IM population fluctuates in early 1900s

Downtown Iron Mountain has been placed on the National Register of Historic Places. To recognize this honor, The Daily News is publishing a series on the history of downtown Iron Mountain. These accounts were researched and written by Robert O. Christensen, National Register Coordinator from the State Historic Preservation Office in Lansing, and edited by Dickinson County Historian William Cummings.

Iron Mountain 1900-1920

In 1900 Iron Mountain’s population stood at 9,242.

Although this was 1,600 more than in 1894, when the national economic downturn along with the flooding of key mines led to high unemployment and removals from the area, it was only a few hundred more than in 1890.

Though the population fluctuated over the following two decades, the 1904, 1910, and 1920 censuses all show the population below the 1900 figure; the 1920 federal census lists a population of 8,251.

The gradual decline of mining in the early twentieth century, with few new industries to take its place, stood at the heart of the decline.

Iron Mountain’s most important new industry during this time period was the Von Platen (later Von Platen-Fox) sawmill. Although lumbering was an occupation in this part of the Menominee River valley even before mining began, most of the logs were floated down the river to mills in Menominee, Michigan, and Marinette, Wisconsin, at the mouth of the river on Green Bay of Lake Michigan.

The construction of railroad lines opened the region to the establishment of large sawmill operations to which logs could be brought and lumber and other products shipped out by rail, but until 1910 Iron Mountain itself had no large sawmill operation.

The Von Platen Lumber Company sawmill was built in 1910 on property at the south end of the city where the Veterans Administration Hospital currently stands.

Boyne City lumberman Godfrey Von Platen established the mill to utilize wood brought by rail from a 12,000-acre timberland tract located in Iron County he had acquired 10 years earlier. Iron Mountain businessmen assisted the project by purchasing the 160-acre property, located along all three of the city’s railroad lines, and selling Von Platen a portion for his mill (the mill eventually occupied the entire property), and Von Platen was able to obtain freight concessions from the railroads for the logs and finished products.

The mill went into operation before the end of 1910. Additional timberlands were purchased, the largest being a 172,000-acre tract in 1920. In 1920 the firm was reorganized as Von Platen-Fox Inc., with Von Platen family members and Myrton J. Fox, long time Iron Mountain manager, as owners.

The mill employed up to 300 workers. It remained in operation until 1943 when the available timber ran out.

During this 20-year period it appears that only a few new commercial buildings were constructed in the central business district.

Surviving buildings from these years include the Bolognesi Building (Mayme’s Bar), 114 E. Brown, built probably around 1908; the c. 1912 Obermeyer Building, 211 E. Ludington; and perhaps the building at 211-13 E. Hughitt, built sometime during the 1913-23 period.

The largest built during these years is the Kingsford Motor Car Company building at 127-29 S. Stephenson, built in 1917 for a Ford automobile dealership owned by auto manufacturer Henry Ford’s cousin-by-marriage, Edward Kingsford.