Iron ore docks are one of the most iconic symbols of the northern Great Lakes. From the last quarter of the 19th-century to the mid-20th century these enormous timber or steel/concrete structures dominated the skylines of places like Ashland, Duluth, Escanaba, Marquette, and Superior. The map below depicts the cities and towns where classic timber and/or steel and concrete ore docks exist or once existed.
The enduring image of lengthy trains of iron ore cars rolling along atop of these massive structures to dump their loads into the waiting pockets epitomizes the mining history of this region. Even today, the sounds of the ore being released into the pockets/chutes, and eventually into awaiting freighters is both awe-inspiring and fascinating to watch.
The number of ore docks has dropped as the demand for iron ore waned, technologies changed, and freighters grew in length. In the places where ore docks were dismantled, one can observe the silent, remnant pilings poking up from the crisp, blue waters.
Less than a handful of these impressive ore dock structures are still in use. Others that have discontinued operations, sit idle and are subject to deterioration from weather and time. Thankfully, in one spectacular case, the City of Marquette is planning to revitalize its symbolic Lower Harbor Ore Dock into a botanical garden and ecological center.
Below is a listing of all these docks, followed by a ranking of the longest classic structures. Enjoy!
Ashland, Wisconsin (2 docks) Wisconsin Central/Soo Line Railroad
- Ore Dock #1 (1888/1900-1919) timber = 1,800 feet long – rebuilt after a fire in 1900, but dismantled in 1919 after the opening of Ore Dock #2 (see below).
- Ore Dock #2 (1918/1925-2013) = 1,800 feet long/81 feet high/300 pockets – timber/replaced by concrete in 1918 = 1,800 feet after being lengthened in 1925. Dismantled in 2013. *The community is raising funds to preserved and enhance the concrete base as a park feature (see image below).* – Thank you, Chip!
Ashland, Wisconsin (4 docks) Chicago & North Western Railway
- Ore Dock #1 (1887/1916-1936) timber = 1,740 feet long/72 feet high/290 pockets
- Ore Dock #2 (1889-1946) timber = 2,040 feet long/70.5 feet high/340 pockets
- Ore Dock #3 (1917/1921-1960) timber = 2,040 feet long/73.5 feet high/340 pockets
- Ore Dock #4 (1969-?) low-level conveyor dock
Depot Harbor, Ontario (1 dock) CN Railroad
- Ore Dock #1 (1959-1990) conveyor belt system = 800 feet long
Duluth, Minnesota (6 docks) Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range Railroad:
- Ore Dock #1 (1893-1905) timber = 2,300 feet long,/52.75 feet high/384 pockets – dismantled in 1913
- Ore Dock #2 (1896-1914) timber – dismantled in 1915
- Ore Dock #3 (1900-1919) timber = 192 pockets
- Ore Dock #4 (1906-1927) timber = 2,304 feet long/384 pockets – dismantled *Longest wooden ore dock ever constructed.*
- Ore Dock #5 (1914-present) steel = 2,304 feet long/80 feet high – no longer in use.
- Ore Dock #6 (1918-present) steel = 2,438 feet long (now operated by CN Railroad) *Largest ore dock in the world.*
Escanaba, Michigan (7 docks) Chicago & North Western Railway
- Ore Dock #1 (1872/1889-1911) timber = 1,104 feet long/48.6 feet high/184 pockets
- Ore Dock #2 (1881-1897) timber = 1,152 feet long/39.5 feet high/192 pockets
- Ore Dock #3 (1880/1895-1924) timber = 1,356 feet long/52.75 feet high/226 pockets – both docks #3 and #4 were destroyed by fire at the same time.
