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.
John Baeten is a Postdoctoral Fellow in Spatial Analysis of Environmental Change in the Department of Geography at Indiana University. He holds a PhD in Industrial Heritage and Archaeology from Michigan Technological University. His research aims to connect historical process to current environmental challenges, and to contextualize the environmental legacies of industrialization as meaningful cultural heritage.