Iron Mountain

Following the Civil War, H. A. Chapin of Niles, Michigan came north and bought forty acres of land that happened to include the present site of Iron Mountain,* located on the Eastern Menominee Iron Ore Range. The site nestles at the foot of surrounding hills that present some beautiful scenery, and abounds in rich deposits of valuable iron ore.    

The story of Iron Mountain actually began on a day in 1871 when James J. Hagerman, (see his biographical sketch below) general manager of the Milwaukee Iron Company, read a pamphlet from the Chicago & Northwestern Railway (C&NW) detailing reports of the possibility of excellent-quality ore deposits in northern Menominee County.  Hagerman, en route to Detroit from a business meeting in the East, was facing a business dilemma.  His company manufactured iron rail for sale to the railroads. For materials they used worn-out rails and other wrought-scrap iron. England was producing a new type of rail made of Bessemer steel - up to fifteen times as durable as iron. Railroad companies, rapidly expanding their lines westward across America, needed these harder rails, but they had to be imported since there were very few steel mills in this country.

Explorations in Section 30, where Iron Mountain is located, were placed in the hands of Dr. Nelson P. Hulst, (biographical sketch below) a young graduate of Yale's Sheffield Scientific School and a geologist, metallurgist, and chemist.  He discovered huge ore deposits that led, in short order, to a boom in iron mine development, an influx of immigrant Italian, Swedish and Cornish dreamers and the creation of city after city.  Hulst laid out Iron Mountain in 1879 and is considered this city's founder.

In the summer of 1880, mining operations commenced at the Chapin Mine, yet little was done until the season opened in 1881, when the value of the deposit was fully established, and the town sprang up.  In its early days, resources were found in its great mineral wealth, and the complement of business seen in the area was the same found at the time in the many little mining towns of the Menominee Range. 

By 1883, the Swedish Lutheran and Methodist Episcopal Churches had just effected organizations in Iron Mountain, and erected frame church buildings.  At that time, Iron Mountain was reached by the Menominee River Railroad, which furnished shipping facilities for its mines to Escanaba and an outlet to all points.

Three of Michigan's largest iron mines were located in Iron Mountain, which had an abundant supply of water power and was served by two major railroads, one of which was the C&NW, built in 1889. Iron Mountain became a center of commerce and distribution for the range and was the natural location for the county seat once the county organized. 

Iron Mountain was incorporated as a village in 1887, with Dr. A.E. Anderson as its first mayor.  In 1889, Iron Mountain became a city.  Researchers should note that Iron Mountain was in Menominee County until it was transferred to Dickinson County on October 1, 1891. 

As an added piece of local color, you might like to know that Iron Mountain is home to the second largest population of brown bats in the U.S.  They live in an old mine shaft call Millie's Hill on the city's east side. You can observe them from late April though October at dusk and dawn when the bats are feeding.

Iron Mountain is located on US-2 in Dickinson County. The city had a population of 8,154 in 2000.

*I have not been able to establish a date of purchase.

Biographical Sketches:

James John "J.J." Hagerman was an entrepreneur involved in iron production in Wisconsin, ore mining in Michigan, railroads and mining in Colorado, and railroads and irrigation in New Mexico's Pecos Valley.  He made his first fortune developing iron deposits in Michigan and as ironmaster in Milwaukee Wisconsin. 

J.J. was born March 23, 1838, near Port Hope, Canada, to James Parrot Hagerman and Margaret Crawford Hagerman. The family moved to Newport, Michigan, in 1843. In 1857, he entered the University of Michigan at Ann Arbor, graduating in June 1861.

In 1867 J.J. Hagerman married Anna Osborne.  Two sons would be born to the couple, Percy and Herbert James. Percy became a Colorado Springs, Colorado businessman. Herbert served as Second Secretary of the U.S. Embassy in Imperial Russia, 1898-1901, was Governor of New Mexico, 1906-1907, president of the Taxpayers Association of New Mexico,  and was appointed Commissioner to the Navajo Tribe.

During his college years and afterwards, Hagerman worked for Captain Eber B. Ward of Detroit, a prominent figure in shipping, iron works, factories and railroads.   J.J. connected with the iron mills in Milwaukee and gradually worked himself up the totem pole of the Milwaukee Iron Company until, in 1869, he became general manager of the Milwaukee Iron Company.  Due to an economic depression in the iron rail business however, the Milwaukee Iron Company lost a great deal of money in 1873.   Hagerman survived the financial panic of 1873 and the demise of the Milwaukee Iron Company. 

