Digging up the past: The history of Iron River

Explore Michigan

IRON RIVER, Mich. (WJMN) – Iron River, a town of about 5,000 people situated in the southwestern part of the Upper Peninsula made a name for itself through two major industries.

“People mostly came to Iron County for the mining and logging, those were the two primary economic drivers for our area here,” Erika Sauter the Museum Director for the Iron County Historical Museum said. “That was kind of in like the early 1900s where settlers really started coming from all over the world.”

At one point, Iron County was home to over 50 active mines and without the mines and the people inside, the town would not be what it is today.

“The fact that we’re all still here, it was because of them that the economy got established here in Iron River and that it grew into the into the major thing that it became,” Sauter said. “So we really owe a lot to those miners then the dangerous situations that they put themselves in knowing that you know they were making community for their children and their children’s children.”

Some very notable people have played a major role in the area, past and present.

“William Sheldon was kind of the, one of the original surveyors and early settlers here” Sauter said. “And he established a lot in this community here. We’ve also had quite a few famous people from the area, Lee LeBlanc is a wildlife artist and he also worked for MGM and worked on the movie Ben-Hur and like received lots of awards, so he was from Iron River. Aileen Fisher, who is a published author she published more than 100 books in her lifetime, and received tons of awards, she was from Iron River as well. Brandon Giovanelli, he was an artist. His home is here on our museum grounds and he was a prolific artist, and received quite a few awards.”

Thanks to its rich logging history, as of 2014, Iron River is officially the Log Cabin capital of the all of Michigan.

“There is a Michigan is the only state in the union that celebrates log cabins intentionally there’s a log cabin day in Michigan. On the last Sunday in June. And so that’s when we celebrate, you know, on a log cabin history and the pioneers that settled up here.”

From mining to log cabins to famous artists that have once called Iron River home, the deep sense of community and pride is what keeps Iron River’s roots durable and on going for generations to come.

Copyright 2021 Nexstar Media Inc. All rights reserved. This material may not be published, broadcast, rewritten, or redistributed.

Michigan Headlines

More Michigan

StormTracker 6 Radar