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April 2005 Issue

When the Siren Last Wails
Whatís in store for the aging industrial landscape of Agate Bay?

By Charlene K. Roise

When the Siren Last Wails
Chris Faust

Minnesota Trunk Highway 61 runs northeast out of Duluth along Lake Superiorís rugged north shore. Before the 1920s, no reliable road ran through this area, a wilderness until the late nineteenth century. A string of towns, once hardscrabble fishing villages, was founded by Norwegian immigrants who toughed out the brutal winters because they were reminded of home. Smoked-fish shops still edge the road, but quaint restaurants and antique shops have replaced general stores. Visitors needed to pack an above-average sense of adventure before the road brought a modicum of amenities. Today, mom-and-pop resorts are being displaced by glitzy lodges. With upgraded roads and restaurants, itís easy to forget the areaís rough past. That is, until you reach the town of Two Harbors.

At Agate Bay, a rare, natural harbor on Lake Superiorís treacherous, rock-fringed north shore, history takes material form on a giant scale. Steel for the car you drive, the structure of the building where you work, and the grommets on the shoes you wear might contain iron ore transshipped at Two Harbors. Iron ore proved to be the diamond in the rough for nineteenth-century prospectors searching for gold, silver, and other minerals. Three iron ranges stretched across northern Minnesota, but the ease of open-pit mining made the Mesabi Range the mother lode. Railroads soon radiated from the mines, one terminating at Agate Bay, which, together with the adjacent Burlington Bay, gave a name to the community that sprang up at the port: Two Harbors.

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