Taconite Harbor Ghost Town

In the 1950’s, Taconite Harbor was a bustling little town that sprung up along the shore of Lake Superior just outside of Schroeder. Now, it’s a ghost town.

In its heyday, it was a tiny, two-block community built by the Erie Mining Company to provided housing for the employees of the nearby taconite plant.  22 pastel-colored, pre-fabricated homes were brought in on trucks and lined either side of the street in this picturesque village.

A Picturesque 1950s Town

Starting in 1957, the town thrived.  In the beginning, the convenience of living near the plant was a big draw to many families.  To accommodate the growing community a fire hall, community center, playground, baseball field, basketball court, and tennis court were constructed. 

The town’s close proximity to Lake Superior meant that Taconite Harbor, with its incredible views, was a desirable place to live. It was especially perfect for young families just starting out as it was an affordable place to live. For just $400 down and $100 a month, families could comfortably live in the tidy three- and four-bedroom homes.  

1950s Idealism

Each home came with a paved driveway and a spacious tree-lined backyard.  In many ways, Taconite Harbor was the idealistic 1950’s neighborhood where neighbors watched out for one another.   During its peak, close to 75 children called Taconite Harbor home. In the evenings, kids would run around playing games in the streets and the yards until the street lights turned on and it was time to go home for dinner. It was a postcard North Shore town.

The Downfalls

That is, until the 1970s when the growing issue of taconite dust and noise pollution from the plant started driving away families. Many were concerned that the dust may have lasting health implications for their families.

Then, in 1982 the taconite industry hit an all-time low. The workforce at Taconite harbor was reduced to only about 100 employees.  Many young families left the area to find work elsewhere, original residents of the town started reaching retirement age, and Taconite Harbor started its descent into a ghost town.

The End of Taconite Harbor

In 1986 the remaining residents were told the town was no longer going to be supported, they would have to start moving.  Those residing in the homes were offered the chance to purchase them. For just $1, a family could purchase their home, but were told they’d have to remove them from the land.  Many took the company up on their offer, several of the houses were moved into nearby Silver Bay and privately-owned plots along Highway 61. 

In 1988, the final resident left, officially making Taconite Harbor a ghost town.

The Ghost Town

By 1990 the remaining homes and buildings were packed up and sent out on trucks.  All that remained of Taconite Harbor were the foundations, streets, street lights, and remnants of the vibrant community that it once was.

Less than 30 years later, nature has reclaimed most of the land.  You can still make out the two main streets, although they, too, are being reclaimed. A single, rusted old street light still sits at the entrance to the town.  There are holes where the sewer and water drainage system once was. If you venture off the beaten path, you can still find a foundation or two.  For the most part, however, Taconite Harbor has returned to nature, leaving only the memories of those who once called this place home. 

In 1990 the remaining homes and buildings were packed up and sent out on trucks.  All that remained of Taconite Harbor were the foundations, streets, street lights, and remnants of the vibrant community that it once was.

The Future of Taconite Harbor

Work continued at Taconite Harbor (the plant) over the years, switching hands several times until Minnesota Power took over.  In 2016 Taconite Harbor Energy Center idled its coal-fired operations. This affected the remaining 42 employees.  The plant currently runs on a skeleton crew of a few employees and is only operated occasionally. 

It is expected to close for good by 2020.  Perhaps, another 30 years from then, the entire area will have been reclaimed by nature and all that will remain are the stories.

Visiting Taconite Harbor

The area west of the plant is now a safe harbor with a small outdoor museum that tells the story of how the harbor was built out.  If you are heading down to the safe harbor, you may miss the town, or what remains of it, entirely.  To the right, as you turn off Highway 61, a single street light still stands, marking the entrance. 

If you can, safely park and walk straight ahead. Immediately, you will walk down the main street.  Some people have used the area to illegally dump electronics and appliances.  Otherwise, there isn’t much to see here any more. But, it’s a quiet and peaceful place.  Perhaps it’s worth a quick stop and look around before heading out to other destinations along the shore. 

Exploring the North Shore Podcast visited Taconite Harbor during the Silver Bay to Grand Marais road trip episode. Listen now:

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