The History of Tower & Soudan
Tower and Soudan have been tied tightly together from the beginning. Read below about the history of each community.
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Incorporated in 1889, Tower is the oldest city north of Duluth.
The first white family to take up residence in the vicinity of Tower was probably headed by George E. Wheeler. Mr. Wheeler was a government agent at the Indian Reservation and his wife was school mistress there.
George R. Stuntz knew the Vermilion country better perhaps than any other white man, except possibly the Wheelers. In 1880 he was the principal guide, explorer, and advisor of Professor Chester and at the same time had an important governmental commission, that of surveying the township. Stuntz is credit with having surveyed the townsite of Tower in 1882 for the Minnesota Iron Company.
The first crew of miners did not leave Duluth until June 1882, however John Owens was in Tower in April of that year. His job was to construct a sawmill for the Minnesota Iron Company. John Owens was the first building contractor in the area, working on the mill as well as company buildings. The first independent contractor is said to be O. W. Saunders. Some of the early pioneers: Andrew Bystrom, Gus Bystrom, William Holter, M. Kellow and Ted Wheeler.
The Vermilion Trail between Duluth and Tower was no picnic. It took three days and two nights to cover the more than 100 miles by wagon. It was stated that only in the winter could teams be used. In the summer, the swamps were many and long, and no horse could negotiate the trail, so the only way north was by foot. Yet, at time there were as many as 200 people at one time en route for Tower and Soudan, making Tower the Gateway to Lake Vermilion.
Tower was incorporated as a village under the General Laws of the State of Minnesota, which took effect on November 11, 1884. It was named after Charlegmane Tower Sr. & Jr., mining and railroad investors instrumental in Minnesota Iron and the Duluth and . The first election of village officers was held at the Cody House in Tower, a boarding house erected by the Minnesota Iron Company and later known as the Pioneer Hotel. The first village officers included: John Owens, president; John G. Brown, John Sawbridge and James Bale as trustees; Neil McInnis, treasurer; William N. Shepard, recorder; Horace N. Blanchard and James W. Goss, justices and Michael O'Keefe as constable. The first post office was located in a log hut southwest of the depot, with John Anderson being the first postmaster. Mail was brought from Duluth by dog trains driven by Barney Lynch and delivered weekly.
Other Firsts of Tower
First Council Meeting: The first council meeting was held in the office of James W. Goss on November 28, 1884.
First Marshal: On December 16, 1884, Michael O'Keefe was appointed village marshal at a salary of $50 month.
First Village Attorney: W. G. Bonham was appointed village attorney at a salary of $25 a month.
School History: A small schoolhouse was built in 1885. A.W. Jones was the first teacher at a salary of $60 a month.
First Newspaper North of Duluth: It was in Tower that the first newspaper of the Vermilion and Mesabi Ranges were started. The "Vermilion Iron Journal" was founded in l888, by Dr. Fred Barrett.
Other historical notes:
On February 2, 1996, the coldest temperature in the lower 48 states was recorded in Tower at -60 degrees Fahrenheit.
The village of Soudan was established March 3, 1885.
Soudan gets it's name from D.H Bacon contrasting Soudan's cold, biitter winters to the tropical climate of the Sudan/Soudan area of Africa.
Prospectors moving north looking for gold instead found incredibly rich and pure deposits of hematite. The first iron mine in Minnesota was established in Soudan in 1882. Originally an open pit mine, safety concerns quickly converted the mine to an underground operation in the early 1900s, which people can still tour today. Since the land that the village rested on was owned by the mine, there was, and to this day, still is only one place of business in Soudan, aptly named the SOS: Soudan's Only Store.
The mine brought incredibly diverse groups of people, with the small village quickly developing it's own little burrows that are still known to locals today.