Ore Docks, Duluth, Minnesota

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Ore Docks

The Duluth Ore Docks, iconic landmarks, are located within the residential and industrial area of the city.
Construction of Dock #6 approach in 1917, the bluff of Duluth in the background is not yet developed.
Location of Structure: In the St. Louis Bay of Lake Superior, between South 37th Avenue West and North 32nd Avenue West
Neighborhood/s: Denfeld, Duluth, Minnesota, Lincoln Park, Duluth, Minnesota, Oneota, Duluth, Minnesota
Duluth, Minnesota
St. Louis County, Minnesota
State/province: Minnesota
Country: United States
Year built: Dock 1: 1893, Dock 2: 1896, Dock 3: 1900, Dock 4: 1906, Dock 5: 1913, Dock 6: 1918
Year razed: Dock 1: 1913, Dock 2: 1915, Dock 3: 1919, Dock 4: 1927
Architect or source of design: Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway
Other Structure Function: Dock

Denfeld, Lincoln Park, Oneota Duluth St. Louis County

Ore Docks, Duluth, Minnesota
(46.751783° N, 92.134706° WLatitude: 46°45′6.419″N
Longitude: 92°8′4.942″W
Located in an industrial and residential area of Duluth, the ore docks are one of the city's most familiar icons. Standing 80 feet tall, the two remaining docks are relics of Duluth's golden industrial years. They provided the key to success for efficient transport of iron ore from rail cars to ships.


Memories and stories


The Duluthian ore docks are directly associated with the ‘mining fever’ of northeastern Minnesota at the turn of the century. The iron deposits discovered on the Mesabi Iron Range were the richest in the world. The key to the economic success of this industry was the transport of the material. The ore was a useless commodity for Minnesotans until the railroad reached the Range in 1892. The first ore dock was completed in 1893, which allowed the transfer of the iron ore from the rail car onto cargo ships to be then exported across the country and Atlantic. Locally sourced from the timber of the North woods, the first ore docks, built by the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway, were constructed of timber; and as this new industrial economy of iron and steel increased, the ore docks were soon constructed of steel.

During the first decade of mining, the Mesabi Range exported over 53,000,000 gross tons of ore. The mining industry had direct correlation to cultural, political, and social trends and eras. For example, the Great Depression pushed the industry into great decline, yet increased dramatically during World War II, as the need for ore for steel ships and machinery increased. In the year 1944, crews loaded 406,484 tons of ore from the rail cars on the ore docks onto cargo ships, setting the single-day record.


The ore docks, designed by the architects and engineers of the Duluth, Missabe & Northern Railway, consist of a functional architectural design. Iron ore historically came in two forms: raw from deep underground mines, and pelletized into taconite from shallow strip mines (today ore comes only in taconite). This ore is loaded into 50-ton rail cars, and it is the sole duty of the ore docks to efficiently transfer this ore from the rail cars onto the ships anchored below.

The approach, known as a viaduct, is supported by rigid steel bents resting on steel base plates atop concrete footings. The docks are steel deck girder structures with bents set perpendicular to the spans. Gusset plates are used to attach the legs to angle iron sway braces. Originally, two parallel spans each carried a single track; however, today, the two deck girder spans collectively carry a single reinforced concrete bridge deck which is partially cantilevered. As the docks and laker ships evolved together, the spacing of the structure is set in intervals of twelve feet, allowing the ships to dock and retrieve the ore in the most efficient manner possible.


The first timber docks were constructed quite simply – ore was ‘dumped’ from train cars onto the vessels below. This technique was advanced with the construction of the steel docks specifically designed to take the ore from the rail cars, store on the dock if needed, and load the ore onto ships. Spilling of the ore during transfer from rail to ship was eliminated by means of a chute that connected the pockets on the rail car to the pockets in the cargo holds of the ships.

Current Use

Although six ore docks were constructed, only two remain standing today: Dock #5 and Dock #6. Both docks were built in 1918 due to increased iron ore demand for ship building during World War I. Both docks are currently owned by the Canadian National Railway.

Dock #5 is no longer in use. It has stood idyll since 1985 and it is seen by some as unintentional monuments to the past, by some hoping for its revival with a renewed industrial economy, and by some as an opportunity for public recreation, similar to the Highline in New York City.

Dock #6, named the DM&N/DM&IR Ore Dock No. 6 Approach, at 1.1 miles in length, is still active and used for loading Iron Range Taconite onto USS Steel ships. Currently the largest active dock in the world, Dock #6 has a capacity of 153,600 tons of ore.


Sitting in the bay of the mighty Lake Superior, weather surely has brought lasting memories to the laborers on the ore docks. Some of these storms’ damaging effects can still be seen today. Yet, it is not the tale of a storm that most recall in their memory bank of the ore docks, but of the great fire.

The ore docks were first constructed of timber. This made sense, as being located in Minnesota’s north woods, timber was ready and available. One October day in 1943, however, helped change that pattern from timber construction to the city’s new ready and available material – steel.

That October morning was similar in weather and routine as any other October morning, except some hot coals dropped from the rail car onto the creosote-treated rail ties. The trestle burst into flames, and neither valiant effort of the 5 fire engines nor 4 fire boats could stop the combustion. }}


The Historic Inventory form states that, “The structure as a whole (ore dock and its approach) retains sufficient integrity of design, materials, and workmanship to convey its historic feeling and association. Therefore, it retains sufficient historical integrity to convey its historical significance.”

The images below are evidence of this integrity of structure – the original elevation drawing depicts the structure the year it was built, and looks the same today in 2014.

Photo Gallery

Related Links

http://www.lakevoicenews.org/twin-ports-ore-dock-history-in-photos-part-1-duluth/ http://substreet.org/dock5/ http://zenithcity.com/zenith-city-history-archives/duluth-parks-landmarks/duluths-ore-docks/ http://www.dot.state.mn.us/historicbridges/bridge/7632/historic-inventory.pdf


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