North American Mine

Brick fireplace for the North American Mine's engine room.


The North American Mine was one of four of Thomas J. Walsh‘s mining projects, started in the early 1900s and progressing until the mid 1920s. Walsh had many big plans for the area – the four iron mining operations, as well as the North American Brick, Tile and Pottery company which was already in operation, a gold and silver ore processing plant, and the Town of Walsh which would have supported the industry surrounding Walsh and the railroad corridor of the Tower Junction.

The mine had issues with water leaking in. While it was dug it had to be deserted several times to be pumped out. The Foundation Company of New York and Chicago was brought in to sink a concrete shaft, which fixed part of the problem, except for a section of gravel at the uneven bottom of the shaft that was still allowing water in. A crew was selected to seal the section, by pumping liquid concrete into it until it bonded and solidified the gravel. After this point, the water issues were mostly over. It was reported that the mine only let in as much water as the typical mine, which would be considered a success.

The mine was beset with issues throughout the digging process, and ultimately didn’t turn into the producing mine that Walsh had foreseen. The mine had been closed at least by 1921. The only thing immediately noticeable about the former mine is the fireplace for the engine house which still stands, in rough condition.

Rumors circulated about the mine property’s sale in early 1924, but were denied by Walsh. At the time he was more interested in the North American Brick, Tile and Pottery Company’s factory. Brick was in high demand and the local clay was “pronounced by chemists as being of the very best quality for the manufacture of brick” and “brick now commands a good price” according to Walsh.



The point on the map marks the fireplace for the engine house for the North American Mine’s hoist. The North American Brick, Tile and Pottery Company is to the east of the pin, along the same line as the trail the pin sits next to. The shaft is south of the fireplace, on the west side of the road.



Tower Junction Industrial Area
The North American Mine area is in the central southern area of this map from the St. Louis County Land Explorer. The North American Brick, Tile and Pottery Company is slightly to the east; the clay pond is nearby, further east. The Duluth & Iron Range road to the Town of Walsh runs from the North American Road to the west, south of the mine’s shaft.

Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps - Tower, MN - October 1921 Sanborn Fire Insurance Maps - Tower, MN - October 1921

These images are Sanborn Fire Insurance Company maps for Tower and Soudan from October, 1921. The “L”-shaped section shown in the bottom right of the first image is the North American Mine area, though the orientation of the section is incorrect: it should be rotated a quarter-turn clockwise. The second image shows that area, oriented incorrectly. The North American Road is not pictured in the image but it runs parallel to the engine house’s lift cable at the bottom of the image, between the engine house and the line of outbuildings, horizontally in this incorrect orientation.



Brick fireplace for the North American Mine's engine room.

The fireplace for the engine house and hoist for the North American Mine. The fireplace formerly had a metal chimney on top of it.

North American Mine - Looking NW from the end of the road to the Town of Walsh. North American Mine - Looking E from the road to the Town of Walsh.

Photos of the North American mine area, from the Duluth & Iron Range’s road to the Town of Walsh. First image is facing northwest where the road meets the North American Road, and the second image is from further down the road to the Town of Walsh, facing east.

North American Brick, Tile and Pottery Company area.

Photo of the North American Brick, Tile and Pottery Company‘s factory.


Newspaper Articles

The Duluth herald, Vol 29, No 98 – August 1, 1911

New Mines on the Vermilion Iron Range

Four Fairly Certain for Next Season, With a Possibility of Seven.

Four Other Properties Very Promising and May Be Shipping in a Year.

More Shaft Sinking Than Ever Before Is Giving Splendid Results.

More money is being spent in development work on the Vermilion iron range than at any other period in its history and with better results. After spending nearly a month on the range I have every reason to believe that it will have four additional shipping mines next season and possibly seven, while it is within the range of possibilities that still four other very promising properties may turn out to be iron mines within a year.

