Tech Gives Minnesota Communities’ History Back to Them

A PhD candidate in Industrial Heritage and Archaeology at Michigan Tech has given the residents of Minnesota’s Cuyuna Range a unique gift–a glimpse into the history of their own communities. Fred Sutherland is researching the history of the Cuyuna Range, an iron mining region between Brainerd and Aitkin, Minn., for his PhD dissertation. Earlier this month, he presented a summary of findings from a survey of nearly 900 historic buildings and sites along the Cuyuna Range.

Sutherland had to inventory the locations to identify potential sites for archaeological fieldwork. His architectural inventory is a model for public research advocated by Michigan Tech faculty, according to Tim Scarlett, associate professor of social sciences and head of Tech’s Industrial Heritage and Archaeology program.

Instead of isolating himself from community residents and organizations, the PhD student reached out to the community through stakeholder groups. He then coordinated a team of 12 local volunteers, equipped them with Michigan Tech instruments, designed their survey to the professional standards defined by the Minnesota State Historic Preservation Office, and led teams of surveyors as they recorded sites in Crosby, Riverton, Wolford, Trommald, Deerwood and Ironton, Minn. Eventually, they catalogued 876 individual buildings.

On Jan. 14, Sutherland presented the volunteers’ results at a public meeting and delivered a complete printed inventory to community residents. He also presented the communities with a multi-volume report for the archives at the Hallett Memorial Library in Crosby, Minn. Community organizations and local governments can now use the information collected by their own citizens for civic planning and efforts to nominate eligible structures and neighborhoods to the National Register of Historic Places.

Sutherland’s efforts also generated intense public curiosity about archaeology, heritage and preservation, Scarlett said.

The collaborative project began during the winter of 2010-2011, when the Ironton chapter of the Serbian Sisters contacted the Industrial Heritage and Archaeology program at Michigan Tech. Supported by a seed gift from Charles Leir and Laura Ukura-Leir of Ironton, Minn., the initial goals of the collaboration were to research and publish the first major academic study of the heritage of the Cuyuna Range mines and communities; to use Michigan Tech’s expertise to help improve range communities’ efforts at cultural revitalization, economic redevelopment and planning; and to train young professionals in best practices for Industrial Heritage and Archaeology efforts.

The collaborative team is seeking funding for the second phase of the study, including archaeological excavations of various industrial sites to yield clues about this poorly understood iron mining region. Sutherland would like to investigate a rare example of an Ardis Furnace, the Milford and Sagamore mine locations, and the Rowe Concentrator and Portsmouth Sintering Plant sites in the Cuyuna Range. Anyone wanting to help support this research can contact Scarlett at or Ben Larson, senior advancement officer for the Michigan Tech Fund, at

Published in Tech Today by Jenn Donovan, public relations director