Hanna Mining Co. operation near Cherry Grove, Minn., in the 1960s. Did any of you have family or friends who worked there?
Hanna Mining Co. operation near Cherry Grove, Minn., in the 1960s. Did any of you have family or friends who worked there?
The accompanying photo shows the Hanna Mining headquarters near Cherry Grove, Minn., in the 1960s, and yes, there was a railroad spur hauling away iron ore to CGW at Ostrander.

Guided tours are offered at the historical society's museums and adjacent Ag Building on West Courtland Street, the latter which houses much old-time farm machinery. Also exhibited is a brief history of the iron mining industry located near Spring Valley, and it had often been pointed out that Hanna Mining Co., which operated in Fillmore County 1946 to 1967, was the only open pit mining outside of the Iron Range. Not so. Myrna Baker Wesselman came by one day this summer with snapshots and a clipping from the Rochester Post-Bulletin that verified that Olmsted County could also claim this distinction. Here's the story, according to the Post-Bulletin.

"The Schroeder Mining Co. began open pit iron mining in July 1959 on the Arthur Baker farm in Pleasant Grove Township. The company had been mining in Fillmore County for five years near Chatfield where seven farms were under contract, but the Baker land of 150 acres was the only one in Olmsted County containing the quality and quantity of ore worth mining.

"Ore was trucked to the Ernest Krueger farm in Fillmore County, processed, and then shipped by rail to a smelting plant in Granite City, Ill., Schroeder was shipping about ten to twelve carloads a day. The company had a quota of 75,000 tons per year, but there was a nationwide steel strike going on; Schroeder mines would continue to work, and stockpile if necessary. The company employed about 35 men, including truck drivers."

Mrs. Wesselman reported that mining had ended by 1961 on their farm, but when their operation discontinued I do not know.

We do know that during World War II, Hanna Mining Co. acquired the rights once owned by Evergreen Mining, and before that, Winston Bros. whose initial plant was near Etna, four miles southeast of Spring Valley. Hanna established a complete processing plant, which included a screening and crushing plant, washing and retreat plant, concentrate hopper, loading conveyor, a combination office, shop and warehouse. The large settling ponds created what looked like Fillmore County's only lakes, and twenty-three farms in the Cherry Grove area were being leased.

The process employed by Hanna involved three steps: remove two feet of top soil and stockpile it; one to two feet of overburden was used to refill previously mined out areas; and the ore which laid zero to 15 feet in depth was mined and hauled to the processing plant. Some old-timers remember the roads south of town being stained a deep red-brown as fleets of trucks hauled ore to the processing plant, then to Ostrander loading docks along the Chicago Great Western rail line. This ore, too, was shipped to the blast furnaces in Illinois.

The operation was one of the largest employers in Fillmore County. At one time there were 118 men on payroll including contractors - Woodrich, Freeman and Joyce Construction Companies, but at peak times, as many as 200 employees. In the mid-1960s, Hanna moved their entire operation to a new 120-acre site south of Cherry Grove. A rail spur was laid to Ostrander and two eight-hour shifts were established to process 3,300 tons per shift.

The extensive operation required bringing the "Big Shovel" from the Iron Range via rail. It was a sight to see - this enormous dragline with bucket amid the cornfields of southern Minnesota. Seventy-ton bottom-dump rail cars carried 90 carloads of refined ore each day to Ostrander, which became "the largest ore shipping point in the Midwest outside of Duluth!" It is awesome to think that over 5 million tons of ore were shipped out. In 1967 Hanna announced a "temporary" shutdown, but soon the leases were cancelled and the operation closed permanently. In the 1970s, all the area railroads were removed, for various reasons, a tragedy in my humble opinion.

A unique feature of the mining operation around Spring Valley had been Hanna's reclamation process. Open pits were back-filled with overburden, tailings and residue and the stockpiled top soil was spread, reclaiming the land for farming. Obviously there were many excavations not refilled; those were sloped, leaving stock and fishponds, wildlife preserves, and pasture land. There are fine examples to be seen south and east of town, along Highway 63, at the Sportsmen's Club, and Department of Natural Resource areas all boasting various wildlife such as fish, animals and birds. Our family has thoroughly enjoyed the aftermath of the mining industry as we are avid birders and like to hike and roam the DNR areas. For further information, visit the museums, open weekends through October.