Thomas J. Walsh
Thomas J. Walsh was a prominent member of Tower and Soudan’s history at the turn of the 20th Century, though his name seems all but forgotten. He was involved in the beginnings of the Soudan Mine, and went on to operate other area mines. There are still remnants of his legacy scattered in the area: the North American Mine’s fireplace and engine house ruins can be found near the Tower Junction, and the Town of Walsh can still be found on the St. Louis County Land Explorer. Also, a road named Walsh Road runs through Eagles Nest Township, east of Soudan, near some of his former mining properties.
Birth, Childhood, Immigration
Thomas J. Walsh was born on October 4, 1867, in Toronto, Ontario, Canada, the son of Ellen and Patrick Walsh.
Thomas arrived in Michigan in 1880 at the age of 13, immigrating from Toronto. He left school at a tender young age to find a job in the Lansing & Northern Railroad shops in Jackson, Michigan.
By 1882, Walsh came to Duluth and ended up in the employment of George C. Stone. At the age of 15, we assume he was a courier and guide for the Vermilion Trail in the beginning of his time in Duluth, helping to haul equipment and supplies and people up the trail to Tower.
Arrival in Tower
In 1882, along with two other men, Andrew Sandell and Peter Erickson, Walsh made the journey up the Vermilion Trail to the town site of Tower. They were sent by George C. Stone of the G. C. Stone & Co. of Duluth to begin digging test pits for iron ore at Soudan. (These test pits would later be further developed into the Soudan Mine.)
During this time, Walsh became enamored with the beauty and potential of the area, and was already looking into owning his own mining properties. He found several places near the test areas in the same geological formation that he became interested in. Soon after arrival, he homesteaded the land that he would later build the North American Mine and the Town of Walsh on. He would end up purchasing the tracts of land as he became more established in the Duluth mining industry society.
Traveling the Trail
Walsh would make numerous trips from Duluth to Tower and back, to carry mail, equipment, and supplies. During that time he became well known to the local natives and accumulated a collection of trinkets and gifts. It’s said that he made hundreds of trips along the trail in his lifetime, many of them before the trail was converted into a road.
During this time he also compiled an impressive collection of artifacts from the stone and copper age. His collections seem to be lost to the ages. LakeVermilion.Net has not been successful in locating any information about the collections but we will keep searching.
Work in Duluth
In 1892-1893 Thomas was the personal secretary to Charles D’Autremont, mayor of Duluth, with offices in the newly-built Sellwood building.
This was the period of his life when he started putting his plan to run his own mining companies into action. He purchased land that he had been interested in. He started multiple companies for his mining properties, managing their operations separately. He merged two of his companies as their operations evolved. More specific information can be found in the Mines section below and in each mine’s separate article.
Walsh seemed to have many friends in Duluth and brought many investors up to the area to see his mining properties and the beauty of the lake and the area. Charles D’Autremont had accompanied him up here among others to look at the mines. James Sheridan, John Semer, and Nick Walsh were a few other notable men who visited.
LakeVermilion.Net holds in its collection a stock certificate for the Minnesota Steel and Iron Company that was sold to a D.H. Haines. Haines is a prominent family name in the Duluth area but we haven’t been able to find any more information about the original owner. There is a Haines Road in Duluth, and we assume it was named for the same family.
Walsh married Margaret S. Sullivan, daughter of Henry and Lizzie Sullivan of Michigan, in 1900.
They had three children: Margaret Ellen in 1900, Frances Joan in 1910, and Edna Cecilia in 1915.
Thomas J. Walsh, his wife Margaret (Sullivan) Walsh, and their daughter “Peggy” Walsh. Photograph was provided courtesy of Kathy Kelly.
According to historical census data, Walsh homesteaded on his property in Breitung. We found records of a few land patents he received in the area on the Department of Interior’s Bureau of Land Management website. Walsh homesteaded the land he bought early on, the area that the Town of Walsh and North American Mine would be built in. The land’s location is described as “Lots 3 and 4 and the S 1/2 of the NW 1/4 of Section 4, 61-15.” This area is explored further in the Town of Walsh article.
Walsh was active in participating with the archiving of history, trading correspondence with the St. Louis County Historical Society about the Vermilion Trail. LakeVermilion.net has received copies of letters between Walsh and the St. Louis County Historical Society, discussing the details of the location of the trail as it enters Tower. He mentions that he had been in correspondence with the state Historical Society as well about the identity of a man known as Jarvis, who the Society reported is actually named Benjamin Gervais, a man who was an early settler at St. Paul in southern Minnesota.
