month during the summer months. Information from the museum mission statement states:
- The mission depicts local history through artifacts, photographs, oral histories, numerous videos/DVDs; displays include Ojibwe, fur trade, mining, logging, immigration, voyageurs, and Footprints Across The Wilderness, the history of the Boundary Waters Canoe Area Wilderness with a new exhibit each summer. They cover the history of the area from prehistoric times through mining, immigration and logging. Arts displays include Carl Gawboy and Albin Zaverl.
Charles L. Sommers Canoe Base
Historically significant structures in and around Ely
The U.S. National Register of Historic Places deems certain structures to be worthy of preservation for their historical significance. Several sites in and around Ely have been placed on the Register's list: Bull-of-the-Woods Logging Scow, Ely State Theater, Listening Point, Tanner's Hospital and Burntside Lodge Historic District.
Listening Point was the private retreat of conservationist Sigurd Olson on Burntside Lake. Olson acquired the property in 1956, then purchased a log cabin and a log sauna elsewhere that he had dismantled, moved to Listening Point, and reassembled. In 1998 the Listening Point Foundation was organized to preserve the property as an open-air museum to Olson.
Tanner's Hospital Tanner's Hospital is a former hospital building. It was built in 1901 as a moneymaking enterprise due to the high disease rate in the area. This was a consequence of low investment in sanitation infrastructure in the mining boomtowns of the Iron Range, where the long-term existence of any given community was unpredictable.
Burntside Lodge is a resort on the southern shore of Burntside Lake. It has been in operation for over a century. The registry lists Burntside Lodge District as "Northern St. Louis County's first full-scale commercial resort and finest collection of log resort buildings, with 19 contributing properties built from 1914 to the mid-1930s."
The Bull-of-the-Woods Logging Scow is a small paddle steamer wrecked in Burntside Lake. It was built around 1893 for one of the lumber companies operating in the area. There were at least a few of these vessels in operation in northeastern Minnesota in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, where they were locally known as "alligators" or "gators". They could tow timber rafts, hoist logs, navigate shallow waters, and even pull themselves across dry land. It is the only known surviving example of its type.
People from Ely, with the support (and often assistance) of the city council, have created various hoaxes as a way of garnering free publicity for the city. One hoax was that of a fictional family that "paints the leaves" of trees every fall. The fictional family was retiring from the business, and wanted people to send in a "color application" if they wanted to help carry out the tradition. Previously, a story was released about Ely seceding from the United States to be part of Canada. Both hoaxes were featured on Ely's Chamber Of Commerce website, www.ely.org. In 2009, Ely made a tongue-in-cheek international bid for hosting the 2016 Olympics, with a man allegedly already employed with a bucket to drain Miner's Lake to the south of town, in order to provide stadium seating in time for the Olympics. This hoax became widely known throughout the entire state of Minnesota, and was often reported on radio stations. Shirts, bumper stickers, signs, and even interstate billboards bearing the slogan "Ely in 2016" became commonplace throughout the state.
- Jessica Biel – Actress, was born in Ely
- Jim Brandenburg – photographer with National Geographic
- Jim Klobuchar - journalist, father of United States Senator Amy Klobuchar
- Dorothy Louise Molter – the Root Beer Lady
- Sigurd F. Olson – Naturalist and author
- Joe Seliga – Master builder of wood and canvas canoes
- Will Steger – Explorer and author
- Daren Streblow – comedian
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- North American Bear Center « Ely Minnesota
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- Leaf Coloring in Ely, Minnesota - YouTube
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