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Collection Pioneering the Upper Midwest: Books from Michigan, Minnesota, and Wisconsin, ca. 1820 to 1910

The Pineries (1820-1900) and the Mines (1850-)

Timber and mining areas in the north followed an altogether different trajectory than did the rural culture that took hold in the southern part of the Upper Midwest region. The timber boom exploited the vast pine forest belt that at one time stretched from New England to western Canada, including all of Michigan, the northern half of Wisconsin and the northern and eastern portions of Minnesota. Pine was the ideal wood for the building that had to be done to house the exploding numbers of Americans. Pine floated; it was easily worked and straight-grained. Large areas of the pine belt were accessible by water for shipping in the Great Lakes or down the Mississippi. The expertise needed to get the lumber to market came from New England and moved west. Work in the lumber camp depended largely on seasonal labor, much of it off the farm and/or just off the boat.

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"Prize Load of Pine Headed for the Rollway." Between the iron and the pine; a biography of a pioneer family and a pioneer town, by Lewis Charles Reimann (Ann Arbor, 1951).

Before specialized railroads took over, timber, cut at lumber camps, moved over winter ice down to the river's edge, awaiting the spring thaw. The moment the river ice broke up, the logs were floated downriver to market. This was no simple matter; the rivers were often shallow and required dams to keep the water level up high enough to move the wood. There were rapids to be negotiated. There were always log jams, often of legendary proportions, that had to be broken up, at the peril of life and limb. When floated as cut lumber, the wood was assembled in rafts covering as much as two-thirds of an acre.

As forests to the east gave way, the industry moved west. In 1865, Michigan lead all the states in timber production; by 1890, Minneapolis was the premier lumber market in the world; but primacy in the industry soon thereafter passed on to the Pacific Northwest. Along with the lumber camps and Paul Bunyan, the huge forest fires live on in legend. Piles of sawdust, waste wood and cut timber fed the flames of the Peshtigo, Wisconsin, fire in 1871, in which some twelve hundred people died. Minnesota remembers the Hinckley inferno of 1894. Left behind with the passing of the pineries were the Victorian mansions of the lumber barons and vast "cutover" areas, unsuited for agriculture and shorn of their virgin timber.

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"Men of the Red Underground." Between the iron and the pine; a biography of a pioneer family and a pioneer town, by Lewis Charles Reimann (Ann Arbor, 1951).

Mining also became a key industrial concern in the Upper Midwest. The northern part of the Upper Midwest region, near Lake Superior, contained huge deposits of copper (notably on the Keweenaw Peninsula) and of iron (notably in the Mesabi Range in Minnesota and in several locations on the Upper Peninsula). The mining of the ores required heavy equipment and huge investments. Initially, iron ore was smelted by means of locally produced charcoal, but the wood supply soon gave out. From then on the ore was shipped east. Transportation to the east required the building of the Sault Ste. Marie canal connecting Lake Superior to the other Great Lakes, first opened in 1855. It also required an intricate and extensive system to move the ore out of the ground (in the Mesabi Range, out of open pits), to loading and unloading facilities, to a fleet of specialized lake boats, to the Chicago and to the Cleveland-Pittsburgh areas, where the ore was turned into iron, steel and allied products. Such intricate interdependence was as far as possible removed from the decentralized farming economy further south. The fabulously rich copper mines in the Upper Peninsula followed similar patterns, if not on quite so grand a scale.

A distinct population was attracted to work the mines. Cornish miners, from Cornwall, England, arrived early, bringing with them their experience in underground mining (some of them coming from lead mines in southwestern Wisconsin). Swedes and Finns were heavily represented, and later Croats and Slovenes. The ethnicities in the mining area, like the economy, offered sharp contrasts to patterns further south.