Sale of Properties
The North American Mine property was sold in a sheriff’s auction when the North American Mining Company could no longer pay for the land and Walsh was awarded a judgment.
He sold the Consolidated Vermillion and Extension Company operations and land for $750,000 after the mine’s problems overcame the investors’ will to continue fixing the mine. Walsh wrote a spicy letter after the sale, admonishing the investors who pulled out and praising the investors who stuck with him through thick and thin.
Thomas filed a request for divorce from Margaret Walsh in April of 1921, accusing her of adultery with a man named William H. Carey several times over the course of May, June, and July of 1920. By November, the request for divorce was granted, and Thomas was granted custody of the two younger children. Their oldest child, Margaret Ellen, was already an adult at the time, and put a lot of time into taking care of the younger children after the divorce.
Walsh moved to Los Angeles, California, reportedly for health reasons. LakeVermilion.net has not been able to track down any information for him in California, but we will keep looking and will update this article as we learn more!
Walsh died in Los Angeles at age 75 on May 4, 1932. Both the Duluth Herald and the Duluth News Tribune ran versions of his obituary. The Duluth News Tribune’s version was a distillation of the Duluth Herald’s version. We have reproduced the text of the Duluth Herald obituary in the Newspaper Articles section below.
North American Mining Company
The North American Mine was located on 160 acres between Tower and Soudan on the edge of Kugler Township, in Section 4, Township 61, Range 15.
The mine was located in swampy lowlands and was constantly flooding and had constant pumping just to stay open. The mine’s shaft was sealed in a large operation involving pumped concrete and was declared to be as dry as a typical mine. The mine didn’t come to fruition and didn’t manage to produce any ore worth shipping before it was closed.
Walsh won a judgment against the North American Mining Company in 1917. The operation was valued $49,791.78 and put up for sale in a sheriff’s auction.
Remains of the mine’s shaft, engine house and fireplace, and some outbuildings are still apparent in the area, and are explored further in the North American Mine article.
Consolidated Vermillion and Extension Company
The Consolidated Vermillion and Extension Company was also known as the Mud Creek Mine in older maps. It was a consolidation of two operations very near to each other, the Vermillion Steel & Iron Company, and the Extension of the Vermillion Steel & Iron Company. These mines were located in Section 5, Township 62, Range 14, on 4 40 acre chunks that form an L-shape.
These mines went on to produce and ship ore to the tune of 22,000 tons in their relatively short existence. After two cave-ins of the Mud Creek bottom flooded the mine, it was closed and the remaining stockpiles were shipped out.
It’s suspected that because of the financial fallout of the flooding and other major events of the time, that Walsh found it necessary to sell the operation and land. It has been said that he made $750,000 from the sale around 1920. We lose track of the operations of the mine and land after they leave Walsh’s hands, except that it’s mentioned in his letter that they were purchased by the Phoenix Mining Company.
Two stock certificates for the Consolidated Vermillion and Extension Company from 1912 and 1916, signed by Thomas J. Walsh, recently added to the LakeVermilion.Net collection.
Minnesota Steel and Iron Company
The Minnesota Steel and Iron Company’s land holdings spanned 160 acres, in Section 3, Township 61, Range 15, about half a mile from the location of the North American Mine, on the North American Road. LakeVermilion.net doesn’t have much information on this mining property yet, other than its location. It was the first of Walsh’s mining companies to be incorporated, starting soon before 1910.
A stock certificate from the Minnesota Steel and Iron Company from 1912, signed by Thomas J. Walsh, in the LakeVermilion.Net collection.
Other Related Projects
North American Tile, Brick and Pottery Company
The North American Tile, Brick and Pottery Company factory was built near the North American Mine. It was intended to supply the nearby industry, commerce, and developing towns with building supplies. There are still traces of the factory in the woods between the North American Mine and the East Two River.
The company reorganized and became the Duluth Clay Products Company by June of 1912, with Walsh as the treasurer.
Town of Walsh
The Town of Walsh was planned to service the industry in the immediate area: the North American Mine, the North American Tile, Brick and Pottery Company factory, and operations at the Tower Junction. A massive hotel was built and the city was platted for streets and blocks. Plans were made for buildings to be built and moved in. Many more plans were made for the town site over the years, but nothing permanent developed except the hotel, and its walls still remain standing as a testament to the fast pace of the industrial revolution.
