Dickinson County began in 1891


A brief history of Dickinson County
Dickinson County Collage

Dickinson County's roots lie in the mining and lumbering industries of the mid-to-late 19th century. Iron ore was first found in the region in the late 1840's.   In 1850 and 1851, government surveyors reported traces of iron ore in Gogebic County's Ironwood area and near the Menominee River.

In 1866, brothers Thomas and Bartley Breen, timber cruisers from Menominee, Michigan, discovered an outcropping near Waucedah at the eastern end of the Menominee Iron Range.  They are credited with being the first on that region.  The remoteness of the central part of northern Michigan and a lack of transportation facilities accounts for the delay in mining her ores.  It required a dire need to find high grade ore in this country for investors to be willing to risk the high cost of exploration.

It wasn't until 1873, when John Lane Buell exposed one of the richest deposits of iron ore in the world that Dickinson County's place in Michigan history was established.  Ore was mined at Waucedah, Vulcan, Norway, Quinnesec and Metropolitan, and the Chicago and North Western Railroad was pushed through the Menominee Range as far as Quinnesec.   The Breen and Vulcan mines near Iron Mountain began active operations and shipped their first ore in 1877.  Buell's discovery, known today as the Menominee Iron Range, led to development of the area and subsequent creation of Dickinson County in 1891.

As the iron industry developed, three separate ore ranges were opened -- the Marquette, the Menominee, and the Gogebic.  The Chapin Mine, in the Menominee Range, produced 27 million tons of ore.  It was considered one of the largest iron ore producers during the period from 1880 until it closed in 1934. Between 1877 and 1955 the Menominee Range alone produced 253,999,999 tons of ore.

The last of Michigan's eighty-three counties to be organized, Dickinson County was created May 21, 1891 from parts of Iron, Marquette and Menominee Counties.  It was named for Donald M. Dickinson (see his biographical sketch, below), a prominent Detroit attorney and the Postmaster General in the first administration of President Grover Cleveland.  Chairman of the committee that formed Dickinson County was Muskegon Judge of Probate, Fent Edwin Napoleon Thatcher.  Iron Mountain had become a center of commerce and distribution for the range and so became the natural location for the county seat once the county organized.  County offices opened in Iron Mountain only five years after Dickinson County was created by act of the Michigan State Legislature.

Today Dickinson still has some iron ore mining and lumbering, but tourism is the primary source of revenue for the region. The Chapin Mine has since been restored as a tourist attraction while the county boasts of early ties to Henry Ford and Ford Motor Company.  The forested lands and rolling terrain criss-crossed by rivers and streams provide year round recreational opportunities and is a true haven for nature lovers. The Menominee River is noted for walleye fishing. Pine Mountain is the highest artificial ski jump in the world.

"Dickinson County, Michigan: From earliest times through the twenties" by William John Cummings
Publisher: Dickinson County Board of Commissioners; Limited 1st edition (January 1, 1991)