Iron ore was first discovered in Michigan’s Upper Peninsula in 1844 by William A. Burt, a United States Government surveyor. Development of the Marquette Iron Range was ongoing throughout the 1840s and early 1850s. The initial focus was on producing iron locally; early shipping attempts used mule teams and plank roads to haul cargo to the Great Lakes schooners, but the heavy ore required portaging at the St. Marys River rapids and costs were prohibitive.
With the opening of the Soo Locks in 1855 the ability to ship large volumes of ore was finally realized, and the first dock specifically designed for the ore trade was built in Marquette in 1857. It was flat rather than elevated, and the vessels were loaded with wheelbarrows.
By 1862 an additional wooden dock had been constructed at Marquette featuring an elevated railway trestle for ore jennies to discharge ore into chutes, and schooners were modified with regularly spaced hatch covers to speed up loading.The steamers of that era took on cargo via ports in the sides of their hulls, so the ore docks added a conventional, flat lower level to facilitate the steamer gangways.
During this period the iron ore trade was dwarfed by the grain and lumber trade: Marquette remained the only port on Lake Superior that shipped iron ore until 1876.
In 1931 the Duluth, South Shore & Atlantic Railroad awarded a $1.8 million dollar contract to a Duluth, Wisconsin firm for the construction of a pocket dock in Marquette’s lower harbor. Construction began on April 16 of that year, and the project was completed the following spring and became known as Marquette Ore Dock Number 6. Over the years the trestle and dock was passed to the Soo Line, Wisconsin Central, and finally the Canadian National Railroad. The dock was officially closed on December 31, 1971 when ore shipments were diverted to Escanaba.
Due to a lack of maintenance the approach, lower wooden dock and stairs deteriorated badly over the next decade. The Soo Line maintained fences and warning signs but trespassing was a common occurrence. In October 1988 police discovered the remains of a local teen who had fallen to his death in one of the chutes.
Photography by Charlie Harvin: Canon AV-1 SLR, Kodak Gold 400 35mm color negative film