If you have been following this blog, you will know that part of my research has involved tracking the facilities that processed low-grade iron ores and produced tailings in the Mesabi Range. These facilities were called beneficiation plants (ben-eh-fiss-ee-ay-tion plants), iron ore concentrators, or ghost plants if you are referring to this blog. Historically, 88 beneficiation plants stretched across the Mesabi Range. Today 13 of these plants remain standing - but 2 weeks ago, I would have told you that there were 14. Time flies when you are having fun.
Coming up with these figures was a convoluted process. Since processing plants are not tracked by any government agency, and because most mining heritage sites tend to focus their attention more on the mines than the processing plants, pinpointing were these facilities once existed required quite a bit of archival legwork. Identifying the locations of these 88 beneficiation plants required examining historical maps, historical aerial imagery, paging through old trade journals, and using web-based services like MNTOPO to analyze the current landscape.
I thought I would share a poster that I created for the 2016 American Society for Environmental History Conference. It was a challenging and fun experience putting my research into a 36'' x 43'' visual display.
If you would like a high resolution copy, feel free to email me or comment below.
Three of the largest human-caused environmental disasters in recent memory were the result of technological failures within mining systems: the Mount Polley disaster in British Columbia; the Gold King mine disaster in Colorado; and the Bento Rodrigues mine disaster in Brazil.
Mining systems are composed of three main elements: human, material and environmental. Within mining systems, human actors rely on knowledge, expertise, and material technologies to interact with ore bodies - and in order for mining systems to successfully function, the human and material elements need to be adaptable to environmental changes. In the three environmental disasters listed above the mining systems failed, due to a mixture of negligence, technological malfunction, and environmental change.
"A picture is worth a thousand words", or in the case of this image - thousands of trees.
It has been over a month since my last blog post - I've been busy working on my dissertation proposal, and recently returned from a really fruitful trip to a handful of archives in Minnesota. I'm still processing much of what I gathered at the archives - (and will be doing so for a number of months) - but I have been dwelling on the image above and what it says about the mining industry: What cultural and environmental impacts of past mining have we forgotten? and What other hidden impacts of mining might we begin to reconsider?
This morning I came across this great collection of historical sketches of some prominent Michigan individuals at the turn of the 20th century. There are roughly 60 illustrations of folks from the U.P., including this image of the John Longyear - a Michigan native who was influential in shaping the landscapes of the Lake Superior Iron District.
You can easily scan the images by clicking on the second link from the top of the page that I've linked above. Enjoy!
Does anyone know of anything similar for Minnesota or Wisconsin?
I just found this neat little documentary about the forced abandonment of old Hibbing to allow for the expansion of Oliver Iron Mining Co.'s Hull-Rust Mahoning open pit iron mine - circa 1920. I'm in the process of digging a little deeper into the region's past, and have just returned from the fantastic archives at the Minnesota Historical Society where I was able to locate many of the original affidavits.
"Because the Bonita Mine was a Very Excellent Mine"
-From Jones Vs. People, 118 Colo. 271, 272 (Colo. 1948)
I recently had the opportunity to visit an abandoned fluorspar (or fluorite) mine in New Mexico. The Bonita Mine is located in the Zuni Mountains, about 1.5 hours west of Albuquerque. This area has been home to both extensive logging activity, as well as mining of both copper deposits and the aforementioned fluorspar.
As an archaeologist by trade, my labor is often focused on searching for things that we did not know existed. Sometimes this investigative work produces the identification of isolated artifacts and complex sites, but more often than not these surveys produce negative results – meaning despite our best efforts, nothing was found.
Trying to uncover missing narratives of our past is one of the more enjoyable aspects of conducting historic research. Similar to archaeology, an objective of conducting research is hoping to uncover a narrative that may have been forgotten, or in some cases intentionally hidden from the public. However, like archaeology, this research, too, often fails to produce any smoking guns.