Interesting Facts and Rumors
Walsh’s maternal grandmother lived to the age of 114, having spent more than 100 years living in the same town in Canada. She had the special privilege of being alive during three historical centuries, having been born near the end of the 18th Century and living through the 19th Century and into the 20th Century.
Walsh tended to avoid the spirits, a rarity among miners especially at that time. He preferred to stay clear-headed and sharp and very businesslike.
Rumor has it that Walsh “planted” some good iron ore in effort to drum up enthusiasm for the North American Mine, a mine that never developed fully to production. It’s speculated he threw in some Bessemer ore chunks from another nearby mine with the rock being sent for geological assay, to artificially skew the results in his favor. It’s probable that he did believe there would be more ore like it there, but Walsh had to close his operations before he could get down to it.
Obituary from Monday, May 9, 1932 – excerpt from the Duluth Herald.
MINING PIONEER OF VERMILION RANGE CALLED
Thomas J. Walsh Dead in Los Angeles; Formerly Prominent Here.
Thomas J. Walsh, aged 75, pioneer Duluthian and widely known in Iron Range mining circles for many years, died suddenly last Friday in Los Angeles, where he had gone for his health eight years ago, according to word received here.
Mr. Walsh was one of the makers of history in the development of the iron ore district of Northern Minnesota. For almost forty years he was a prominent citizen and business man of Duluth, and was one of the first to explore Vermilion range, making the trip on foot in the days before railroads.
He was born near Toronto, Ont., Oct. 4, 1867, and was a cousin of the late Thomas F. Walsh, one of America’s famous and wealthy mine owners. He attended school in Canada and when 13 years old came to the United States and worked in the Lansing & Northern railroad shops at Jackson, Michigan.
EXPLORES VERMILION COUNTRY.
He came to Duluth in 1882 and in June of that year, still a boy, with two older companions, was sent by the G. C. Stone & Co. over an Indian trail to explore the Vermilion lake country. They reached the present site of Tower five days later and did the first development work on iron ore. The site subsequently became the famous Soudan mine, the oldest mine property in the state.
After enduring many hardships, he took his limited capital and with several associates developed timber and iron ore property. He eventually acquired about 7,000 acres in the Vermilion district.
He became president and treasurer of the North American Iron Mining company, the Minnesota Steel and Iron Company and the Consolidated Vermilion & Extension company, vice president of the Great Northern Land company and treasurer of the Duluth Clay Products company.
IN CIVIC AFFAIRS.
During 1892-93 he served as private secretary to Mayor Charles D’Autremont, and took an active part in civic affairs of Duluth. He also acquired one of the largest and finest collections in existence of specimens of the stone and copper age, and Indian relics.
He married Miss Margaret S. Sullivan at Tower in 1900. Mrs. Walsh and three daughters, Mrs. Earl La Fond, Hibbing, and Misses Edna and Frances Walsh of Duluth, survive. The body was interred in Los Angeles.
Minnesota Historical Society – Newspaper Archives
- Marriage license with Margaret
- “New Company”
- “Exploring for Iron Near Tower.” – Two Harbors Iron News, June 11, 1909
- “Renewal of Activity on Vermilion Iron Range”
- “Boy Pioneer Made Good”
- “History of Iron Mining”
- “New Mines and Mining Operations”
- “Praises New Mine on the Vermilion”
- spent Sunday at the Consolidated Vermilion mine at Mud Creek
- “Another Shipping Mine for the Vermilion Range”
- “Sheriff’s Execution Sale”
- “T.J. Walsh’s Final Report”
- start of divorce from Margaret
- conclusion of divorce from Margaret
Google Books – Poor’s Manual of Industrials
- North American Steel & Iron Company becomes the Great Northern Steel & Iron Company – Poor’s Manual of Industrials, 1918, p506
- Minnesota Steel & Iron Company organized – Poor’s Manual of Industrials, 1910, p1709
- Consolidated Vermillion and Extension Company mine information – mindat.org – thediggings.com
- Family photo presented by Kathy Kelly
A special “Thank you!” goes out to Kathy Kelly, granddaughter of Thomas J. Walsh, for talking to us. We shared the things we learned and found, and now we both have a little more understanding of him. Thank you, Kathy!