Not since the discovery of the Vermilion has there been a time when so many shafts were being sunk as now and never before has the outlook been brighter for the oldest iron range in Minnesota. The four mines from which shipments are almost certain to be made next year are the North American at Walsh; the White Iron Lake and the Lucky Boy, near Ely, and the Vermilion Steel & Iron, between these two points. Probable shipping mines next year are the Almar, Minnesota Steel & Iron and Extension of Vermilion Steel & Iron. Four promising properties which may be developed into mines during the next year are the Irona, not far from the North American and the Minnesota, the Vermilion Iron Development, on Pine Island, and the Section 30, half a mile from the Section 30 mine.

One mine was added to the shipping list on the Vermilion last year, another this year and next year will be the banner year for new shippers. The mine which began shipping last year, late in the season, was Section 30 and the new shipper this year is the Chandler mine, abandoned two years ago as worked out, and which is now shipping 6,000 tons a month and will increase its shipments as soon as the iron ore market picks up.

Section 30 was prepared to ship 200,000 tons this season, but so far, owing to the dullness in the market, has not shipped one-quarter of that amount. Most of the ore taken out has been stockpiled, as has been the case with the other mines on the Vermilion. In addition to Section 30 and the Chandler the producing mines on the Vermilion are the Soudan, at Tower, and the Pioneer, Zenith, Sibley and Savoy, at Ely, seven altogether. Section 30 is only about four and a half miles from Ely and the Chandler is in the city’s limits. Ely has six producing mines and the White Iron Lake and Lucky Boy, the former two miles and the latter one mile away, will give her two more. Tower has only the Soudan so far, but next season will have the North American a mile away, the Vermilion Steel & Iron, six miles away, and possibly the Minnesota, two miles away; Vermilion Extension, Almar, and Vermilion development on Pine Island, all tributary to the city.

Ely and Tower are solid and progressive communities. Both cities are going ahead with public improvements and showing all faith in the future. More and more summer visitors are going into the beautiful Lake Vermilion and Burntside lake country each year, their spendings all tributary to Tower and Ely and helping in the upbuilding of those two progressive cities. You will find people in the Vermilion lake country today enjoying the magnificent scenery, cool nights and fine fishing from all sections of the country. Not a few of these are buying properties for summer homes and others are being attracted by the wonderful possibilities the Vermilion range offers for the investment of capital.

The Walsh promotions, as the North American Iron Mining company, the Minnesota Steel & Iron company, the Vermilion Steel & Iron company and the Extension of Vermilion Steel & Iron company, are known, are dealt with in detail farther along in this article. Mr. Walsh told me he believed each of these companies would have a mine in the shipping list next season. No doubt exists at Ely that the White Iron Lake and Lucky Boy shafts are in big ore bodies and will be shipping next year. While I was at the Almar shaft, a mile and a half from the Duluth & Iron Range railroad, near Robinson lake, last Wednesday and Thursday nearly all of the employes, including the Cornish and Swedish miners, sent in to the company for 100 shares of stock each, believing the drift upon which they were just starting would penetrate the main high grade ore body.

At Pine Island, where the Vermilion Iron Development company has begun drifting from the bottom of the shaft. I found splendid surface indications, some of the ore ledges coming clear to the top. Good results are predicted for the shaft of the Section 30 Development company, only half a mile from Section 30. The Scott-Bevier company’s shaft is down eighty feet in Section 36, 63-15. The drill on the Irona property, in section 5, 62-14, near Tower, was in high grade ore the day I was there. Drilling has shown up a large body of ore here. So far as I could learn, this is the only drilling being done on the range with the exception of White Iron Lake company and on the Walsh properties, upon which Osterburg & Johnson of Virginia, have three drills at work. This firm has done $75,000 worth of drilling for Mr. Walsh.

