Holding On To History: Long silent power dam still stands near Lake Vermilion

Published: Nov. 7, 2023 at 3:15 AM CST
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TOWER, MN. (Northern News Now) - The old power dam across the Pike River on the Tower end of Lake Vermilion generates interest from both anglers and history buffs rather than electricity. Former Hometown Focus newspaper editor Tucker Nelson has family roots in that area.

“Whenever I’d go visit my grandpa, my head would always turn towards the dam to see how much water was going over it.” said Nelson.

The origins of the former hydro-electric power dam intrigued Nelson.

“One day I started to wonder about the history of it and I knew it had been used as a hydro-electric dam but that was about it.” said Nelson.

Richard Hanson of the Tower Soudan Historical Society told Tucker that the women of 19-teens Tower wanted streetlights in the rough and tumble frontier mining town.

“Of course there were hooligans and people like that that were around.” said Hanson.

The dam was built in 1912 and it was immediately realized that the Pike River’s flow wasn’t good enough.

“The fluctuation of the river was so bad.” explained Hanson.

Minnesota Power and Light took over the dam around 1924 and pulled the plug so to speak soon after. 99 years later, Tucker Nelson had learned enough about the dam’s history to give a presentation to the Historical Society.

“It was a packed crowd, he really did a nice job.” said Hanson.

Nelson told the crowd that the dam is now owned by the Minnesota DNR. It’s really rather solid despite its weathered surface. And, the DNR actually maintains the structure because cabin owners depend on the shoreline the dam still provides 111 years later. It just doesn’t provide electricity because MP&L built other dams with more predictable water levels.

“They were able to generate more reliable electricity and many of the dams they operate near Ely and the St. Louis River are still operating today.” said Nelson.

At least you can still reel in the occasional bass today at the Pike River Dam.

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