The area that is now known as Ironwood was settled, though very scarcely, by miners as early as 1871. Although home to some makeshift encampments along the Montreal River, Ironwood only saw real growth after the critical discovery of iron ore deposits. Ironwood received village status in 1887, and city status in 1889. (4)
The man accredited with the discovery of the first deposits was James Wood, later honored with the nickname James Iron Wood, and ultimately serving as inspiration for the town’s official name. Wood discovered two massive iron ore deposits and soon the Ashland and Norrie mines were developed to obtain this valuable resource. At this time Ironwood’s population was still relatively small; Ironwood still had some growing to do.
The town began to truly and rapidly flourish after the addition of the railroad to the settlement in 1884, allowing for even further discovery of the great presence of iron ore in the area. As the mining industry surged, so followed Ironwood’s population which doubled and peaked at just over 15,000 in 1920. At this point Ironwood was home to a bustling immigrant population, largely Finnish, attracted to the area by the promising and bountiful mines. At one point in 1920, it was recorded that upwards of 37% of Ironwood’s population was made up of immigrants.
Unfortunately, the prosperous 1920’s proved to be the zenith of Ironwood’s economic growth, and in the following decades as mines closed for varying reasons, the population plummeted. The Great Depression hit Ironwood hard as the demand for iron ore decreased continuously. Citizens of the town also became increasingly worried about the ground which seemed to be caving in as a result of Ironwood being a town built around mines. With the knowledge of the potentially devastating effects this would have on Ironwood homes and residents, a relatively large redistribution proposal arose in the 1930’s. Proving to have dismal impact, mines were still forced to close. Ironwood’s final mine closed in 1965. (14)