Two Harbors, Minnesota

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Two Harbors
Aerial view of Two Harbors
Aerial view of Two Harbors
Location of the city of Two Harbors within Lake County, Minnesota
Location of the city of Two Harbors
within Lake County, Minnesota
Coordinates: 47°1′31″N 91°40′26″W / 47.02528°N 91.67389°W / 47.02528; -91.67389Coordinates: 47°1′31″N 91°40′26″W / 47.02528°N 91.67389°W / 47.02528; -91.67389
CountryUnited States
 • MayorChris Swanson
 • Total3.28 sq mi (8.50 km2)
 • Land3.27 sq mi (8.48 km2)
 • Water0.01 sq mi (0.02 km2)
Elevation673 ft (205 m)
 • Total3,745
 • Estimate 
 • Density1,078.22/sq mi (416.31/km2)
Time zoneUTC-6 (Central (CST))
 • Summer (DST)UTC-5 (CDT)
ZIP code
Area code(s)218
FIPS code27-65956
GNIS feature ID0658799[2]
WebsiteCity of Two Harbors

Two Harbors is a city in and the county seat of Lake County, Minnesota, United States,[5] along the shore of Lake Superior. The population was 3,745 at the 2010 census[6]

Minnesota State Highway 61 serves as a main route in Two Harbors. Gooseberry Falls State Park is 13 miles (21 km) to the northeast.


Storefronts in Two Harbors

In the early years Two Harbors consisted of two separate communities, Agate Bay and Burlington. The village of Burlington along Burlington Bay was platted in 1856, first incorporated on May 23, 1857; it had a post office that operated from 1856 until 1862. The first residence constructed in Agate Bay was owned by Thomas Sexton (1854); it was a 14-by-16-foot shack. Early settlers lived in primitive conditions, which was common for both the area and time. Their homes were made of logs and had dirt floors. Diets often consisted of homegrown vegetables and animals caught in the area (at that time there were many dense forests, so deer meat was not an abundant food source). The village of Agate Bay was created with the construction camp as work on the new railroad began in 1883. The village of Two Harbors was platted in 1885 but not incorporated until 1888. Early transportation to the village was by boats under contract with the new Duluth and Iron Range Railroad. It took only "one short day"[clarification needed] to get from Duluth to Two Harbors. By 1886 the D&IR completed the Lake Division connecting Duluth and Two Harbors with passenger service that extended to Ely. Thirty-five logging camps were set up within the vicinity, one of them on Fourth Avenue. On February 26, 1907, the village reincorporated as the City of Two Harbors.

The town's history is included in the Lake County Historical Depot Museum.

Whiskey Row[edit]

Loading Docks at Two Harbors, 1927

By 1883 the Minnesota Iron Company had purchased all but four acres of Thomas Sexton's land around Agate Bay. Sexton leased his remaining four acres to merchants seeking to capitalize on the 600-man workforce arriving to build the Duluth & Iron Range Railroad. He divided his four acres into 32 lots. As with any frontier town of the day it was a largely male population. The infamous four-acre plot earned the nickname "Whiskey Row", and was said to exist for the sole purpose of "relieving a man from his pay".

Contrary to popular myth, Whiskey Row was not destroyed by a fire in 1888. There was a fire but it occurred before the first load of ore arrived in July 1884 and only seven buildings were damaged. It was reported that the merchants affected were in Duluth the next day purchasing materials to rebuild. Whiskey Row's demise occurred the following year.

The railroad rapidly expanded its rail and shipping operations and needed all of the shoreline for its new coal handling and storage facility. By 1885 the Minnesota Iron Company convinced Sexton to sell his remaining four acres along Agate Bay. The railroad then simply evicted the tenants and moved any of the salvageable buildings inland. There are several homes in "east" Two Harbors whose original structures were on Whiskey Row.


Had it not been for the discovery of nearby iron ore, Two Harbors would not exist. The Minnesota Iron Company bought 17,000 acres (69 km2) of land in order to build their railroad. In Agate Bay (Two Harbors) most of the land was bought from Sexton, who by that time had owned the land for 20 years.

Various locations were considered for the railroad terminus and shipping port, but Agate Bay was chosen because it was closer to the iron ore site and had a clay bottom bay, while most others were rocky.

As the track was being developed, the main transportation route was Lake Superior. This proved difficult when heavy loads such as railroad engines nearly sank the scows or tugs that carried them. The contractor John. S. Wolfe was told he would receive a bonus of $50,000 if the railroad was completed by August 1, 1884. Because that was a Friday, and construction workers had strong superstitions about Fridays, it became important that the construction be completed by July 31. On that day, the first iron ore cars left Agate Bay early in the morning, along with a caboose for President Tower to ride in on the return trip. The railway between Duluth and Two Harbors was completed in 1886.

