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Marquette ore docks a reminder of the city's maritime and mining heritage

Sep 1, 2015

  One of the most striking features of the waterfront in Marquette is the Upper Harbor ore dock. Built in 1912, the pocket dock is still in use today.

Maritime historian Frederick Stonehouse says the city of Marquette began because of the discovery of iron ore back in 1844 in the Ishpeming and Negaunee area, about 20 miles west of Marquette. The city developed as the shipping port for the delivery of iron ore.

“And in fact, during the American Civil War, the bulk of the iron ore used by the Union Army came out of the city of Marquette,” said Stonehouse.

The ore dock near Presque Isle State Park is owned and operated by Cliffs Natural Resources. It's 1,250 feet long, 60 feet wide and 75 feet above water. The ore dock has 200 pockets and can store 50,000 tons of iron ore pellets with an annual capacity of 9.5 million tons. 

Every year hundreds of visitors flock to the Upper Peninsula city to watch the ships sail into the harbor and load up with iron ore. 

“They can see the chutes come down. They can hear the terrific rumble of those pellets as they go down into the cargo holes. It is the closest people will ever come to that type of activity anywhere in the Great Lakes.”

In the interview, Stonehouse also talks about the Lower Harbor ore dock. He says although it's no longer in use, it serves as a massive windbreak for the lower harbor.

“It’s just such a very powerful visual reminder of the city’s maritime past and our heritage.”

There’s a really cool way to know when the ships come in.  It’s called Automatic Identification System. All commercial vessels are required to have a tracking device on them. Stonehouse says you can check on various websites, such as MarineTraffic.com, to see the location and other details of the ships. 

Check out this short explainer video:

Frederick Stonehouse is the author of the book "The Wreck of the Edmund Fitzgerald."