Gunflint Iron Mining

Although the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway and the Paulson Mine were owned by different interests in different countries, the history of these two entities cannot be separated.

While originally intended to provide a link to Duluth and tap the silver mines southwest of Thunder Bay, the P.A.D & W would become a key outlet for the iron deposits in northern Minnesota. Iron was first discovered in the Gunflint Lake area of Cook County by Hazael “Henry” Mayhew in 1886. These lands were subsequently bought by the American Realty Company, which was started in Minneapolis in 1886 by John A. Paulson and Kristian Kortgaard. Both men hoped that this new iron area would become as profitable as the Vermillion Iron Range opened several years earlier.

The spring of 1892 saw the nearing completion of the railway to the boundary at Gunflint Lake. In March of that year, the Gunflint Lake Iron Company was organized by Paulson, Kortgaard and O.D. Kinney of Ely. To reach the mine six miles across the border, a special line known as the P.A.D & W of Minnesota was built. In July 1892, the Gunflint Company and the railway signed a contract that would see one million tons of ore shipped to the Lakehead over ten years.

As events were unfolding along the border, the rival cities of Port Arthur and Fort William competed with each other as to where the valuable ore docks would be located. Unfortunately, no ore would ever come to either city. One car of ore was forwarded to Port Arthur in August of 1893 to mark the visit of the Premier of Ontario, Sir Oliver Mowat. One month later, the mine closed. The fall in the price of iron associated with the Panic of 1893 and the discovery of more profitably mined ore elsewhere in Minnesota caused the Gunflint Company to collapse.

Many attempts to re-open the mine were made over the next thirty years, all of which failed. The failure of the mine was one of the contributing factors in the eventual demise of the PD. What would this have meant for the future of the Lakehead had this projected succeeded? Few can wonder.