Considerable development work and many investments upon the Vermilion range are awaiting the results from the Walsh properties, particularly the North American, which encountered vexatious and costly water troubles in the shaft. The water has been overcome. As told farther on, the shaft was sealed from the outside while I was there. Last Wednesday the water was pumped out and the cure of the leak in one corner of the shaft was found to be permanent. On Thursday last, when I left the range, no more water was to be found in the North American than percolates into every mining shaft in this region. Work has been resumed in sinking the shaft and in less than three months drifts will be working in the ore body. Before the first of January North American will be putting high grade iron ore on its stockpile.

Northern Minnesota is so rich in iron that little attention has been paid to exploration for other minerals. The North American property has an immense body of rock blocked out from which 150 assays made by a score of chemists give average values of $22 per ton in gold and $7 in silver. Twenty-five miles west of Tower the Durheim Mining company, drilling for iron, is getting drill cores that run nearly $7,000 per ton in gold. A high quality of asbestos has been found at several points near Tower. This mineral is worth from $20 to $200 per ton, depending upon the quality, and nearly all that is used in this country is imported. Showings of copper and zinc have been found in three of the shafts being sunk on the range.

The last of the water trouble In the North American mine, at Walsh, has been overcome, after months of vexatious delays and the expenditure of many thousands of dollars, and T. J. Walsh, president of the North American Iron Mining company, is confident the mine will be producing iron ore before the first of the year. Mr. Walsh told me that he would put the entire four Walsh properties in the shipping list next year, which would add four to the list of producing mines on the Vermilion range. Considering all of the difficulties which Mr. Walsh has encountered since he homesteaded the North American property 29 years ago, and the able manner in which he has surmounted all obstacles. I am strongly inclined to believe he will make all his promises good and confound his critics, of whom every successful man has many.

I was at the North American shaft when the water trouble was finally cured, July 15 and 16. A three inch hole was drilled outside the shaft and six feet away from where the water was leaking into the shaft in considerable quantities. Shortly before 6 o’clock, Saturday, July 15, “the hole was drilled to the ledge, or solid rock, by Osterburg & Johnson of Virginia. Mr. Walsh then chose a picked crew from all his men to work the next day, Sunday. More than 130 bags of cement, in liquid form, was forced down the tubing and into the drain and gravel through which water had been running into the shaft. Steam pressure of 250 pounds was used to force down the cement. When the work ended not an air bubble was to be seen on the water in the shaft, showing that the leak had been effectually sealed, since not even air could be forced through. Operations were then suspended in the shaft for more than a week, the water in the shaft being allowed to remain so as not to remove the pressure from the inside while the cement was solidifying. Then the water in the shaft was pumped out and it was ascertained that the company had seen the last of its serious water trouble. Sinking of the shaft was resumed. Since then there has been no more water to contend with than is found in every shaft on the Vermilion range.

The purpose of the expensive concrete shaft at the the North American mine was to shut off surface water. The Foundation company of New York and Chicago, among the foremost in its line in this country, completed the concrete shaft to a depth of ninety-four feet last November and it was generally believed the mine would be shipping this season. The concrete shaft could not be sunk any deeper. Between the shaft and the solid rock was four feet of gravel, and this was which caused all the trouble, water seeping into the shaft from a great surrounding body of gravel in low ground. Twelve car-loads of cement in liquid form was injected into this gravel, which made it solid concrete. The shaft was continued and timbered from the bottom of the concrete with 12×12 inch timbers placed solid and corked with oakum. Next the shaft was continued in the usual way. But the water trouble continued in one corner and it was to cure this that the three-inch hole was sunk outside the shaft.

When I was at the mine two weeks ago the shaft was down 127 feet and it was the intention to continue to a depth of 250 to 260 feet and then drift 150 feet south to the ore body, which has been proved by diamond drilling. This body averages about 64 per cent of metallic iron, as shown by the drill cores at various depths. The ore body has been proved up to a depth of more than 500 feet. Later a cross cut will be run to the north, where an ore body 100 feet in width has been shown up by drilling. By Jan. 1, next, according to Mr. Walsh, the North American will be lifting iron ore.
The North American mine has a splendid equipment. The shaft is 6xl4 feet, the largest on the range, except the Pioneer at Elv. The steel shaft house, 85 feet in height, was erected by the American Bridge company. It has four loading pockets and a lifting capacity of 2,000 tons daily. The North American has two 200 horse power boilers and space in the big power house for a third when it is needed. It has a large feed pump and hot water heaters.

