Last month, I made a business trip to Marquette, Michigan on Lake Superior, which allowed me to revisit the waterfront and its two ore docks. The ore dock in the lower harbor, the one pictured here, had already been de-commissioned when I first arrived in Marquette in the late 70’s. This dock has been inactive since 1971, but the ore dock in Marquette’s upper harbor is still used by the Lake Superior and Ishpeming Railroad, which hauls iron ore from the mines west of Marquette.
Cold Morning at the Ore Dock
It had been many years since I had been to Marquette, so I had forgotten how unpredictable the weather could be. When I awoke to 32 degrees (F) and a light dusting of snow, that reality hit home. Nonetheless, trooper that I am, I ventured out to get a few pictures.
This ore dock is unusual in that there is no trestle to bring the iron ore to the dock. The city urged the mine’s railroad to remove the structure as it was an eyesore with no purpose. If you look at the top of the end view, 86 feet off the water’s surface, you’ll see the cut-off ends of 4 railroad tracks spaced upon the 66-foot wide structure. When the dock was operable, ore cars were brought across the trestle and onto the dock where they would drop their load of ore into concrete pockets, thus giving an alternative name of “pocket dock” to the structure. The ore was held in the pockets until the next ship arrived for loading. When an ore freighter pulled alongside the dock, the steel chutes would be lowered to the ship and ore would flow by gravity into the hold.
Today’s ore freighters are 1,000 or more feet long, and fit well with the 1,200 foot upper harbor dock. The dock in these pictures, though, is only 970 feet long. Built in 1932, it is a reinforced concrete structure sitting on top of some 7,600 wooden pilings, all reported to be in solid condition. For more detail on the condition of the lower harbor ore dock, and some great video shot in much better weather, check out Marquette’s website and the ore dock’s inspection report – the arial view and underwater views are amazing. And, for more history of ore docks in general, see Wikipedia.
Sunny Evening at the Ore Dock
Meanwhile, by early evening Marquette’s mercurial weather turned sunny and tolerably cold, allowing a more welcoming view of the structure.
In this final picture, from the base of the dock, the concrete stairs help give a sense of the structure’s scale. The wooden pilings in the foreground supported the railroad trestle that brought the ore cars (or ore jennies) onto the dock.