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Gogebic County

The Gogebic Range extends from Lake Gogebic to the Wisconsin border in the east. It is located at the far western tip of the Upper Peninsula of Michigan on the south shore of Lake Superior. It refers both to the range of mountains that runs along the route and to the surrounding communities that built up during a boom period following in the 1880s. The term Gogebic Range is also used to refer to the same area extending across the border into Wisconsin, and extending west through a portion of Bayfield County, Wisconsin. The Gogebic Range area experienced an initial speculative boom in the mid-1880s, and saw recurring booms and busts from 1884 to 1967. The Gogebic Range includes the communities of Ironwood, Michigan, Wakefield, Michigan, Hurley, Wisconsin Bessemer, Michigan, and Ramsay, Michigan. The term Gogebic is Ojibwa for "where trout rising to the surface make rings in the water."

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The Iron Boom

The initial boom in the Gogebic Range came between 1884 and 1886. On September 16, 1886, the Chicago Tribune reported: “Hundreds of people are arriving daily from all parts of the country and millionaires are being made by the dozens . . . The forests have given way to mining camps and towns, and a most bewildering transformation has taken place. In the palmy days of gold mining on the Pacific slope there is no record of anything so wonderful as the Gogebic.”

The discovery of high-grade Bessemer ore on the Gogebic Range and the consequent unfolding of vast possibilities led to a speculative craze the like of which has had no parallel in Michigan or Wisconsin. While it lasted, fortunes were made and lost within a month or even overnight.

For decades in the late 19th century and into the 1920s, the Gogebic was one of the nation’s chief sources of iron. Iron from the Gogebic helped to fuel the industrial boom in the Upper Midwest during these years. Mining was winding down in 1930.

The mines began closing in the 1930, amid a national economy also suffering from the Great Depression. The result was widespread economic devastation in the Gogebic Range.

Some mines continued to operate into the 1960s, but the volume never reached the same levels as in the earlier boom years. A defining event was the last shipment of iron ore in August 1967 to Granite City Steel in Illinois.

The Gogebic Range today

Today, the Gogebic Range has developed a tourism industry featuring ski resorts and waterfalls. The area has largely recovered from the scars left behind by the iron-mining boom days

The region today includes vast areas of government-owned landed, including the Ottawa National Forest and the Gogebic County Forest. These lands are managed for recreation and for timber, and activities include fishing in rivers and lakes, hiking and snowmobile trails, and a network of mountain bike trails on old logging roads.

Among the more kitschy attractions in the Gogebic Range is the World's Tallest Indian just outside Ironwood. Locals have also drawn visitor attention by building the world's highest manmade ski jump, Copper Peak Ski Flying Hill, a striking landmark seen on the horizon from many high points.

Gogebic County and neighboring Iron County across the state line in Wisconsin are heavily promoted during the ski season as Big Snow Country. Area lodgings have 10,000 rooms, largely because of the four ski resorts: Indianhead Ski Resort, Blackjack, and Big Powderhorn in Michigan and Whitecap Mountain in Wisconsin. There is also a beautiful natural ski hill by Lake Superior at the Porcupine Mountains State Park, less than an hour from Ironwood.

Waterfalls are the area's other major tourist attraction. Gogebic County has 22 easily accessible falls. Ten more are across the Montreal River in neighboring Iron County, Wisconsin. The best-known waterfalls are on the Presque Isle and Black rivers within half a mile of Lake Superior. There is also the Superior Falls, bordered by hundred-foot cliffs on the Montreal River forming the Michigan-Wisconsin border northwest of Ironwood.

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