Its Imperial Iron Works hoist has a capacity of five tons for a distance of 1,500 feet. There is one eight-drill Ingersoll-Rand air compressor in the power house, the smoke stack of which is 115 feet in height. A substantial water tank holds 25,000 gallons. The shaft is equipped with two three-ton skips and one large steel man skip. These were furnished by the Imperial Iron Works, Duluth. As told in another column the shareholders of the North American Iron Mining company have a royalty of $27,000 yearly from the North American Brick, Tile and Pottery company. This royalty is a gift to the mining company from T. J. Walsh. He owns the property outright, having homesteaded it twenty-nine years ago. He had to fight in the courts for twenty years against the Minnesota Iron company and others and spent thousands of dollars to establish his ownership. It as known more than a score of years ago that there was a big ore body on the property.

In addition to its wealth of iron ore and shale, the North American mine will be a big producer of gold, although a smelter will not be erected until after the mine has become a shipper of iron. On the property is a mammoth body of gold ore 500 feet in width and 1,800 feet in depth, as has been shown by diamond drilling. More than 150 assays made by twenty chemists have shown the average value to be $22 in gold and $7 in silver. The assays run as high as $94 in gold from the shaft and as high as $82 in gold where the Duluth & Iron Range railroad cuts through the ledge near the surface, where the first discovery of gold and silver was made, Mr. Walsh having had the rock analyzed more through curiosity than anything else. Seventy-five million tons of this rock have been shown up. If it yields only $1 per ton profit in mining, it will be a tremendously rich proposition. The gold rock lies to the north of the iron ore in a separate and distinct body. The shaft is on the extreme southern edge of the gold rock. It is running through the gold ore. This ore is being stockpiled.

The North American Iron Mining company has 160 acres in sections 4 and 12-61-15, and 160 acres in 22-62-13. On the first named property it has the only steam shovel proposition on the Vermilion range. Soft ore runs to the surface and is as high as 58 per cent in iron.

Vermilion Steel and Iron is another of the Walsh properties. Nine diamond drill holes have been sunk and ore was had in every hole. The holes vary in depth from 250 to 800 feet and have shown up an ore body 430 feet wide and 3060 feet long. A shaft is down 270 feet and it is expected to drift to the ore body at a depth of from 300 to 350 feet. That will be in about a month. Shipping ore has been encountered on the surface of this property and at a depth of eight feet. The Vermilion Steel and Iron shaft is about six miles north and east of Walsh. Its equipment is a duplicate in full of the North American, with the exception of the steel shaft house, the shaft house of the Vermilion being of wood. On this property a large ore formation was discovered recently outcropping 150 feet south of the shaft. This will be developed later. The company’s holdings consist of 160 acres in section 5-62-14.

The Extension of Vermilion Steel and Iron company’s holdings adjoin the Vermilion on the east and contain a continuation of the same ore formation. Eight or ten diamond drill holes have encountered the formation, and trenching and cross-cutting have been done in various places on the outcrop. The company has recently acquired from A. M. Chisholm and Edward Lynch of Duluth, and John Semer of Escanaba, Mich., an 80 acre tract adjoining Extension proper on the east, where a large body of ore was found in 1886 and a shaft sunk to a depth of 130 feet. This property is being diamond drilled and the showing is excellent. In l886 Mr. Walsh worked for the company which did the exploration work. He secured some of the drill cores and hid them under the bed in his camp, boy like, and left them there with the intention of returning, but he never did return until after his company had taken over the property. He looked for the old camp, which was burned years ago, and found it. He located the spot where his bunk had been and recovered several of the drill cores, which run as high as 67 per cent in iron. He was desirous of acquiring the property all these years. When he could have secured the property he did not have the money and when he did have the money the property was not for sale. It was because of the rich showings on his adjacent properties that he took over the land from Mr. Chisholm and his associates.