- Ore Dock #4 (1888/1897-1924) timber = 1,500 feet long/59 feet high/250 pockets
- Ore Dock #5 (1891-1946/1960) timber = 2,220 feet long/71 feet high/370 pockets
- Ore Dock #6 (1903-1969) timber = 1,920 feet long/70 feet high/320 pockets
- Ore Dock #7 (1970-2017) steel/concrete low-level conveyor systems = 1,900 feet long (later owned by CN Railroad)
Escanaba, Michigan (2 docks) The Milwaukee Road
- Ore Dock #1 (1901-1936) timber = 1,500 feet long/66.5 feet high/240 pockets
- Ore Dock #2 (1906-1936) timber = 1,500 feet long/69 feet high/240 pockets
Gladstone, Michigan (1 dock) Soo Line Railroad
- Ore Dock #1 (1887-1900) timber = 768 feet long – damaged by an ore boat collision
L’Anse, Michigan (1 dock) Houghton & Ontonagon Railroad
- Ore Dock #1 (1872-1896) timber – destroyed by fire (see photo below)
Little Current, Ontario (1 dock) Canadian Pacific Railroad
- Ore Dock #1 (1915-?) bridge and clam-bucket
Marquette, Michigan (6 docks) Duluth South Shore & Atlantic Railway
- Ore Dock #1 (1855/1888-?) – timber dock built by Jackson Iron Company on the DSS&A site – iron hauled by mules. Extended in 1888.
- Ore Dock #2 (?-1868) – timber for Lake Superior Iron Co. on the DSS&A site – destroyed by fire. *First ore dock built with pockets and chutes.*
- Ore Dock #3 (1888-?) timber = longest on the lake at the time of completion, but exact length not given beyond the 650 foot long addition/35 feet high
- Ore Dock #4 (1890-1910) timber (6,500 Norway Pines used for piles) – dismantled to build a coal dock
- Ore Dock #5 (?-?) timber
- Ore Dock #6 /Lower Harbor Ore Dock (1932-present) = 989 feet long/85.7 feet high/150 pockets – (was later operated by the Soo Line Railroad) – listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The community is in process of raising funds to adapt the remaining 900 feet of the Lower Harbor Ore Dock into a Botanical Garden/Ecological Center (BotEco Center) – see image below. This ore dock has been adopted as an iconic symbol and landmark of the Marquette area. *Tallest ore dock ever constructed.*
Marquette, Michigan (1 dock) Lake Shore & Ishpeming Railroad
- Ore Dock #1/Upper Harbor/Presque Isle (1911-present) steel = 1,274 feet long/74 feet high/200 pockets – (see photo below and video near the top of the post)
Michipicoten Island, Ontario (1 dock) Algoma Central Railway
- Ore Dock #1 (1939-?) conveyor belt system
Picton, Ontario (1 dock) CN Railroad
- Ore Dock #1 (1955-) conveyor belt system = 765 feet long (see photo below)
Silver Bay, Minnesota (1 dock) Reserve Mining Company Railroad
- Ore Dock #1 (?-present) conveyor belt/silo system = 10 silos (now operated by Northshore Mining)
Skanee, Michigan (1 dock) Iron Range & Huron Bay Railroad
- Ore Dock #1/Huron Bay Ore Dock (1890-1900) timber = approx. 600 feet long (see photograph below)
St. Ignace, Michigan (1 dock) Detroit, Mackinac & Marquette Railroad
- Ore Dock #1 (1881-?) timber = 600+ feet (see photo below)
Superior, Wisconsin (4 docks) Great Northern Railway
- Ore Dock #1 (1892/1907-1925) timber = 2,244 feet long/73 feet high/374 pockets – replaced with steel (1925-?) at the same length and pockets, but 80.5 feet high
- Ore Dock #2 (1899-1923 timber – replaced with steel/concrete (1923-present) = 2,100 feet long/80.5 feet high/350 pockets – now operated by BNSF R/R
- Ore Dock #3 (1902-late 1960s) timber = 960 feet long/77 feet high/160 pockets
- Ore Dock #4 (1911-present) steel/concrete 1,900 feet long/75 feet high/300 pockets (now operated by BNSF Railroad)
Superior, Wisconsin (1 dock) Northern Pacific Railway
- Ore Dock #1 (1913/1917/1926-1970) steel/concrete = 1,860 feet long/310 pockets
Superior, Wisconsin (1 dock) Burlington Northern/Santa Fe Railroad
- Ore Dock #1 (1977-present) – silo-type facility = 900 feet long/36 silos/130 feet high
Superior, Wisconsin (1 dock) Soo Line Railroad
- Ore Dock #1 (?-1929) timber = 2,412 feet long/101 pockets
Taconite Harbor, Minnesota (1 dock) LTV Steel
- Ore Dock #1 (1956-present, but operations ended in 2001) conveyor belt system = 1,200 feet long.
