Ashland's iron ore docks being destroyed


Addendum: May 18, 2013



Work continues to raise the Ashland Ore Dock. It appears that the demolition crews are encountering one tough structure. These are two aerial photos taken by a friend of the docks this past week, showing you where the demolition stands.

The Canadian National Railroad (CNR) owns the dock and has decided to destroy it because it feels it to be unsafe and is worried about liabilities. The City Fathers of Ashland seem disinterested, insensitive to its historic importance, and, of course, shy of money to repair it and preserve it.

However, there are prominent people favoring its preservation.

National Trust Advisor Emeritus and architect George Haecker, whose family has summered on nearby Madeline Island since 1896, emphatically supports the effort to save the ore dock. “The ore dock is simply Ashland’s iconic heart and soul, and to see it being turned into rubble is devastating.” His firm, having worked on many historic renovation projects, including the homes of former U.S. Presidents Truman, Hoover, Clinton and Nebraska’s State Capitol, Haecker sees many positives of keeping the ore dock saved from the wrecking ball. “I was utterly dismayed last summer to see it being nibbled away at … it could certainly continue to serve as a powerful symbol of Ashland’s proud past.”

Bruce Lunde, Owner at Lunde Williams, LLC, of Madison, Wisconsin, and an acknowledged authority on maritime renovation and design, stated that losing the ore dock would forever change the waterfront landscape in Ashland. “The sad thing about the current state of demolition is that once this structure is gone, it is gone forever. The materials used in the design, the construction techniques used, and the resulting iconic structure can no longer be built the way it was then,” Lunde said. “Maybe since the local populace has been used to seeing it for so
long they don’t realize the giant hole this will leave in the local fabric when it is gone. The Greatest of the Great Lakes is losing a valuable jewel and their civic identity.”

Bob Dahl, Chairman of the Apostle Islands Historic Preservation Conservancy, wrote to CNR and the Mayor of Ashland to encourage a win-win outcome, stating “we believe that financially and technically feasible alternatives are available.” Expressing what is the prevailing public sentiment, Dahl noted the ore dock is an “important part of the historic fabric of, and future promise for, the Apostle Islands region.”

To offer support or info: Jeff Peters,; (715)-919-0489.

January 24, 2013


This photo, courtesy of Jeff Peters, is what is left of the last remaining Ashland Ore Dock as of January 18, 2013. Jeff is leading an eftort to try to save something of the dock, and has told us engineers say a cap could be put on top of what is remaining. Then people could visit the dock, walk its length, go fishing from it, and remember it. See Jeff’s Facebook Page.

Original Story: December 12, 2012

The Ashland Ore Dock, a historic landmark in this northern Wisconsin city, is being demolished. In the previous section, “Ashland's iron ore docks, a fascinating history,” I described the dock and its history. I commend this to you.

The Wisconsin Central Railroad constructed the ore dock in 1915 and completed it in 1916. It was the third such ore dock in Ashland. When one studies the rail lines up here, he-she can really get tied around an axle trying to figure out who owns what. For example, I have read reports that say the dock was built in 1916 by the Minneapolis, St. Paul and Sauit Ste. Marie Railroad, known as the Soo Line. The Canadian Pacific Railroad (CPR or CP) had the controlling interest in the Soo Line, which made the Soo Line a subsidiary of CP. The CP also controlled the Wisconsin Central Railroad. The Soo line also eventually took in the Wisconsin Central Railroad, another CP entity.

Whatever the case, the Canadian National Rail (CNR) bought the ore dock from the Soo Line. So for our purposes, the CNR is the owner.

It was the third such ore dock built in Ashland and the last one standing. She was 1,900 ft. long, had four rail tracks, 314 pockets, 6,800 piles driven to support it, and a timber trestle approach 1,000 ft. long.

A structural inspection of the dock was conducted in 2006-2007 and determined the dock to be structurally unsafe and an imminent safety hazard. It is my understanding that this determination alarmed the CNR, worried about liability issues, and it decided to demolish the dock. However, Ashland citizens hoped to save and restore the dock and negotiated with the CNR to do that. Unfortunately, the citizens could not raise the required amount of money needed to pull this off so CNR felt it had no choice but to demolish it.

The group trying to safe something of the dock is known as “Save Our Oredock’ (Soo). John Chapple is the president of Soo. He is President of equity firm Hawkeye Investments. Prior to forming Hawkeye, he served as President, CEO and Chairman of the Board of Nextel Partners from January 1998 to June 2006, when the company was purchased by Sprint. Chapple serves on the board of directors of several telecommunications companies: Cbeyond, Leap Wireless International and privately held companies Seamobile Enterprises and Telesphere Networks.

While saving the dock no longer appears feasible, the group is hoping to save some of it, at the very least the base which could be a great pier for fishing, at best, more of the vertical structure if possible. People interested in donating and/or learning more about “Save Our Oredock” should email Jeff Peters at -- or write to: “Save Our Oredock,” Attn: Jeff Peters, 31374 Long Lake Road, Mellen, WI 54546.

I believe the demolition began in October 2011 when the wooden approach trestle was taken down. The work on the rest restarted in February 2012.


This is an old photo of the historic Ashland Ore Dock courtesy of the Ashland Historical Society. It’s tough to read, I know. I want to point out the wooden approach trestle to the far right, enabling trains laden with ore to go on to the main dock and dump their ore into chutes along the side and into the cargo hulls of waiting ships.


A more modern view.


And yet another.

Because of my love for wood and the incredible architecture that went into the wood trestle, I want to show you a few shots of it I took back in April 2007.




