CHISHOLM — Construction of a new tourist attraction dedicated to the thousands of immigrant miners and their descendants who played a role in developing the Mesabi Iron Range is about to get underway.
Bruce Mine Park is a project of the Chisholm Beautification Association (CBA). Transitioning the piece of the past into a park is an effort to preserve the Bruce Mine headframe, which is the last headframe from the underground mining era on the Mesabi Range.
A group of volunteers within the CBA began preliminary research on preserving the headframe about six years ago, which led to the idea of creating a park at the headframe site.
One of the biggest challenges at that time was gaining access to the project site, which is just east of Chisholm along the Mesabi Trail, according to the volunteers.
Lease agreements between the City of Chisholm, Iron Range Resources and Rehabilitation Board (IRRRB) and St. Louis County are now being finalized to solve that problem. The agreements involve roughly 34 acres to be leased by the city for the right-of-way and park area.
If all goes according to plan, Phase I —which involves brushing and building a road and a gravel parking area near the headframe — will begin this year.
Signage being designed to be displayed near the project site aims to raise awareness of the project, and inform potential donors how they can get involved.
Plans call for the road to begin just to the right of the Mesabi Trail parking lot, off County Road 67, at the east entrance into Chisholm.
CBA Chair Carole Gornick said they enjoy seeing the progress being made.
“It’s pretty exciting after working on it for more than five years,” she said. “It’s been a long time.”
Committee members Ed Waters, Roger Johnson and Dave Pessenda attested to the many people they’ve met with in recent years. The group met with representatives from IRRRB, the city, the county and Minnesota Department of Transportation (MnDOT).
St. Louis County Safety and Risk Management Division Director Joe Austin recently met up with the group at the site. The county mine inspectors and its land department have been a part of the project for some time, Austin confirmed. This recent visit was to check on the fence surrounding the headframe in the interest of public safety, he said.
Austin talked about the support St. Louis County has for projects such as this, with a potential to benefit the local economy. He also mentioned how the headframe fits in with the rich history of mining on the Iron Range.
Chisholm Mayor Mary Jo Rahja said the headframe had piqued her interest ever since childhood. On a recent tour of the park site, she said she was in “awe” while looking up at the massive structure.
Aside from its historical significance, Rahja described the headframe as a work of art. She also praised the CBA volunteers for their continued dedication and perseverance.
“I’m so glad it’s finally coming together,” she added.
Plans for Phase II would involve upgrading the road and parking lot, illuminating the headframe and landscaping at the site. In its current state, the site is overgrown with brush, and the headframe itself has been targeted by vandals.
The master plan includes a lookout tower, an interpretative walk, restrooms, restored rails, alignment of the historic headframe at shaft and a grassed area at the park development.
The project is estimated to cost $1.6 million as defined by plans by Architectural Resources, the firm designing the project.
While conducting research, Waters said the committee was told a low-impact development was preferred because there are iron ore deposit in the area of the headframe, meaning at some point mining could resume there.
Pessenda said the effort to preserve the headframe dates back to 40 years. The structure was named to the national historic record in 1978, he noted.
Newspaper Publisher Veda Ponikvar wrote about it in the Jan. 24, 1978, edition of the Tribune-Press.
“The Bruce headframe, like the great open pits, is symbolic of those men who worked and too often died, in the red earth of the Mesabi. And for that one reason, if not for any of the many others, it should be saved,” she penned.
In that article, Ponikvar shared details of a miner who died and two others who were trapped during mine cave-ins.
The story of a miner who survived a rock slide at the Bruce Mine can be found just a few feet from the headframe, just off the Mesabi Trail. It states, “In July 1927, Nick Bosanich was reported to have died in a rock slide in the mine. Forty-six hours later he was found alive in a 10-foot-square room. His first request was for a cigarette.”
Ponikvar’s sentiment is reflected in the mission statement the CBA has adopted for the project.
A lot has happened since the CBA received its first donation for the park project.
The first funds came from Bruce Quick of Kitzville, who donated $300. Quick was born in Bruce Location. His father, George Quick, was a mine superintendent.
At the time of the donation, Quick talked about the benefit to Chisholm of having such a memorial dedicated to the miners who worked at the Bruce Mine.
A $9,000 donation from the Ron and Carole Gornick fund of the Chisholm Community Foundation (CCF) and another $1,500 from the CCF helped kick start the fundraising effort.
The Chisholm City Council recently adopted a resolution to apply for a $1,500 grant from IRRRB for the project.
In the near future, the CBA plans to add signage to the site that will include information on how to make donations. Additional information can also be found on the CBA website at www.chisholm beautification.org.