The following article is a selection of excerpts from the 1957 history, re-published in 1983, “Hibbing: The Man and the Village” written by Dr. Samuel Guello, with the assistance of Dr. Robert Koenig.
As we celebrate 126 years of our town, it is worth remembering its very beginning.
~ Mary Palcich Keyes
Hibbing was born of the bounty of nature, above the ground and under it: amid the timber in the form of huge, black barked white pine and the bronze columns of red pine, iron ore lying beneath the glacial drift in richness and quantities previously unknown. To wrest these treasures from nature took a hardy and determined breed, both horses and men. Hibbing could not just grow along a cow path or deer trail, it had to be planned and developed by people of vision, who took the hard days of toil in stride, whose determination overcame the exigencies and uncertainties of pioneer life in a raw northern wilderness, whose self-confidence and group faith furnished the courage and energy to carve out their home, crude or modest, under a baptism of either sweat and insects or icy wind and blizzards in the isolation of a primeval forest, where inexorable tote roads tested the patience of men and the physical stamina of their horses, and where forest fires threatened perennially to consume them all. The transition from the first log hut to the modern town could come about only because of the unchanging and indomitable spirit of progress that characterizes free people.
At the time of Hibbing’s townsite survey, the stately virgin pine forests stretched from it in all directions. The original limits of Hibbing included the following mine properties: parts of Longyear, Mahoning, Hull-Rust, Penobscot, Laura, Morris, Webb, Philbin, Susquehanna, and Boeing.
Land had to be cleared, roads built, railroads extended, exploration pursued, test-pitted and shaft sinking continued, stripping undertaken, surface facilities built for the mining industry and housing for the workers. To do all of these things without machinery meant jobs, jobs by the thousands. Immigrants were on the scene from the start.
The earliest ones came mainly from Italy and Finland, but they later poured in from nearly every European nation. After 1900, the Slavic countries as a group furnished the greatest number. In the early days of the Mesabi mining history, no less than 75 percent of the people were most recently from a foreign country. Most of the others were most recently from Michigan and Wisconsin and of Scandinavian, Irish, or Cornish nationality. Anyone with average intelligence who knew the English language had a tremendous advantage and often found himself appointed foreman of a non-English speaking group.
During those early years, while the village was struggling to establish itself and the ore industry was still in its embryonic stage, Hibbing’s galaxy of suburban mining locations had already begun to form. Mahoning started at about the same time as the Superior Location, a settlement made up of mining company houses and squatters’ shacks and cabins. These latter dwellings became a part of the great gapping Hull-Rust canyon. French, Pool, and Finn Locations were considered extensions of the old Superior Location.
On June 5, 1893, the plat was completed and filed the next day with the Register of Deeds in Duluth. Resident population of 165 persons declared their “Desire to become, and to have the said territory within said boundaries become incorporated as a village under the name of HIBBING.” They had annexed about four square miles of the surrounding area. The census taken June 6, 1893, showed 325 persons to be the total population.
On July 11, 1893, county auditor George N. LaVaque received a petition dated July 7, and signed by Dennis Haley, Ed Champion, and David Dugan and passed by the County Board of Commissioners allowing an election for incorporating of a four mile square area, to be known as the Village of Hibbing.
Frank Hibbing filed, on August 8, 1893, an affidavit stating that he had posted on July 13, 1893, the notices of election with annexed petitions at five of the most public places in the territory, namely: 1) Office of Lake Superior Iron Company; 2) Hibbing and Trimble Sawmill; 3) Lake Superior Iron Company’s shaft house; 4) Brown’s Hotel; and 5) Bradley’s Store Building.
On August 15, 1893, the polls opened from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. at the Lake Superior Mining Company Office to vote for or against incorporation into a village. Results of the election were 105 for incorporation and 1 against it.
The Incorporated Village of Hibbing had been legally “born”.
Originally, the Hull and Rust Mines, which bear the owner’s names, were underground operations which began shipping in 1896, and later were taken over by the Oliver Mining Company. These mines shipped over 7,665,000 tons in 1916 alone.
The Penobscot Mine had the distinction of being the wettest mine in this area with an inflow of 5,000 gallons per minute interfering greatly with the production of ore. Nevertheless, John A. Redfern, superintendent for Eddy Brothers and Company of Duluth, began shipments in 1897. Before conversion to open pit methods, extremely large cave-ins, like inverted cones with a pond at the bottom, could be seen interrupting the brush and stump surface of the land. These offered to the daring young boys from Penobscot Location and nearby Hibbing a delightful adventure, although their parents might not have been too happy had they known. The same water table of this area flowed to the south and posed many problems of drainage, pumping, seepage and safety for the neighboring Scranton Mine, which remained an underground mine for many years.
Only 28 months after the founding of the town, ore was shipped by the railroad which connected this frontier town with Duluth and the outside world. Over half a million tons of ore were hauled by rail out of Hibbing in the first year and a half. The next year shipments increased over 300 percent. The lumber industry cut and shipped 240 million feet of logs. The Swan River Logging Company, while cutting under contract for the Weyerhauser interests, led the way with 80-100 million feet; the Itasca and the Shevlin-Carpenter Company, with 40-50 million feet each; the Power, Simpson and Dwyer with nearly as much. The unbroken, trackless forest was to supply such quantities for 15 years. The Mesabi was changing forever.