MARQUETTE - One of the most well-known fixtures of the Marquette lake shore is celebrating a big anniversary this year.
According to Cliffs Natural Resources, the Lake Superior & Ishpeming Railroad ore dock in Marquette's Upper Harbor is celebrating its 100th year of operation in July, with a special event planned to commemorate the anniversary.
The dock began loading iron ore into Great Lakes freighters in 1912, serving as a link between Michigan's iron ore mines and the global steel industry.
A lake freighter is docked at the LS&I Ore Dock in Marquette’s Upper Harbor. The dock is 100 years old this year. (LS&I photo)
The LS&I Railroad was organized in July of 1911 after the Munising, Marquette and South Eastern Railway Co. merged with the Lake Superior & Ishpeming Railway Co. Today the railroad includes 50 miles of track and 60 miles of siding and yard tracks.
In 1896, a 54-foot high, 1,200-foot long wooden ore dock was constructed at the Upper Harbor. After the original structure was damaged by storms, the construction of the current dock began in 1911 and was completed the year after, and was the second of its kind on Lake Superior.
The current dock is 1,250 feet long and 60 feet wide, with the top deck sitting 75 feet above the water level. It contains 200 pockets, each of which has a capacity of 250 tons of ore, for a total storage capacity of 50,000 tons.
Supporting the dock is a foundation of 10,000 wooden piles which is enclosed by a 12-inch thick timber sheet plank wall that is filled with sand.
Although the dock was originally built to load three ships on each side at once, its length allows it to accommodate the modern 1,000-foot vessels. The width of the modern vessels, however, make it necessary for the ships to go back out into the harbor and turn around to place the remainder of the cargo.
Each year, the dock has the capacity to load 9.5 to 10 million tons of ore, with the largest annual shipment of 9.46 million tons taking place in 1989. During the 2011 shipping season, the dock loaded 405 vessels with more than 8.6 million tons of pellets. In 2006, the dock saw its 400 millionth ton of ore since 1912.
The average load per vessel today is 21,146 tons, while the average in 1899 was 2,431 tons per ship.
Since 1912, the ore dock has seen various improvements, including in 2006 and 2007, when a new control system for the pocket chute doors was installed for safer and more efficient ship loading. The dock has also seen concrete restoration work and repainting.
On July 13, the U.S. Brig Niagara, a replica of the relief flagship that won the Battle of Lake Erie in the War of 1812, will visit the Upper Harbor and the ore dock for a ceremonial salute to the dock before docking at the Lower Harbor for the weekend. The visit is being arranged by Cliffs and the Marquette Maritime Museum.
"This is a very unique opportunity to celebrate the centennial of the dock and also the bicentennial of the Flagship Niagara," said Jennifer Huetter, Cliffs' district manager of public affairs in Michigan. "Cliffs is pleased to be able to acknowledge the ore dock's 100 years of operations milestone and include the public as part of the recognition."
A more detailed schedule will be released as the summer approaches, letting the public know when they can tour the tall ship.
Johanna Boyle can be reached at 906-486-4401.