When most people think of Minnesota, they picture…well, cold. Frigid winters, hot dishes, snowmobiling and a funny accent are commonly associated with this lesser-known state. But there are tiny little cities in Minnesota, like Crosby and Ironton, that are full of culture, stunning scenery, nationally ranked outdoor activities and a diverse history that may easily be overlooked.
Crosby, Minnesota, located in Crow Wing County, has a tragic backstory behind it, leading to a “rising from the ashes” type of bittersweet success. Crosby was built in the early 1900s as a mining town, named after George H. Crosby. Crosby was a bigwig in the industry of mining, and he wanted to increase his fortune and further spread the trade of mining itself, and the town of Crosby was born.
However, on February 5, 1924, disaster struck. A series of unfortunate events resulted in the biggest tragedy Crosby had ever, and has ever since, seen. The Milford Mine, a manganese mine shaft, was a profitable and successful mining area that had been in use since 1917.
But on this day, the culmination of use, weathering, and nature resulted in the water from the nearby Foley Lake, a full two miles north of the town, flooding the mine while almost 50 miners were deep in the trenches. 41 were killed and only seven were able to make it to safety. The mine eventually closed due to the decline of steel in 1932, but it was never the same after the disaster, anyway.
But the city’s interesting gossip doesn’t end there. In 1932, the same year the mine closed, the local citizens of Crosby elected Karl Emil Nygard to be president of their Village Council. This was a huge national event, since Nygard was now the first Communist mayor in the entire country.
Crosby also has made a name for itself in space exploration. In 1957, Dr. David G. Simons proved that people could survive high in the sky when, as part of Project Manhigh, he flew to almost 102,000 feet from the Portsmouth Mine Pit Lake in Crosby. This launched the future of space exploration as we know it currently.
Today, Crosby and the city of Ironton combine to create an area famous for crystal clear lakes, IMBA certified mountain bike trails, and iron ranges as found on the Minnesota iron range map.
Also part of Crow Wing County, Deerwood, Minnesota is situated deep in the heart of the Cuyuna Range, surrounded by lakes and forests. This quaint village has a rural charm and a small population of 532 residents, but the recreational opportunities bring people from all over the country to the area.
Deerwood’s history is not quite as dramatic as that of Crosby/Ironton, but it paints a picture of the real story behind Manifest Destiny and Westward Expansion of the United States.
Deerwood, aptly named for the abundance of whitetail deer in the area, was founded in 1881 when it changed from Withington to its current name. To entice settlers to the village, the government used the Railroad Act Bill of 1857 and the Homestead Act of 1862 to give new settlers 160 acres of land if they agreed to live on it and farm it for five years.
With this incentive, the area grew, and then the Northern Pacific Railroad came through, making it even more popular. Eventually, enough settlers were living in the area that the Cuyuna Range was established. Businesses were encouraged and families flourished.
The mining boom was initiated by Cuyler Adams of Deerwood, cementing the seeds that would make Deerwood a city instead of a village, and in 1909 Deerwood was now considered an organized city.
While Deerwood still holds its old-world atmosphere and small village charm, it now provides hundreds of businesses that fill the needs of its citizens and the ever-growing number of tourists that come to the area.
With all of the trails and water surrounding the city, it has become a popular destination for those looking for water recreation sports like canoeing, kayaking, paddle boarding, and trout fishing. The trails make it one of the most famous in the country for winter sports recreation in the form of snowmobiling, cross country skiing, and snowshoeing, and it’s a top destination for serious mountain bikers and hikers.
The Cuyana Range in Crow Wing County also includes one of the newest cities in its cluster, Cuyuna, Minnesota. Established back when one-room schoolhouses were the norm and most parents participated in the PTA, Cuyuna was originally full of nothing but wide dirt streets and a basic well and sewer system.
In 1908, a small school was built and in 1909 The First State Bank of Cuyuna was established. From there, the village began to grow. People who were attracted to the area because of George Crosby’s investment in mining flocked to Cuyuna and chose the village as near enough to Crosby/Ironton.
By 1911, Cuyuna had made a name of its own with a hospital, a doctor, a barber shop, and even restaurants and hotels. A high school was built and a baseball team was organized.
When it was clear that Cuyuna could hold its own as a prosperous city, the Rogers, Brown Mining Company began building houses to attract stable, married, family men. Electricity was eventually added.
Between the reasonable housing, free entertainment, and other benefits, Cuyuna became the place to live if you were a family man looking to take care of your wife and children.
Now, Cuyuna has a place on the map for those looking in the Cuyuna country state recreation area. The Cuyuna trail map is used by mountain bikers and hikers and the Cuyuna Lakes State Trail is a famous Minnesota tourist attraction.
The Cuyuna Iron Range is mostly in Crow Wing County, part of a 68-mile long line stretching from the city of Brainerd to Aitken, Minnesota.
Explore the Real Minnesota
If you are looking for places to explore in MN, the Cuyuna Range, encompassing Crosby/Ironton, Deerwood, and Cuyuna, is a must-see for your travel plans. This area is recommended by those who enjoy Minnesota winter tourism, is considered a Minnesota state tourist attraction, and is firmly situated as a recommendation in the Minnesota tourism office.
When you are ready to visit Minnesota, the Cuyuna lakes mountain bike trails, Crosby historical society, Cuyuna Country State Park, and other historical and natural landmarks are the real Minnesota tourist attractions.