“Locations can be removed, but the memories of the people who once lived in them will not allow their childhood homes to be forgotten, nor allow the friendships they made to wither.
“Franklin, where 211,000,000 tons of iron ore were mined to fuel a nation’s industry, no longer exists as a separate entity. The village, however, remains alive in the lore of the Mesabi Range.’’
From the book “It’s Gone; Did You Notice? A History of the Mesabi Range Village of Franklin, Minnesota’’ by Barbara A. Milkovich.
To James Lustig, who has lived in Franklin the last 46 years with his wife Janet, “it’s still like the Village of Franklin — an out of the way place.’’
Along with one other family, “we’re the oldest family of the originals,’’ Lustig said of the Village, which consolidated with Virginia in December 1994.
The Village of Franklin, on the eastern edge of Virginia, was born in 1915 and was composed of the Higgins, Franklin, Norman, Commodore, Lincoln, Minorca and Shaw locations.
When the Lustigs first moved into Franklin, the mining companies were scramming on the east end of the pit (towards Eveleth), James Lustig said. There were 14 houses at the time and now there are only 11 left. A new home was recently built, though, after the former Franklin City Hall was torn down 15 years ago.
James Lustig served on the Franklin City Council for 30 years, but due to the town’s size most residents did. “Everybody had a job so to speak,’’ he said.
James worked at Minntac for 40 years, while Janet was employed as a bookkeeper at Sears, Shoes and Things, The Palace Clothiers and First National Bank.
The Lustig house at 206 E. Chestnut St., which is actually in the former Shaw Location, was initially rented for $35 per month from the mining company.
The Lustigs had no guarantee they would be living there anywhere close to 46 years.
“We were told don’t unpack your boxes. We’re going to mine this land out,’’ he said.
“We unpacked anyway,’’ Lustig said, and raised three children in the home. “We raised a family and we really enjoyed living here.
“It was a little town all by itself,’’ he said.
The original charter for incorporation had been granted the Village as early as 1895, but allowed to lapse. In February 1915 a petition had been circulated by George Lonneis, Joseph Hendy, George Noyes, Frank Kishel and others among the registered voters in the district requesting the county commissioners to consider a special election on organization, according to “Ghost Towns and Locations of the Mesabi Iron Range by Rod Halunen.
The election was held on Tuesday, March 6, 1915, in the Franklin mine office. A census carefully taken of the people living on the land for which corporate powers had been granted, disclosed that, between Jan. 26 and Feb. 2, 1915, there were 908 residents. Of the 70 votes cast, 65 were in favor, and five against. The assessed valuation of this newly formed village was $12,000,000.
As was the case with all communities of the Iron Ranges, the history of Franklin Village’s locations is directly related to iron mining. The “red gold’’ was found in the Virginia area and the rich ore which lay just beneath the topsoil was mined, giving rise to the increased number of workers and homes.
After the discovery or iron ore, test pits soon dotted the area of the Mesabi from Mountain Iron to Biwabik. Mining camps cropped up here and there and some soon developed into towns and cities. Mining equipment became as common as logging equipment. Virginia’s early mines were all underground and not until the open pit mines were in operation did great numbers of miners actually come onto the scene.
Franklin, the oldest underground mine, was shored completely with hand hewn logs, doweled and dovetailed. Hanson Eve Smith, a mining official for the New England Mining Co., with an office in Fargo, N.D., wrote of the Franklin Mine:
• July 25, 1893: The Franklin mine near Virginia, James Corrigan property, (Corrigan, McKinney and Company) made its first shipment over the Duluth and Iron Range last Saturday. … Ten cars were loaded the first day and the ore is very heavy, running about 25 tons to a car.
Every home had boarders and the women of the household worked constantly cleaning, washing clothes and preparing lunch pails. In winter, during the early 1900s, a kettle was kept on the stove to melt the snow, it being the only source of water. On a cold winter morning, a thick layer of frost would be found on the ceiling, caused by the warm breath of the boarders and the rest of the family. Because of the abundance of deer and moose, it was not unusual to see moose and deer meat on the table in season and out.
No stores were developed in Franklin except for the Howdu Confectionery which was built out of the front of the Howdu home where residents usually bought tobacco, candy, newspapers and other small items. The store was taken over by the Herman Grefenberg family in 1914 and operated by them until 1919.
Shopping was done in the busiest little city of Virginia, and in that day deliveries made it possible. Burnetti Meats and Grocery, Virginia Mercantile, Italian Work People and the Virginia Co-op all provided delivery service.
Franklin Village built a pump station and laid water lines between Higgins and Franklin at the cost of $50,000 only to find the water unusable. Underground water was then found near the Higgins mine and four years this was the source of water for the entire village. On Dec. 17, 1917, an election was held to decide whether to erect a waterworks for the village, for public and private use, the cost not to exceed $60,000. Twenty voted, all in favor. In the summer an all metal water tank was erected and a pump station was built near the Higgins Location. Running water in the home made it possible for Franklin to gain the reputation of being a well administered village with many of the conveniences of larger communities.
The diggings of the mines started eating away at the Franklin Hills to a point where in 1942 the residents were asked to leave. By 1948, they were all gone.
“As we stand in Shaw Location and look at the remains of the Franklin Hills toward the once existing Franklin, Commodore, Lincoln, Higgins and Minorca locations, it is difficult to imagine that hundreds of people once lived there. Large gaping holes have been dug and as one connects the other, the result is one great abyss as a reminder of the tons of earth removed and a hint of the task men and machines endured. Franklin Village’s losses were Virginia’s gain as most villagers moved into the ‘Queen City.’’’
The Village of Franklin existed for 80 years. It, however, began a long decline in the mid-1940s with the removal of housing at Franklin Location, and became dormant after 1956. By then, its population was reduced to fewer than 50 people, a number that continued to decrease as residents got jobs elsewhere, moved to Virginia, grew up and moved on or quite simply, died, according to Milkovich’s book.
In the early 1990s, the village was no longer considered an asset by the mining company. USX indicated an interest in selling it. The City of Virginia was the logical customer because it had annexed portions of the old Missabe Mountain Township and it encircled Franklin.
Virginia, anxious to get control of outlying land in Franklin for future industrial development, was a willing buyer. Negotiations between the two cities and the mining/steel company went swiftly and, from all accounts, congenially. Franklin was consolidated with, not annexed to, Virginia in December 1994.