A major fund raising drive is underway to help clean up the site of the former Pioneer Mine in Ely and preserve the buildings there to become the Ely Arts and Heritage Center.
The complex across from the Grand Ely Lodge near Shagawa Lake is what remains on the surface of the underground Pioneer mine. The mine closed in 1967 due to high costs of underground mining compared to open pit mining common on the Iron Range today. It was the last of 11 Ely area iron mines. What remains are various mine buildings and the head-frame.
To an outsider the steel sided industrial buildings might not look like much. But the rusty old head-frame with big pulley wheels looks pretty cool. To Ely residents, this is the place where a lot of fathers and grandfathers made their livings, mining the hard way, in shafts, deep underground. For years, locals have been trying to figure out how to save and restore the historic structures.
The restoration effort is headed by the group Ely Greenstone Arts. According to its website, the Miners Dry and Shaft House were restored in the 1990s but require work on lighting, security and repairs. Greenstone has been using the Miners Dry building and the Shaft House for art displays and shows since 2007.
The Captains Dry building needs to be stabilized and estimates to restore that building are $1.5 million. When completed, the building will be used for offices, classrooms and studio space.
Ely Greenstone Public Art has launched a public fund drive, and they have a good start with a $16,000 donation in services from Ely’s Low Impact Excavating, which will remove brush and tree stumps; and help stop deterioration of the aging buildings. Restoration plans call for restoring the site to its late-1940s glory years.
Anne Swenson, with Ely Greenstone Arts, told St. Louis County Commissioners last spring that plans include a sculpture to recognize the many men who had
died in Ely area iron mines.
Ely Greenstone Art has invested over $32,000 in funds and donated labor so far this year. Donations and grants account for $19,000 of that. There’s information how to donate on the Ely Greenstone Arts website.