The Vermilion Steel and Iron shaft is close to the line of the Extension property, and ore from the Extension will be brought up through the Vermilion shaft. Later the old shaft will be sunk at least 100 feet deeper with an equipment which will be a duplicate of those on the North American and Vermilion. Extension of Vermilion has 240 acres in sections 4 and 5, 62-14.

The fourth of the Walsh promotions, the Minnesota Steel and Iron company, is half a mile east of the North American shaft, and has 160 acres in section 3-61-15. This property has the largest and richest outcroppings, and more of them, than I have ever seen. Eight diamond drill holes have been sunk to a depth of from 1,000 to 1,500 feet, all of which encountered ore. The ninth hole is now being drilled, and while I was there drill cores showed ore running as high as 68 per cent. The outcrops are several hundred feet wide and run the length of three 40 acres tracts. These outcroppings are from 40 to 50 per cent iron.

The company is figuring on establishing a Jones furnace on the property if the Coleman furnace being constructed at Coleman, Mich proves a success. The officers of the Minnesota company are going to view the Coleman plant with the object of installing a furnace on their property to handle the surface ores. It is claimed for the Jones furnace that it can convert 40 per cent ore into pig iron worth $18 per ton at a cost of $7 per ton, leaving a net profit of $11 per ton, and that it can turn out from 500 to 1,000 tons per day. If the Jones furnace is established on the Minnesota company’s property a shaft will be sunk in the ore formation, thereby making the shaft pay for itself or more while it is being sunk.

The late Capt. J. J. Durage of Duluth, famous as an engineer and mining expert, visited this property two weeks before his death. He declared that it was a revelation to him and had the greatest surface indications of any iron property he had ever seen. The Minnesota property is to be equipped with a duplicate of the North American plant.

No delay will be experienced in shipping from the Vermilion Iron and Steel company’s shaft when it has been completed and drifting to the ore body has been accomplished, as the Duluth & Iron Range railroad company has made a survey to the shaft across the Vermilion Extension property and will have the rails laid when the mine is ready to ship.

Mr. Walsh asserts that all four of his companies will have mines completed and in the shipping list by next season, and the facts seem to justify his statement. In view of the large number of people who are shareholders in the Walsh companies I have gone to considerable pains to get the facts about the operations of these companies, spending several days in the work. I have tramped all over the properties and most of the facts I have related are of my own knowledge. While perhaps not so sanguine as Mr. Walsh, because I am not so well posted, I will go on record as saving that I believe two of the Walsh properties, the North American and the Vermilion will be shipping mines by next season and that each will prove to have an immense ore body. And I want to say that the North American Brick, Tile and Pottery company has every appearance of being a great success and undoubtedly will pay $27,000 a year royalty to the North American Iron Mining company for many years to come. Working to its full capacity there is shale enough to last the brick company for more than a century.

When the history of iron is written a chapter will he devoted to the Chandler mine. It began to ship in 1888. It was taken over by the Steel corporation in 1901 and operated until 1909. Nearly 10,000,000 tons of ore of a high grade were shipped from the Chandler. It was given up as worked out in August of 1909. One month later Capt. Frank A. Kent, an old Cornish miner, took over the lease from the fee owners on 40 cents per ton royalty, with a minimum of 25,000 tons. He and his associates spent $25,000 In reopening the mine and for machinery. The Chandler is in the infancy of its re-birth, yet is yielding $15,000 a month profit, or at the rate of $180,000 a year. Capt. Kent had been captain of the mine for twelve years before it passed into the hands of the corporation, and while I was in Ely he spent three hours in telling me of the wonderful richness that the old mine still possesses. He said that mining superintendents, intent on making records in low cost of mining, had taken out the soft ore and left the hard, which would have increased the powder cost. He declared that one block of ore in a corner over against the great Pioneer mine, whose value has been estimated at $75,000,000, contains over a million tons.

