Minnesota is a state known for lakes, mosquitos, and iron. The incredibly iron rich state is dotted with mines. Yet, none is more notable than the Soudan Mine. It is Minnesota’s oldest and deepest iron ore mine and where the industry found its start in 1884.
History of the Soudan Underground Mine State Park
Miners first arrive in the Vermillion Iron Range drawn by rumors of gold. A geological survey crew claims to have encountered veins of gold and silver bearing quartz in the region. This sparks a short lived gold rush between 1865 and 1866. Yet, when no profitable gold deposits are found, miners move on…at least for a few more years.
Mining for iron in the Vermillion Iron Range begins in 1884 with the Breitung pit. Miners are recruited from the Marquette Iron Range in Michigan and begin digging in March 1884. Before any of the mined ore can be transported, however, a rail line has to be completed. Work on the line starts in late 1883 and is not completed until July 1884. The first shipment successfully departs on July 31, 1884 to much fanfare. Miners are given the day off and the fledgling community celebrates.
By the end of the first year, over 62,124 tons of iron ore are shipped. Early operations are conducted out of seven open pits. But the Soudan eventually transitions underground as shafts are dug to follow the iron deposit. At its deepest, the mine reaches a depth of 2,500 feet.*
The operation is streamlined for efficiency. Carts transport ore from the skip to the crusher house where large chunks of ore are smashed into seven diameter pieces—the proper size for the steal mills. This smaller stone is then funneled down to rail cars below.
As technology advances, so does the Soudan Mine. Hand picks and sledge hammers give way to power tools and tunnels wired for electricity. Evidence remains of the steam boiler that once powered the mine before it transitioned to compressed air and electricity.
The Soudan Mine remains in operation between 1885 and 1962. At its height in 1893, the mine employs 1,800 men and ships 568,000 long tons of high-grade ore.
The Soudan Mine defines the Vermilion Iron Range. Between 1885 and 1922, mines of the Vermilion Iron Range produce over 1 million tons of ore a year peaking in 1902 with over two million tons. Over a quarter of the ore shipping from the Vermillion Iron Range comes from the Soudan
With the closure of the mine, the United State Steel Corporation, transfers ownership of the mine to the state. Today the mine and surrounding land is run by the State of Minnesota as a public park.
Visiting the Soudan Underground Mine State Park
Visitors to the Soudan Underground Mine State Park can explore the above ground workings of the historic mine at their own speed. Educational plaques guide visitors through the engine house, crusher house, and extensive tracks and chutes designed to move ore from the mine and to the rail way cars waiting to transport the ore.
The Soudan Mine Hoist House is still operating. Even if you are not taking a tour of the underground workings, you can witness the operation of the hoist spool out 3,000 feet of hoisting rope as visitors are raised and lowered into the shaft.
Guests who take the underground tour ride the skip—like the miners—down into the mine and then pile into carts that will transport the group past old mining works and equipment to a large chamber with a collection of displays and a demonstration of the drills used by miners.
* Like the Homestake Mine in Lead, South Dakota, the depth of the Soudan Mine has made it a location for dark matter research and other experiments.