The Gogebic Range is a mountainous area at the far western tip of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. Located on the south shore of Lake Superior, it extends west from Lake Gogebic through part of Bayfield County in Wisconsin. The Gogebic Range includes the communities of Ironwood, Wakefield, Bessemer, and Ramsay in Michigan, Hurley in Wisconsin, and the ski country area of Big Powderhorn. The term Gogebic is Ojibwa for "where trout rising to the surface make rings in the water." The Gogebic Range experienced a speculative iron boom in the mid-1880s, and saw recurring booms and busts from 1884 to 1967.
The initial boom in the Gogebic Range came between 1884 and 1886. The discovery of high-grade Bessemer ore on the Gogebic Range and the consequent unfolding of vast possibilities led to a speculative craze the like of which has had no parallel in Michigan or Wisconsin. While it lasted, fortunes were made and lost within a month or even overnight. On September 16, 1886, the Chicago Tribune reported: “Hundreds of people are arriving daily from all parts of the country and millionaires are being made by the dozens ... The forests have given way to mining camps and towns, and a most bewildering transformation has taken place. In the palmy days of gold mining on the Pacific slope there is no record of anything so wonderful as the Gogebic.”
For decades in the late 19th century and into the 1920s, the Gogebic was one of the nation’s chief sources of iron. Iron from the Gogebic helped to fuel the industrial boom in the Upper Midwest during these years. By 1930 mining was winding down in the area. The mines began closing in amid a national economy suffering from the Great Depression. The result was widespread economic devastation in the Gogebic Range.
Some mines continued to operate into the 1960s, but the volume never reached the same levels as in the earlier boom years. A defining event was the last shipment of iron ore in August 1967 to Granite City Steel in Illinois.
Today the area has largely recovered from the scars left behind by the iron-mining boom days. The Gogebic Range has developed a tourism industry featuring ski resorts and waterfalls. The region includes vast areas of government-owned landed, including the Ottawa National Forest and the Gogebic County Forest, which are managed for recreation and timber. Recreational activities include fishing in rivers and lakes, hiking and snowmobiling, and mountain biking on a network of trails built on old logging roads.
Among the more commercial attractions in the Gogebic Range is the world's tallest Indian just outside Ironwood. Locals have also drawn visitor attention by building the world's highest man-made ski jump, Copper Peak Ski Flying Hill, a striking landmark seen on the horizon from many high points.
Gogebic County and neighboring Iron County across the state line in Wisconsin are heavily promoted during the ski season as "Big Snow Country". Area lodgings have 10,000 rooms, largely at four ski resorts: Indianhead Ski Resort, Blackjack, and Big Powderhorn in Michigan and Whitecap Mountain in Wisconsin. There is also a beautiful natural ski hill by Lake Superior at Porcupine Mountains State Park, less than an hour from Ironwood.
Waterfalls are the area's other major tourist attraction. Gogebic County has 22 falls, with ten more across the Montreal River in neighboring Iron County, Wisconsin. The best-known waterfalls are on the Presque Isle and Black rivers within half a mile (0.8 km) of Lake Superior. There is also the Superior Falls, bordered by 100-foot (30 m) cliffs on the Montreal River forming the Michigan–Wisconsin border northwest of Ironwood.
With metals trading at unprecedented prices during the early 2010s commodity bubble, companies again explored the possibilities of mining in the Gogebic Range to extract remaining, lower-quality ore.
- Liesch, Matthew. Ironwood, Hurley and the Gogebic
- Cox, Bruce K. Headframes and Mine Shafts of the Gogebic Range, Volume 2, Bessemer-Ramsay-Wakefield: Agogeebic Press, 2000.
- Hunts' Guide to Michigan's Upper Peninsula: Ironwood and the Gogebic Range
- Gogebic Range City Directories, 1888-1947
- Wisconsin Electronic Reader: The Great Boom on the Gogebic
- Gogebic County Government
- Road Trip USA: Ironwood and Environs: The Gogebic Range