Places to visit in Minnesota: The eerie ghost town of North Hibbing

North Hibbing still has signs of life, even though no one lives there.

Streets are still there. In some places there are still a few steps leading up to a front door. 

But there's no door – no buildings at all.

Next to the huge open pit mine that draws lots of visitors to Hibbing are the eerie remnants of a part of town that vanished.

What to see and do in North Hibbing

The company running the big iron mine realized a century ago that it couldn't get to some of the best ore – because it was underneath what was then the town of Hibbing. 

So they made a deal and literally moved the town. 

There are no buildings left in what's now known as North Hibbing. But in several places you can still see the foundations left behind when homes, businesses, or a school were picked up and moved. 

There are those streets, which are not driveable anymore but still have curbs, pavement, and even some street signs. You'll occasionally see patches of concrete that may have once been part of a garage. 

Since there's nothing left above ground level, people from out of town might not even realize they're in what used to be the busiest part of Hibbing. 

The Hibbing Historical Society puts out information about the old town at the former site of the Lincoln School (which is pictured above).

You can glimpse some of the streets in the early part of an aerial video of the region posted to YouTube.

The city has turned some of the remaining property into a campground (just four sites, open for the summer only, and no reservations required). 

They've also used parts of it as a dog park, a field for remote control airplanes, and a disc golf course. And a viewing area for visitors to watch the activity in the mine below has been popular for 40 years. 

The area actually used to be larger. But a big chunk of the old town's land disappeared when it became part of the Hull Rust Mahoning Mine, which at one time was the world's biggest open pit mine.

Hibbing is not the only Minnesota town that's ever been moved. Historians say it happened in other places on the Iron Range, too. 

But the size of Hibbing's move – dozens of square blocks – and all the vestiges of life in the abandoned area make it unique in the state and worth a stop if you're in the area. 

How they moved the town

When the lumberjacks working at a logging camp in the area dug a well and the water came up red, Frank Hibbing knew it was a good place to build a city.

It was the iron ore underground that gave the water the red tint, Leonard Hirsch, the president of the Hibbing Historical Society, told GoMN. And the people who showed up to mine that iron turned the new city of Hibbing into a boom town at the start of the 20th Century. 

But miners soon realized some of the best ore was underneath where the town had been built. So the buildings had to go elsewhere. 

From 1919 through 1921 the Oliver Mining Company helped cover the cost of moving more than 180 of Hibbing's buildings 2 miles south, the Minnesota Historical Society says.

The company, which was owned by U.S. Steel, also helped pay for sewer and water lines to the new town site, and got things started by building a hotel and a big new Hibbing High School (it was called the most magnificent high school in the nation and is still used today).

Oliver Mining Co. also provided a lot of the equipment, like steam powered tractors, that pulled the houses, hotels, and schools to their new sites. 

The buildings were put up on logs and rolled to their new locations, sometimes on rails specially built for the project. 

There was at least one failure. The Sellers Hotel slipped off its rollers and crashed to the ground

But otherwise the move went very well, says Hirsch of the Hibbing Historical Society: 

"It is amazing, really, when you look at how many buildings were moved and how little damage was done," he adds. 

Hirsch says in some of the houses, people protective of their homes stayed in them while they were moved, to help keep things in place during the ride.

On the move again

Nearly a century later, mining remains a priority on the Iron Range. And that's why some of what occupies north Hibbing today is being moved again.

City services manager Pete Hyduke tells GoMN that – kind of like a hundred years ago – the mining company (it's now Hibbing Taconite) wants to get at the ore underneath the Hull Rust mine viewing area. 

So it's building a road to a new mine view half a mile away.

It should be ready next summer, Hyduke says. As for the tourist building that stands at the mine view site, he says the city hasn't decided whether to put up a new one – or move the existing one. 

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