Carson Lake

Carson Lake, seen here in 1903, was a pretty spot surrounded by beautiful pines, a beach, and places to picnic. Because of the potential for mining the ore beneath it, the lake was drained in 1914. Few people remember that once upon a time there was a Carson Lake.

So many mining locations! So many stories!

When telling visitors the history of the Iron Range, it’s important to include stories about the mining locations that came and went across this area. For many people who grew up in or spent some time in a location, their memories of the characters and the place never seemed to fade. Fewer and fewer of those people are left now and Joe and I always like to see in an obituary when that person’s former home in Pool, or Mitchell, or Glen, or Mississippi or other locations is mentioned. Their life there was something worth noting.

At the Hibbing Historical Society, a wonderful exhibit about mining locations has been developed in the past few years. Curator Erica Larson Zubich continues to request that anyone having stories, photos, maps, or artifacts from mining locations please bring those in. She can scan most items and return the originals to you. The Historical Society wants to “capture” these memories before they completely disappear.

Carson Lake, just west of Hibbing, is one such location. Like so many mining locations, it provided jobs and homes for a period of time, and then it went away. What makes it especially unique is that it really did have a lake, but that would go away, too.

The following article was reproduced in a special issue of the newspaper printed for Hibbing’s 75th Birthday in August 1968. This article had originally appeared many years earlier in the newspaper. The Editor’s Note in 1968 states that this article was first written “when quo warranto litigation arose over the incorporation of the village of Leetonia. A considerable amount of research work was done by attorneys into the history of the mining location property immediately west of Hibbing. Carson Lake, which was northwest of Leetonia, was included in the scope of the study, and in this article, the material was compiled by Clarence Kleffman, Town of Stuntz counsel at that time.”

~ Mary Palcich Keyes

Out of the maze of testimony in the Leetonia – Town of Stuntz litigation which was completed several weeks ago, the ghost of a thing dead for more than 25 years raised its head in a short resurrection. That which was once Carson Lake came to life again for a brief moment, bringing with it the memory of its turbulent waters, the riches sought beneath its surface, the draining of the lake, the mining operations and finally the collapse into oblivion when it was discovered that the ores beneath its surface did not warrant further operations.

Few newcomers (those who came to Hibbing within the last 25 years), know that Carson Lake was really numbered among Minnesota’s 10,000 lakes. Carson Lake now and for years has meant merely a mining location and nothing more, and, indeed, the only things left associated with a lake are a few cattails in what was once its deepest part. Old pictures show that, in the early days of settlement as the mining industry took hold, the shores of this lake, particularly toward the west, were covered with a really magnificent stand of white and Norway pine. The eastern shore of the lake was partly swampy, but many an old resident of Mahoning, Kelly Lake, and Carson Lake can remember a strip of natural beach on the northeast side that provided the swimming for those communities, as well as for the people of Hibbing. And it wasn’t only in the summer that the lake was used, but records of 35 and more years ago show that the young blood of Hibbing of the day used the frozen surface of Carson Lake for winter horse races.

After the timber was logged off, the lake lost nearly all of its natural beauty. Garbage and sewage were dumped into its clear water, and other lakes further away began to attract the people of Hibbing, and so the first period of Carson Lake’s history ended in a decline.

But the decline was short-lived. The lake itself lay squarely within the limits of what was known as the ore formation. Mines had developed around it and geologists hoped and thought that beneath its waters lay untold millions in wealth in minerals. Geologists and mining engineers knew from the drilling operations that had been conducted that there were nearly ten million tons of iron ore beneath the lake. At that time, the entire Mesaba Range was in a period of expansion. 1910 was the peak year as far as employment is concerned, and in that year approximately 20,000 men were employed in the industries in St. Louis County. Shipments of iron ore were steadily mounting, and when World War One broke upon the scene in 1914, it found the Oliver Mining Company willing to match its resources and genius against the natural barriers that prevented mining.

To mine meant not only to drain the lake, but to prevent the 4,500 gallons of water per minute that flowed into the lake from filling the basin as fast as it was pumped out, and so with Bert St. Vincent, new Hibbing-Chisholm district superintendent as the Oliver engineer in charge, the actual task of draining the lake commenced.