My dad was an engineer also in love with wood and he would have studied this for days. This would be enormous fun, and a great challenge, to build on a small scale for your hobby rail train in the basement!


This is how the ore dock looked in April 2007, my first visit.


This is how she looked on November 5, 2012, courtesy of the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel.

Now let’s look at her on December 6, 2012, my second visit. It appears that when I got there, the demolition company, Veit Inc., had taken down the very top layer, which hosted the rail tracks, through the length of the dock. I must say that’s a lot of work done in one month given the challenges.






Please note that the entire wooden approach trestle that once was off to the right is gone.


All along the top of the dock, these backhoes employing either a shovel or an air hammer have worked to tear apart the concrete. At this point, as seen in the previous photo, they were almost at the end.


Here’s a closeup. I want too point out a few things. Chipping away at the concrete is one challenge. As you’ve probably noted, there is a heckuva lot of concrete on this dock. I’m no engineer, but look at all that rebar. I spoke with a civil engineer at dinner and he said the rebar was the biggest challenge. I guess back in the day the lads put together one each strong ore dock for the job, and well they should have done given the extraordinary weight of the ore coming in.

But note one more thing. In the lower right quadrant, you can see a big horizontal crack in the structure. While photographing all this, I talked to a long time resident of Ashland who has been watching this almost daily. He seemed pretty darn smart to me. We both agreed that we hoped the engineers knew what they were doing here constantly pounding away with that air hammer --- we hoped they knew when it was time to call it quits and not risk the whole thing falling apart and the two backhoes with operators tumbling down to the ground. I don’t know if this was a new or old crack, or if even caused by the air hammer. But it seems to both of us, and the civil engineer I talked to later, that there was a risk.


Interestingly, I learned from a friend that they pulled the two backhoes off the top the very day I was there, I guess after I left, and decided they would handle the rest of the deconstruction form the ground, with a remote-controlled demolition machine doing some additional work topside, but the main work being done with a wrecking ball. This photo was scanned and sent to me; Rick Olivo of the
Ashland Daily took the original shot. Frankly, I’m glad they got the men and machines off the top.


It looks like the wrecking ball crew has already begun work. This photo, taken by John Wellin, shows the wrecking ball destroying one of the concrete supports of the ore dock approach superstructure. This began on either December 7 or 8, 2012.

We will follow this operation. It seems to me they will have to take off all those steel chutes before the wrecking ball comes into play for the larger part of the dock. That old wrecking ball has a big bunch of vertical concrete beams to take down over a 1,900 foot stretch. And I wonder how they’ll handle the remaining horizontal sections as they do that.


If you look closely, you can see a machine under the dock. I watched him trying to scoop up and gather just the rebar. I gotta tell you he was working hard and not making much progress. The rebar was all tangled and hard to work with.

I have seen estimates the whole job will take at least two years, through the end of 2014. Would love to know what all this costs.

There is already a major effort underway to clean up the water around Ashland. Much of it is laden with sediment and silt of various compositions making the area unusable for swimming and other aquatic activity. Ashland is among many Wisconsin cities fighting to stay afloat economically, and the city needs the aquatic sports; it has some pretty good looking beaches and is in a wonderful location, close to the Bayfield Peninsula and not far from Duluth. I am sure Veit Inc., the demolition company, is doing its best to snatch as much of the debris coming down as possible. But they will not be able to get it all and this will create a new sediment and silt problem for cleanup. In addition, this ore dock has served as a wind and water breaker. Once it is down and gone, there will be environmental repercussions on the shoreline for sure.

Meg Jones, writing for the Milwaukee Daily Sentinel published on November 5, 2012, wrote this:

“Canadian National Railway owns the ore dock and hired a demolition company, which began chipping away at the large concrete ore containers - 150 on each side - last spring. The demolition permits are only for the upper portion of the ore dock, about half of which is already gone. The Save Our Oredock group is hoping to keep a couple hundred feet of the upper portion in place.

“What would be done with it? Suggestions include a maritime museum and interpretive center, a cruise ship terminal, a boat docking area, picnic area or fishing dock or a combination of some of those ideas.

“The city is negotiating with the Canadian National Railway to take ownership of the dock along with money from the railroad for improvements, said Ashland Mayor Bill Whalen. Whalen declined to say how much money the railroad would give because it's part of the negotiations. But the railroad wants to give the city only the base of the dock after removing the large structures on top.”

Once again, you can contact the Save Our Oredock Group, Jeff Peters, at -- or write to: “Save Our Oredock,” Attn: Jeff Peters, 31374 Long Lake Road, Mellen, WI 54546 if you think you can offer any help.

This Group is caught between a rock and a hard place in my view. On the one hand, most townspeople seem to agree that a great landmark, a city icon, part of the city’s seal, is being destroyed. Even the local high school football team is called the “Oredockers.” Most of these people wish the dock could remain. But wishing is not good enough. It takes money and enormous effort to save what can be saved. At this point in time, it appears to me, absent a miracle, that the Save Our Oredock people will be lucky to get the base platform in tact. I’ve talked with Jeff Peters by phone --- he is most certainly one motivated guy and will not give up easily. Give him a call.

I’ll conclude with some of my favorite words from Mary Jane Hettinga, a former executive director of the Marathon County Historical Society in Wisconsin. I quote her wherever I can. Mary Jane said this:

"It is the uniqueness of the historic buildings that make each place individual. The history and heritage of a city gives it a sense of place. Preservation of historic buildings is changing the face of and actually saving many towns."

It is a real shame to see this big guy go.