MARQUETTE – When Terry Reynolds decided to write what could be the first scholarly history of iron mining in Michigan, he found a treasure trove of source materials at the Northern Michigan University Archives. To illustrate the point, Reynolds estimates that the volumes of records, placed end to end, would span at least one-quarter mile in length.

NMU acquired the records last summer from the State of Michigan Archives in Lansing.

“Shortly after I started here six years ago, I took a tour of the state archives and saw a collection of CCI records in the stacks,” said Marcus Robyns, NMU archivist. “They weren’t getting any use. Once our site became a depository for local government records, it fell into place that the CCI records would be more relevant and useful here than in Lansing. We are getting a lot of requests from all over the country from people doing genealogical research on relatives who worked at the mines.”

NMU has since established a fellowship travel grant to support scholarly research and facilitate access to the collections stored in its archives and in Olson Library. Reynolds, a Michigan Tech history professor who is spending most of his sabbatical on the NMU campus, is the first recipient of the $500 grant. A second will be awarded for summer research by another scholar, based on an upcoming review of applications.

The material Reynolds is poring over comes primarily from Cleveland Cliffs, which was established in 1891 through the merger of Cleveland Iron Mining Co. and Iron Cliffs Co. in New York, and its predecessor companies. The documents are dated from 1849 through 1960. 

“There is an extensive amount of correspondence from Cleveland Cliffs’ predecessor companies before the merger,” said Reynolds. “Much of it is handwritten, which makes it very tedious to go through. William H. Barnum of Iron Cliffs had handwriting that was very hard to decipher, whereas Samuel Mather from Cleveland had very legible writing.”

After 1891, the amount of correspondence dwindled and gave way to detailed annual reports from the newly formed Cleveland Cliffs. Reynolds said the reports run between 200 and

900 pages. Many contain specific and lengthy data on safety issues – mine injuries and deaths, how lost-time accidents were classified according to responsibility, and success measures of safety programs.

Reynolds said the reports also revealed how mining companies diversified operations and engaged in business activities that one might not expect, mainly because of their extensive land holdings at the time.

“A large number of companies continued to believe they could process ore in the region and make a larger profit selling iron bars instead of raw ore,” he added. “As a result, the companies owned enormous tracts of land so they would have hardwoods to convert to charcoal to fuel the furnaces.  When the demand for charcoal iron faltered, they were left to find alternative uses for the land.

“On Grand Island in the 1920s and 30s, for example, Cleveland Cliffs was also involved in the trapping and sale of deer and the production and sale of maple syrup. Around 1900, the company was involved in colonization schemes in Alger County near Munising. The goal was to lure colonists to farm in the U.P. on cut-over areas and on some timberland. These are some things I didn’t expect to uncover.”

Reynolds plans to write one or two articles this summer as a prelude to at least one book on the subject. As a condition of the grant, he will return to NorthernÂ’s campus in the fall to make a public presentation on some aspect of his research.

“It’s easy to get discouraged because of the overwhelming amount of information that is available,” Reynolds said. “But I like to use a mining analogy: I’m going to mine all the ore I can now while I have this block of time and these bountiful information resources at my disposal. I can worry about crushing, refining and processing it all later.”

NMU is accepting applications from other scholars interested in researching the universityÂ’s historical collections for theses, dissertations, research papers or publications. The deadline is May 15. For more information, contact Marcus Robyns or Russ Magnaghi at (906)227-1225.

Prepared By
Kristi Evans
News Director