The North Shore Scenic Railroad operates a six-hour excursion starting in Duluth that has a two-hour break in Two Harbors.

A 2-6-0 Mogul class steam locomotive with the first style of ore cars and caboose is on display by the historic Duluth and Iron Range depot.

A 2-8-8-4 Yellowstone class steam locomotive is on display at Two Harbors.[7] It ranks among the largest steam locomotives ever built.

Former industries[edit]

Cigar factories[edit]

In 1900, John H. Kallin built Two Harbors Cigar Factory on the 100 block of 7th Street. The local trade alone required about 30,000 cigars each month. They came in eight regular brands and five specialty. In 1907 Ed Sorenson built Sorenson Cigar Factory. Neither factory is still in operation.

Universal Fiberglass[edit]

In 1964 the abandoned DM&IR railroad buildings were used to open Universal Fiberglass. Producing three wheel mailsters for the United States Postal Service was their main contract, worth millions. Car fenders and like objects were also produced. When a fire caused enough damage that they could no longer fulfill their contract, the GSA shut them down. The property was sold at a public auction.

Bottling works[edit]

Two Harbors Bottling works began in 1912. It offered flavors of pop such as cream soda, ginger ale, cider, and seltzer water. The company became especially known for its strawberry pop's unique flavor—a creamier and more natural one than the rest. This business is no longer running.


3M, originally known as Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company, was started by five men from Two Harbors. When the founders thought they had found mineral called corundum, which could be used to make sandpaper, they began setting up a mining company. The five were Henry S. Bryan, J. Danley Budd, Herman Cable, William McGonagle, and John Dwan. To get the company started they erected a large dock, crushing mill and bunk and storage houses. After selling the corundum to a company in Chicago the men learned that it wasn't really corundum and moved on to other ventures. In 1905 the company was moved to Duluth and in 1907 to St. Paul. It still had ties in Two Harbors until Dwan's death. Now the only tie 3M has to Two Harbors is a museum in Dwan's original office. The museum is in 3M's original building. Exhibits include Dwan's recreated office and other artifacts; a history of the company including photos and documents; a "lab" area representing the establishment of research and development, product diversification and growth; and hands-on interactive programs and technology applications. The original office building has been restored and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.


According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 3.30 square miles (8.55 km2), all land.[8]


Two Harbors is 20 miles northeast of the city of Duluth. It is along Lake Superior, which contributes the two natural harbors for which Two Harbors is named, Burlington Bay and Agate Bay. The warmest month in the year is July, the coldest January. The record high temperature was 99 °F (37 °C) in 1948, the record low −36 °F (−38 °C) in 1996. According to the Minnesota Department of Natural Resources (DNR), Two Harbors is in a region called the Laurentian Mixed Forest Province, which contains broad areas of coniferous forest, mixed hardwood, and conifer bogs and swamps. The region averages 21 to 32 inches (810 mm) of precipitation per year and has an average temperature of 34 to 40 °F (4 °C).

Climate data for Two Harbors, Minnesota (1991–2020 normals, extremes 1894–present)
Month Jan Feb Mar Apr May Jun Jul Aug Sep Oct Nov Dec Year
Record high °F (°C) 57
Average high °F (°C) 23.7
Daily mean °F (°C) 15.6
Average low °F (°C) 7.4
Record low °F (°C) −36
Average precipitation inches (mm) 1.04
Average snowfall inches (cm) 12.4
Average precipitation days (≥ 0.01 in) 10.1 8.5 8.6 9.9 12.6 13.4 11.8 10.5 11.7 11.5 9.1 9.8 127.5
Average snowy days (≥ 0.1 in) 8.2 6.5 4.2 1.7 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.0 0.1 2.6 7.2 30.5
Source: NOAA[9][10]
Agate Bay at Two Harbors


Historical population
Census Pop.
2019 (est.)3,529[4]−5.8%
U.S. Decennial Census[11]
2013 Estimate[12]

2010 census[edit]

As of the 2010 census,[3] there were 3,745 people, 1,649 households, and 951 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,134.8 inhabitants per square mile (438.1/km2). There were 1,799 housing units at an average density of 545.2 per square mile (210.5/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 97.2% White, 0.2% African American, 0.6% Native American, 0.2% Asian, 0.2% from other races, and 1.5% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 1.0% of the population.

There were 1,649 households, of which 27.0% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 43.5% were married couples living together, 10.6% had a female householder with no husband present, 3.6% had a male householder with no wife present, and 42.3% were non-families. 36.7% of all households were made up of individuals, and 17.4% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.19 and the average family size was 2.85.

The median age in the city was 41.3 years. 22% of residents were under the age of 18; 8% were between the ages of 18 and 24; 23.9% were from 25 to 44; 25.1% were from 45 to 64; and 21.1% were 65 years of age or older. The gender makeup of the city was 47.4% male and 52.6% female.