He became an organizer of the famed Menominee Iron Company.  This would be the beginning of J.J.’s success in the mining business, having developed the iron mines in the Menominee district and founded the Chapin mine - one that would become the largest producing mine in Michigan.   In that same year (1873) J.J. contracted pulmonary tuberculosis.

By 1876 the need for the ore used in Bessemer steel had greatly increased. J.J. Hagerman became involved in the Menominee Mining Company, whose deposits were in northern Michigan. Within four years he had acquired a large fortune.  In 1884, attempting to ease the effects of the  tuberculosis, J.J. moved to Colorado Springs, Colorado where he developed business interests in the western region. 

He died while vacationing in Milan, Italy in 1909.  J.J. is buried in Milwaukee, Wisconsin.


James John Hagerman Family Papers. Ms 104. Rio Grande Historical Collections. New Mexico State University Library.

Meeting the Train: Hagerman, New Mexico and its Pioneers.  Published for the Hagerman Historical Society.

The Lives of James John Hagerman by John J. Lispey.

Dr. Nelson Powell Hulst was known in his day as "America's greatest iron hunter."  He was prominent in the development of mining in Northern Wisconsin and Upper Michigan.   A geologist, chemist and practical mining man, Hulst went into the north when it was still a wilderness, and his life story became part of the romantic history of the Menominee range.

Nelson Hulst was born in New York in 1842.  He aspired to an appointment at the U.S. Naval Academy at Annapolis, and he and his father extracted such a promise from President Abraham Lincoln in a personal visit.  Lincoln was obliged to withdraw his promise, however, under pressure to save his personal appointments for sons of army officers who had died in the service.

Hulst entered Yale in 1863, received the B.A. there, and then received a Ph.B. and Ph.D. from Sheffield Scientific School.  His first job in 1870 was chemist for the Milwaukee Iron Company, and after a fruitless search for iron in southern Wisconsin, in 1872 he headed north to discover the Vulcan mine, the initial development on the Menominee range.  As general superintendent of exploration for the Menominee Mining Company, Hurst was instrumental in developing mines at Norway, Quinnesec, Iron Mountain in Michigan and Florence, Wisconsin.

He later discovered the Pewabic mine, and developed mines from that range as well.  For years he was vice president in charge of the mining interests of the Carnegie Steel Company and later the United States Steel Corporation.

Mining men maintained, "Dr. Hulst never made a mistake.  If he told you do 'dig here,' then it was so, and if he told you to 'stay out' then you would find that his advice was right."

About 1874 Hulst married Florence T. _?_, a native of Connecticut born in April 1851.  She had been a student at Milwaukee Female College, a forerunner of Milwaukee-Downer, for a time in the 1860s.

Nelson and Florence Hulst had the following children:  Edith R., born April 1851 in Michigan; Alfred N., born August 1880 in Wisconsin; Alice F., July 1889 in Wisconsin; Henry, born May 1896 in Wisconsin; and Clarence P., born February 1878 also in Wisconsin.

When Alice Hulst was obliged to drop out of Smith College because of illness, Dr. Hulst built a small greenhouse to occupy her convalescence.  She never recovered health, however, and died at 22 of scarlet fever.  Her father and friends established a professorial chair in her memory.  In addition,  several others of the family's are memorialized in a number of places.  There is Hulst Junior High School in Iron Mountain, Michigan; the town and county of Florence in northern Wisconsin were named for Florence Terry Hulst, mother of Alice; there are memorial windows to Dr. Nelson P. Hulst and to his daughter, Alice in the Plymouth Congregational Church of Milwaukee; and there is the endowed chair at Lawrence University in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Although Hulst's work was in Michigan, his official residence was Milwaukee except for several years in Florence.  Extremely active in Milwaukee's civic and charitable affairs, he was president of the Milwaukee University Club, a director of the Milwaukee Gas Light Company, and a trustee of Milwaukee-Downer and Beloit Colleges.  For 30 years he taught a Sunday School class and led excursions of boys' groups.  Nelson Hulst died in Milwaukee in 1923. He is known today as the father of the Menominee Iron Range.


1900 Census, Milwaukee City, 1st Ward, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. Roll # SD 294, ED 14, sheet 15B, page 264B.

1910 Census, City of Milwaukee, Milwaukee County, Wisconsin. Roll #T624-1722, SD #4, ED #18, sheet 5B, page 64B.

American Society of Mechanical Engineers, Chapin Mine Pumping Engine, National Historic Mechanical Engineering Landmark. June 6, 1987.

Schumann, Marguerite.  Sunday Post-Crescent: Chair in Life Sciences Honors Alice Florence Hulst's Service. January 30, 1966.

Previous  |  Next ]     [ Up  |  First  |  Last ]     (Article 25 of 101)