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The Relocation of Hibbing, 1919–1921

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Colonial Hotel being moved to new site, Hibbing

One of the largest moves, the Colonial Hotel. Note the steam crawler directly in front of the hotel.

From 1919 to 1921, the people of Hibbing moved nearly two hundred structures, including several large buildings, two miles south to make way for a growing open pit mine. The Oliver Mining Company wanted the valuable iron ore underneath North Hibbing, and the company funded the use of horses, logs, farm tractors, a steam crawler (a tractor primarily used in the logging industry), steel cables, and human power to relocate the town.

In 1893, Frank Hibbing founded the town of Hibbing because he recognized the rich iron deposits in the area. In its early years, the town of Hibbing grew rapidly, as mining companies, miners, real estate developers, and other merchants settled there. Though he lived in Duluth, Frank Hibbing paid close attention to "his" town in its early days, and he suggested that they should build the town further south because of the location of the mine. The people living in Hibbing ignored his advice, and the town grew rapidly in its original location. They kept the valuable iron underneath their homes in mind, however, and nicknamed their town the "richest village in the world".

As demand for steel increased, the Oliver Mining Company's open pit iron mine grew, moving ever closer to the city of Hibbing and its residents. In fact, by the 1910s, the mine surrounded the city on three sides. As late as 1912, the Oliver Mining Company, which was a subsidiary of U.S. Steel, announced that it had no plans to move the town. The company claimed that it would be at least fifteen years before they would need to get the iron under the town. However, six years later the company reversed course and declared that the northern part of Hibbing, which contained many of its homes and businesses, had to be moved. The town council and Mayor Victor Power agreed and in 1918 they accepted a proposal from the company to build a new downtown for Hibbing south of the city.

Hibbing's leaders decided to move the town to Alice, a small community incorporated less than a decade before. Alice was two miles south of Hibbing, and it had plenty of land available to purchase. During and immediately before the move, the Oliver Mining Company funded the construction of new buildings and services in the new area. They helped pay for sewage and electric lines to go to the relocated town, and they also built the Androy Hotel, City Hall, and a new high school.

Using horses, farm tractors, and a steam crawler provided by the mining company, the townspeople moved 188 buildings. The buildings ranged in size from small family homes to the large Colonial Hotel. To move all of the buildings, they gradually placed logs underneath the structures and secured them with steel cables. They then rolled the buildings to their new location on specially constructed wooden 'rails'. If the building was too large, they cut it into two or three pieces and moved each separately. If it was too tall, they removed the chimney or had a worker stand on the roof with a long stick to lift up the electrical lines.

In the years after the move, the people of Hibbing constructed legends about it. In some accounts, families continued to live in the houses as they moved. In one story, a woman went into labor at the old address and gave birth to the child at the new one. A story with at least a kernel of truth to it is the frequently told one about people returning to town after a long absence. Often these people would get lost in the new Hibbing. The movers did not rebuild Hibbing exactly the same as it had always been, and the town looked completely different in its new location.

While the moving of Hibbing succeeded in dramatically shifting the focal point of the town, houses and other buildings remained close to what became known as North Hibbing. In 1935, the mining company decided that they needed to mine that land as well. At that point, they did not attempt to move the remaining houses. Instead, they tore them down, paying their owners just a fraction of their value.

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  • Related Resources

Maki, Heather Jo. Hibbing, Minnesota. Chicago: Arcadia, 2001.

Hibbing, Minnesota: On the Move since 1893. Hibbing: Hibbing Booklet Committee, 1991.

The Hibbing Daily News and Mesaba Ore, October 1, 1921.
Newspaper Microfilm Collection, Minnesota Historical Society, St. Paul

Killorin, Alice. "When it Rained, Streets were Rivers of Red Mud." 1893-1983, Hibbing's 90th Anniversary.

"The Moving Situation in Hibbing," The Princeton Union, February 3, 1921.
http://chroniclingamerica.loc.gov/lccn/sn83016758/1921-02-03/ed-1/seq-2/

Related Images

Colonial Hotel being moved to new site, Hibbing
Colonial Hotel being moved to new site, Hibbing
Moving house with Capstan and team, Hibbing.
Moving house with Capstan and team, Hibbing.
Moving church from Townsite Forty to Park Addition, Hibbing.
Moving church from Townsite Forty to Park Addition, Hibbing.
Residence of Frank Dear being moved, Hibbing
Residence of Frank Dear being moved, Hibbing
Moving old Village Market to Bennett Park, Hibbing.
Moving old Village Market to Bennett Park, Hibbing.
Oliver Iron Mining Company Clubhouse being moved, Hibbing
Oliver Iron Mining Company Clubhouse being moved, Hibbing
Corner Second Avenue and Pine Street, showing where buildings have been removed, Hibbing.
Corner Second Avenue and Pine Street, showing where buildings have been removed, Hibbing.
Park Addition showing dwellings moved from Hibbing townsite Forty.
Park Addition showing dwellings moved from Hibbing townsite Forty.

Turning Point

In 1919, the people of Hibbing, with help from the Oliver Mining Company, move their town to make room for the expansion of an open pit iron mine.

Chronology

1887
Frank Hibbing settles in Duluth and began exploring the area
1892
Frank Hibbing discovers what he believes to be rich deposits of iron ore
1893
The town of Hibbing is named in his honor
1897
Frank Hibbing dies of appendicitis in Duluth.
1910
Alice, the town that would later become the new Hibbing, is incorporated
1912
The Oliver Mining Company declares that it has no intention of moving Hibbing
1913
Hibbing and Alice consolidate, opening the way for the move south
1915
The assessed value of the land beneath Hibbing is $85 million
1918
Due to increased demand for steel (World War I), the Oliver Mining Company declares that it needs to move the town. The town council agrees and accepts the need to move south.
1919
The relocation of Hibbing begins.
1920
The Sellers Hotel, the largest, and possibly only, building lost during the move collapses in transit. Its wreckage is used by residents as firewood that winter
1921
Major work on the relocation is complete. The new business district holds a grand opening on October 1.
1935
With the passage of the North Hibbing Purchase plan, the Oliver Mining Company gains the right to purchase all private property in North Hibbing. The remaining homes are not moved, but destroyed. The city still holds property in the area.
1955
What was North Hibbing is now gone. The city sells its last bit of property there to the mining company.