2000 census[edit]

As of the 2000 census, there were 3,613 people, 1,636 households, and 953 families residing in the city. The population density was 1,120.7 people per square mile (433.2/km2). There were 1,631 housing units at an average density of 505.9 per square mile (195.6/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 98.06% White, 0.06% African American, 0.66% Native American, 0.11% Asian, 0.08% from other races, and 1.02% from two or more races. Hispanic or Latino of any race were 0.61% of the population. 19.4% were of Norwegian, 18.0% Swedish, 12.2% German, 9.6% Finnish, 8.0% Irish and 5.7% English ancestry.

There were 1,523 households, out of which 29.7% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 48.9% were married couples living together, 10.4% had a female householder with no husband present, and 37.4% were non-families. 32.0% of all households were made up of individuals, and 16.0% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.27 and the average family size was 2.86.

In the city, the population was spread out, with 23.0% under the age of 18, 8.1% from 18 to 24, 24.8% from 25 to 44, 22.5% 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 86.9 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 83.0 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $37,708, and the median income for a family was $47,113. Males had a median income of $39,712 versus $29,076 for females. The per capita income for the city was $19,793. About 7.2% of families and 9.5% of the population were below the poverty line, including 15.7% of those under age 18 and 4.3% of those age 65 or over.


Granite Gear, started in 1986, produces heavy-duty backpacks for the military and outdoors.[citation needed]

Arts and culture[edit]

Edna G.[edit]

Built in 1896, the Edna G. was named after the president of the railroad's daughter, Edna Greatsinger, this tug is "one of a kind". The Edna G. stayed in Two Harbors its entire working career except for a small stint during World War I it spent two years on the east coast moving warships around. Until its retirement in 1981, the Edna G. was the last coal-fired, steam-powered tugboat in operation of the Great Lakes. The boat is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Tours of this vessel are available from trained guides in the spring-fall from 10am to 5pm. A trip includes a visit to the engine room, and seeing the pilot house, where the passengers are allowed to blow the horn.

John Beargrease[edit]

Mok-qua Bennete, also known as John Beargrease, was an Ojibwe man who delivered mail between Two Harbors and Grand Marais. The John Beargrease Dog Sled Race was started as a tribute to him for his role in the early history of the North Shore of Lake Superior. The race covers nearly 400 miles between Duluth and Grand Portage. It is traditionally held in the last week of January.


Two Harbors hosts the Lake County Fair and Heritage Days, and is one of the checkpoints for the Beargrease Sled Dog Marathon, as well as the starting line for Grandma's Marathon and the NorthShore Inline Marathon. Dean L. Hovey wrote a mystery, Whistling Pines (2012), set in a fictional Two Harbors senior living center, and two sequels, Whistling Sousa (2013) and Whistling Wings (2018).


The Two Harbors Public Library opened in 1909 as a Carnegie Library with a $15,000 grant from Andrew Carnegie. Before that, the books were shuffled from space to space in a variety of city offices. In 1983, an addition was added to the library, providing street access and a total of 8,000 square feet. The library houses over 30,000 books, magazines, CDs, audiobooks, and DVDs. The Archives Room contains photographic collections and local newspapers dating to the late 1890s. Residents of Two Harbors and the surrounding rural area are served by the library and, through the library's membership, the Arrowhead Library System.[13]

Parks and recreation[edit]

Two Harbors has five community parks. They have picnic tables, baseball, soccer, and football fields, and playground equipment. The Thomas Owens Park houses the city's bandshell, home of the Two Harbors City Band, Minnesota's oldest city band.

Two Harbors is the gateway city to the North Shore of Minnesota. Highway 61 is the only major highway heading north/northeast along Lake Superior's shore and is the fastest way to the North Shore's eight state parks, as well as wayside rests and lakeshore access. The parks are Gooseberry Falls, Split Rock Lighthouse, Tettegouche, George H. Crosby Manitou State Park, Temperance River State Park, Cascade River State Park, Judge C.R. Magney State Park, and Grand Portage State Park.


Two Harbors offers access to Minnesota trails. The Sonju hiking trail can be used to view the Two Harbors shoreline. North Shore State Snowmobile Trail includes scenic views for snowmobilers, as do the Yukon Snowmobile Trail and Brimson Snowmobile Trail. There is also the Erkki Harju Ski Trail.

Government and politics[edit]

Lake County Search and Rescue is a division of Lake County's Sheriff department. It was created in 1971 and placed in Two Harbors. Its formation was helped by Silver Bay Search and Rescue. Its first meeting place was a room at the depot, from which it moved to the old Svee Distributing building at 616 3rd Avenue. In 1980 it took over the former U.S. Forestry Service garage complex on 16th Avenue.

