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The state's name is derived from the Wisconsin River, which was named by the French traders and explorers who arrived in the area in the 17th century. The river's name is believed to come from the Ojibwe word "meskonsing," which means "it lies red" or "red stone place."
Iron County, WI, located in the northern part of the state, has a rich history dating back to the Native American tribes that originally inhabited the area. The Ojibwe people, also known as the Chippewa, were the dominant tribe in the region and thrived on the abundant natural resources such as lakes, rivers, and forests.

The area's history took a significant turn in the mid-19th century when large deposits of iron ore were discovered. This discovery led to a rapid influx of settlers and the establishment of several mining towns, including Hurley, Montreal, and Iron Belt. The growth of the mining industry in Iron County attracted immigrants from Europe, particularly those of Finnish, Italian, and Cornish descent, who came to work in the mines. This diverse mix of cultures shaped the identity of the county.

The mining industry reached its peak in the late 19th and early 20th centuries, making Iron County one of the leading iron ore producers in the United States. However, as the demand for iron ore decreased in the mid-20th century, the mining industry declined, leading to the closure of many mines. The closure of the mines had a profound impact on the local economy and resulted in a decline in population.

In recent decades, Iron County has focused on diversifying its economy, shifting its reliance from mining to tourism, outdoor recreation, and forest industries. The county is now known for its natural beauty, including numerous lakes, hiking trails, and wildlife. It attracts visitors who enjoy activities such as fishing, hunting, camping, and snowmobiling. Despite the changes, the county still remains connected to its mining heritage, with several museums and historical sites preserving and showcasing its history.

This timeline provides a condensed summary of the historical journey of Iron County, Wisconsin.

  • 1871: Iron County is created as one of the 11 original counties in Wisconsin.
  • 1886: Iron County becomes a prominent iron ore mining region.
  • 1892: The town of Hurley is incorporated.
  • 1906: Mercer is established as a town in Iron County.
  • 1920: The population of Iron County reaches its peak due to the thriving mining industry.
  • 1965: The last operating iron mine in Iron County closes, marking the end of the mining era.
  • 1980: Northern Highland-American Legion State Forest is established, preserving the natural beauty of Iron County.
  • 1996: The Mercer Area Historical Society Museum opens, showcasing the history of Iron County.