The caving method was used in the Chandler and a great depression in the earth exists where 10,000,000 tons were removed. Kent tunneled into the mine from this depression and soon had l,000 tons of 64 per cent ore at the mouth of the tunnel. He sunk test pits about sixty feet into the depression, encountering a solid one. Then others were willing to help him by putting in money. The Chandler Mining company was formed with half a million shares of a par value of $1. But only l0,000 shares of the treasury stock were sold. The additional money needed to equip the mine was easily raised by mortgaging the stockpile. It consists now of more than 30,000 tons. While 200 tons daily are being shipped, that amount is coming from the shaft.

Kent has gathered about him pit bosses of the mine in the old days. Each day they are discovering more ore and Capt. Kent assured me his one-quarter interest in the lease would give him more money than he and his family will ever spend. He believes it possible that the rejuvenated Chandler mine may produce 5,000,000 tons. Capt. Kent’s lease is only of one forty of the Chandler, but he has the first call on the other forty, upon which the ore comes clear to the surface, where it was mined from an open pit. The Pickands-Mather company has contracted for all of the ore in the stockpile and more. The new Chandler has added $5,000 to the monthly payroll at Ely, and is likely to be paying double that amount in another year. All of the ore Capt. Kent has brought up is from the 160 and 200-foot levels. The deepest of the two Chandler shafts is only 925 feet, while the Pioneer, right alongside, is down 1,800 feet. This difference in depth will give an idea of the possibilities of production still remaining in the Chandler mine.

Tower Weekly News, Vol. XXIV, No. 34 – Friday, January 4, 1924

Rumored That Exploration Work Is To Be Resumed At Nearby Mining Property

A rumor current on the streets today is to the effect that T. J. Walsh has sold what is know locally as the “North American Mine” to an Eastern syndicate and that the property is to be unwatered and development work started at once.

The News was unable to reach Mr. Walsh in time to get a statement from him for this issue, consequently the rumor is published for what it may be worth.

The property mentioned is located a quarter mile East of Tower Junction and for years development work on it was pushed with vigor and no expense spared in locating a body of ore. For the past several years, however, the mine has been shut down but the excellent machinery equipment has been kept intact and in repair, so that if it is so desired work can be resumed on very short notice.

Tower Weekly News, Vol. XXIV, No. 37 – Friday, January 25, 1924

Rumored Sale of Mine Denied

Walsh Says No Deal Made Yet For Sale of Nearby Mining Property

In conversation with T. J. Walsh yesterday afternoon a News representative was told that contrary to a report which has been current for some time, no deal has been closed so far for the sale of what is known locally as the North American Mine. Mr. Walsh admitted, however, that a deal is pending and that is looks at this time as though it might go through, in which the event is probable that exploration work on the property would be started at once. Asked as to how soon he expected to know definitely regarding the sale of the property Mr. Walsh said he was unable to say; that it might be in the immediate future or not until spring, or that the deal might fall through altogether.

Concerning the brick plant, which adjoins the mining property, Mr. Walsh was more optimistic, and said that if present plans carry, operations would be resumed there this summer. This plant is completed equipped with up-to-date machinery for the manufacture of brick, tiling, etc, and has a capacity of 100,000 brick per day. The clay beds adjacent to the plant have been subjected to all known tests, Mr. Walsh says, and have been pronounced by chemists as being of the very best quality for the manufacture of brick. Test pits have proven that there is an unlimited supply of this material nearby. Brick now command a good price, Mr. Walsh says, and are steadily advancing and for this reason his is more interested just now in the brick making industry than he is in mining.