Thunder Bay, Ontario (1 dock) CN Railroad
- Ore Dock #1 (1945/1954-1980s) = 1,200 feet long/82.5 feet high/200 pockets (see photo below)
Two Harbors, Minnesota (6 docks) Duluth, Missabe & Iron Range R/R:
- Ore Dock #1 (1883-1911) timber – replaced by steel (1911-present) = 1,344 feet long/75 feet high/224 pockets (now operated by BNSF R/R)
- Ore Dock #2 (1885-1910) timber = 644 feet long/40 feet high/46 pockets – replaced by steel (1916-present) = 1,368 feet long/228 pockets (now operated by BNSF R/R)
- Ore Dock #3 (1893-post 1905) timber with 90 pockets after 1905
- Ore Dock #4 (1893-post 1902) timber with 168 pockets after 1902
- Ore Dock #5 (1895-?) timber = 54.5 feet high/168 pockets
- Ore Dock #6 (?-present, though not in use) steel with 888 feet long/75 feet high/148 pockets
Longest Classic Iron Ore Docks of the Great Lakes*
- Duluth Ore Dock #6 = 2,438 feet
- Superior Soo Line Ore Dock #1 = 2,412 feet
- tie – Duluth Ore Docks #4 and #5 = 2,304 feet
- Duluth Ore Dock #1 = 2,300 feet
- Superior Great Northern Ore Dock #1 = 2,244 feet
- Escanaba C & NW Ore Dock #5 = 2,220 feet
- Superior Great Northern Ore Dock #2 = 2,100 feet
- tie – Ashland C & NW Ore Docks #2 and #3 = 2,040 feet
- Escanaba C & NW Ore Dock #6 = 1,920 feet
- Superior Great Northern Ore Dock #4 = 1,900 feet
- Superior Northern Pacific Ore Dock #1 = 1,860 feet
- Ashland Soo Line Ore Dock #1 = 1,800 feet
- Ashland C & NW Ore Dock #1= 1,740 feet
- Escanaba C & NW Ore Dock #4 = 1,500 feet
- tie – Escanaba Milwaukee Road Ore Docks #1 and #2 = 1,440 feet
- Two Harbors Ore Dock #2 = 1,368 feet
- Escanaba C & NW Ore Dock #3 = 1,356 feet
- Two Harbors Ore Dock #1 = 1,344 feet
- Marquette Upper Harbor Ore Dock = 1,274 feet
- Thunder Bay Ore Dock #1 = 1,200 feet
- Escanaba C & NW Ore Dock #2 = 1,152 feet
- Escanaba C & NW Ore Dock #2 = 1,104 feet
- Marquette Lower Harbor Ore Dock = 989 feet
- Superior Great Northern Ore Dock #3 = 960 feet
- Two Harbors Ore Dock #6 = 888 feet
- Gladstone Ore Dock #1 = 768 feet
- Skanee Ore Dock #1 = 600 feet
*Does not include conveyor belt systems and/or silo systems and only includes ore docks for which the total length is known.
If iron ore mining and shipping histories of the Great Lakes Region interest you, here are visual links to a couple of resources available through Amazon.com*.
*A small commission is earned from purchases that are made using these links to Amazon. As an Amazon Associate I earn from qualifying purchases.
- Great Lakes Ore Docks and Ore Cars, Patrick C. Dorin, 2007.
- Record of the Ore Loading Docks of the Great Lakes – May 1, 1932 – Thank you, Chip!