The largest city in Michigan’s densely forested Upper Peninsula, Marquette’s history is tied to what lies beneath its surface.

In 1844, a survey party discovered rich iron ore deposits in the earth after the needle on their compass went awry due to the concentration of minerals under the soil.

That led to Marquette’s first industry— mining—and the establishment of the town.


The Jackson Mining Company established the first open-pit mine in 1845, in what is now the town of Negaunee, and other mining companies soon followed.

Men came from the tin mines of Corn- wall, England to work the Jackson Mine, followed by immigrants from Finland, Sweden, Italy, Germany, and other European countries.

To process the ore, forges and furnaces were built, fueling the need for another industry—timber.

Timber was also needed to build railroads, mine headframes, and the foundation of the huge Ore Dock, and to stoke the furnaces of steam locomotives.

Marquette’s mining history is preserved in many of its attractions today.

The 47-mile Iron Ore Heritage Trail traverses the Marquette Iron Range and details the 160-year history of mining in the region.

Built on the former rail beds used to transport lumber to furnaces and forges, and iron ore to Lake Superior Harbor, the trail takes you on a journey through time, with interpretive signs and artifacts lining the way.


The Ore Dock in Marquette’s Upper Harbor was built in 1911 and is still commercially active today.

After being mined, the ore is crushed and the iron separated out, then combined with a binding agent and rolled into little balls that are fed into a kiln and fired at 2,000+ degrees F.

This process creates taconite pellets, which are transported to the dock by rail, then dumped out of the bottom of the railcar and into one of the dock’s 200 steel “pockets,” for shipping. Each pocket can hold 250 tons of taconite pellets.

To load the taconite onto a ship, the vessel is positioned, a chute is lowered to the open cargo hatch, and a door at the bottom of the pocket opens, dumping the pellets into the ship’s hold.

The ore is then transported to other Great Lakes ports, where the pellets are off-loaded and used in the steel-making process.

Ten million tons of ore are shipped from the Ore Dock every year. Visitors and locals alike enjoy watching freighters at the dock as they stroll along Lake Superior’s shores.

Discover more of Marquette’s iron ore legacy at the Marquette Regional History Center.


The Marquette Harbor Lighthouse helped sailors navigate safely home, and was critical to the Great Lakes iron ore trade.

Delve deep into the maritime history of Lake Superior at the Marquette Maritime Museum and check out other lighthouses in the region.



Just outside of Marquette, the towns of Negaunee and Ishpeming each have their own rich histories that beg to be explored.

Locally referred to as the West End, each town has its own historical gems to discover.



The Michigan Iron Industry Museum located at the site of the first iron forge in the Lake Superior region features permanent and rotating exhibits, including artifacts recovered from the site. A 23-minute film, “Iron Spirits: Life on the Michigan Iron Range,” details early life in the region.

Outside, two trails wind around the museum’s grounds.

At Jackson Mine Park discover more mining history. Take the Old Town Trail to see what remains of Old Town Negaunee, with staircases to nowhere and concrete foundations after the homes and buildings had to be moved or demolished when mining went under- ground and led to cave-ins.

Dig deeper into Negaunee’s early days at the Negaunee Historical Museum, which features three floors of exhibits.


The birthplace of organized skiing in the U.S., Ishpeming is home to the U.S. National Ski and Snowboard Hall of Fame, celebrating the history of these exciting sports.

At Cliffs Shaft Mine Museum walk through tunnels miners walked to get to the shaft of what was one of the largest iron mines in Michigan. See relics from mining’s past and check out the mineral collections of the Ishpeming Rock and Mineral Club.

Explore more at the Ishpeming Area Historical Society & Museum.



Further to the north, the quaint little town of Big Bay, tucked between the expansive shores of Lake Superior and the more intimate, 1800-acre Lake Independence, has a rich past as well.

The town started with one settler who built a log cabin in the mid-1800s and later became a lumber camp owned by the Brunswick Lumber Company, which at one point produced 90 percent of the world’s bowling pins here.

Eventually discovered by Henry Ford, the town became the site of a Ford Motor Company plant and a getaway for Ford himself, who bought and renovated most of the buildings in the town and turned Brunswick’s former sawmill into a factory to produce wood panels for the popular Woody Wagons of the 1940s.

Big Bay was also the site of the filming of the award-winning 1959 movie “Anatomy of a Murder,” which was based on a real murder in the town.