Huge ditches were first constructed around the lake, diverting the flow of water, particularly from the north and east, after which the actual pumping operations were started. The task of pumping was a stupendous matter. The lake itself was a really large lake covering an area of nearly 80 acres. Its greatest depth was 25 feet, and the actual gallonage which it contained was found later to amount to 280,400,000 gallons.

Only five short months were required to get all semblance of water out of the lake’s basin. The actual work was commenced in June 1914 and was completed in November 1914. In order to facilitate mining operations as the pumping progressed, the dirt and overburden from the Kerr Mine stripping was dumped into the lake. For two years, until May 1916, the work of dumping the stripping from other mines was continued. The tremendous weight of the material dumped into the lake basin raised the bottom of the lake, which consisted mostly of muskeg, so that a veritable glacier of mud moved slowly from the west toward the east bank of the lake. The total material dumped into the lake amounted to 1,988,652 yards. Ordinarily, this would have made a dump one-quarter of a mile long, one-quarter of a mile wide, and 30 feet high. But most of the material sank beneath the surface of the muck in the lake, leaving the area scarred and torn.

The bottom of the lake was so unstable and treacherous that at one time eight stripping cars which had slipped off the track and into the muck sank beneath the surface and were abandoned. They had a value of $700 each. To have recovered them from the muck, valuable as they were, would have entailed more expense and danger than they were worth.

And then finally after several years of preparation and after a shaft was sunk to a depth of 130 feet to the surface of the ore, the first ore was mined from below what had been Carson Lake. This was in 1919. The analysis of the ore did not justify mining.

A fortune of money had been spent in the experiment, thousands of men had been employed, physical obstacles and dangers had been overcome, only to find the ore not merchantable. 5,025 tons of ore were mined and shipped, just enough to satisfy the state lease, and then the shafthouse was torn down and the miners sent home.

The second but not the last phase of this history of Carson Lake was ended.

Not the last, because mining engineering genius is not content to let nature’s last obstacles overcome them. Ways are being sought and constantly found to utilize this lower grade of ore, and undoubtedly, in the future, perhaps near, perhaps distant, Carson Lake is again destined to live as an important industrial center. Perhaps after that, and after the last pound of ore is extracted from its grasp, the waters of the area may again be diverted to flow into the old lake bottom, and the name of “Carson Lake” once again will become a reality.

•••

In 1951, the homes and businesses of the Carson Lake location were removed or demolished. The Anton and Mary Perpich home was one of the houses moved into Hibbing. Their oldest son, Rudy, would become Minnesota’s governor. Before he was sworn into office in January 1983, on the stage at Hibbing High School, Rudy went out to what remained of the Carson Lake mining location, including the foundation of his family’s old house. A candid photo taken in that moment shows a reflective Rudy Perpich seeing in his mind’s eye all that Carson Lake meant to him. ~ MPK

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Looking Back

The following items are taken from the Hibbing Daily Tribune or the Mesabi Ore, which are on microfilm at the Hibbing Public Library and/or Iron Range Resource Center at the Minnesota Discovery Center in Chisholm.

1949

January 11, 1949

Approximately 400 boys and girls danced to a 9-piece orchestra in the Italian Hall Friday after the Hibbing-Chisholm basketball game.

1953

June 1, 1953

Holy Trinity Lutheran Church will be host to guest speakers, the Rev. Tatu Malmivaara and Aku Raty on Tuesday at 7:30. Recently come from Finland, the two men are visiting Suomi Synod congregations of this country. They will speak in Finnish.

1957

Plans are underway in many northern St. Louis County communities to participate in the Minnesota Centennial celebration in 1958. Among events which will be taking place in Hibbing is a parade in connection with the St. Louis County Fair, dedication of the First Settlers Museum, and a pageant by school children.

1969

July 15, 1969

Local chapter delegates of Alpha Delta Kappa, international honorary sorority for women educators, will be attending the organization’s convention in Kansas City, Missouri, from August 3 to 8. Delegates from the local area include Miss Marcia Smith, president of the Hibbing Phi chapter; Mrs. Boris Andrican, state corresponding secretary; Miss Irene Walker; Miss Mary Rowe; and Miss Amelia Currie.

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