Presidential election results 1960–2020
Precinct General Election Results[14]
Year Republican Democratic Third parties
2020 42.4% 901 54.9% 1,167 2.7% 58
2016 39.3% 781 52.2% 1,036 8.5% 169
2012 31.6% 665 66.3% 1,394 2.1% 44
2008 32.5% 710 65.3% 1,427 2.2% 48
2004 31.5% 708 67.5% 1,516 1.0% 22
2000 30.3% 623 62.4% 1,284 7.3% 151
1996 23.8% 444 65.0% 1,213 11.2% 210
1992 20.7% 431 59.3% 1,235 20.0% 416
1988 26.1% 515 73.9% 1,455 0.0% 0
1984 23.2% 507 76.8% 1,681 0.0% 0
1980 25.1% 568 66.7% 1,512 8.2% 186
1976 29.2% 660 68.3% 1,543 2.5% 57
1972 32.7% 755 66.4% 1,535 0.9% 22
1968 19.6% 444 77.7% 1,763 2.7% 62
1964 19.1% 435 80.8% 1,840 0.1% 3
1960 35.7% 879 64.0% 1,573 0.3% 8


In 1901, Two Harbors decided it needed a high school. On February 12, 1902, Two Harbors Central High School was dedicated at a cost of $35,025. It was on the 400 block of Fourth Avenue, and had 50 students and three teachers. The first students to graduate were Mary Rylander and Ann Paulson. The school taught arithmetic, grammar, and American history. Very little English was taught at the time. In 1903 Latin and music were introduced. Courses in science and sewing were added in 1906. Manual training and domestic services were introduced in 1908. By 1909 the school had 98 students and seven teachers. By 1910 the school library had 7,000 books. Plans for a new building were announced in 1935, at an estimated $100,000. The original Central High School was demolished and the new building was completed in 1939. At completion, and after all additions were made, the total cost was $585,000. A referendum for a new building two miles (3 km) north of town on Lake County Highway 2 (CR 2) was passed in 2003. Building was completed and classes began in 2005. Students use the hiking trails in the woods, around ponds, and the football field. The former high school on 4th Avenue was demolished in 2008.

Notable people[edit]

  • Philip Berrigan - Catonsville Nine member born here. (His brother Daniel was born in a nearby town)
  • Rhonda Britten - Actress, best-selling author, motivational speaker and coach Starting Over born here
  • Leroy Goldsworthy - NHL player. First Minnesotan to get his name on the Stanley Cup.
  • Jeremy Mayer - Sculptor, subject of the documentary California Typewriter, attended middle and high school here.
  • Don Moen – Singer/songwriter, attended and graduated from Two Harbors High School
  • Lute Olson – Hall of Fame college basketball coach, coached the Two Harbors High School basketball team from 1957 to 1961
  • Esther Rose (born Esther Holbeck) - Western artist born in Two Harbors.
  • Joseph Edward Therrien, politician and businessman, lived in Two Harbors.[15]
  • Johnny Western - Singer, songwriter, musician and actor, born here.


  1. ^ "2019 U.S. Gazetteer Files". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved July 26, 2020.
  2. ^ a b U.S. Geological Survey Geographic Names Information System: Two Harbors, Minnesota
  3. ^ a b "U.S. Census website". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  4. ^ a b "Population and Housing Unit Estimates". United States Census Bureau. May 24, 2020. Retrieved May 27, 2020.
  5. ^ "Find a County". National Association of Counties. Retrieved 2011-06-07.
  6. ^ "2010 Census Redistricting Data (Public Law 94-171) Summary File". American FactFinder. U.S. Census Bureau, 2010 Census. Retrieved 23 April 2011.[dead link]
  7. ^ "Archived copy". Archived from the original on 2003-02-03. Retrieved 2008-02-08.CS1 maint: archived copy as title (link)
  8. ^ "US Gazetteer files 2010". United States Census Bureau. Archived from the original on 2012-07-02. Retrieved 2012-11-13.
  9. ^ "NowData – NOAA Online Weather Data". National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved June 23, 2021.
  10. ^ "Station: Two Harbors, MN". U.S. Climate Normals 2020: U.S. Monthly Climate Normals (1991-2020). National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration. Retrieved June 23, 2021.
  11. ^ United States Census Bureau. "Census of Population and Housing". Retrieved July 23, 2014.
  12. ^ "Population Estimates". United States Census Bureau. Retrieved 2014-07-23.
  13. ^ Two Harbors Centennial Commission. Two Harbors, 100 Years : a Pictorial History of Two Harbors, Minnesota and Surrounding Communities. Two Harbors: Lake County Historical Society, 1983.
  14. ^ "Office of the Minnesota Secretary of State - Election Results". Archived from the original on February 22, 2021. Retrieved February 22, 2021.
  15. ^ Minnesota Legislators Past and Present-Joseph Edward Therrein

External links[edit]