Preserving Ely’s past is important

The stories of Ely’s past came alive Monday afternoon.
It’s been over 50 years since the Pioneer Mine closed, but one could almost hear the echoes of days gone by as Serafine Rolando, John Seliga and Bill Erzar told stories, showed off exhibits and shared their passion for our community’s rich history.
Their audience was elected officials and political aides, and their appeal was genuine and matter-of-fact.
Money, a lot of it, is needed to preserve the historic mine site.
Much has already been done over the last two decades, with the preservation of the Miner’s Dry building providing a venue for public and cultural events, and a window to Ely’s mining past.
The headframe and shaft house rehabilitation were also welcomed and visitors, from around the region and far beyond, stop each year for tours, to look at the exhibits and hear some of the tales of Ely’s last operating mine.
But keeping that piece of history comes with a price, and there was admittedly sticker shock earlier in the year when a study showed it could take as much as $2.5 million to preserve this historic landmark.
That’s a tall order and probably unrealistic, but the good news is that it’s no an all-or-nothing proposition and some priorities have come to the surface.
A roof for the Captain’s Dry building will take $150,000, and another $190,000 is needed to reconstruct a retaining wall.
Those options topped the list when council members discussed the issue earlier this year. It was a list that included $1.2 million alone to rehabilitate the exterior of the Captain’s Dry.
The costs make it certain that outside funding will be needed in this preservation effort, which is one big reason why state legislators and an aide to U.S. Sen. Amy Klobuchar were invited on Monday.
While the Pioneer Mine complex is city-owned, the project is too big a lift for the city to take on itself. Grant funds will need to be accessed to maintain these assets.
Any project comes with a cost-benefit analysis and at some point a prime question has to be answered: does the preservation of the Pioneer Mine site have merit?
We would argue, without question, that the answer is an unequivocal “yes.”
Ask Rolando, who has shown off the mine to visitors from across the country and from as far away as Bolivia and Finland.
“These are the only buildings that are left,” said Rolando, noting a bygone era when there were numerous mines in the Ely area alone.
As recently as a half-century ago, hundreds of men ventured underground to the Pioneer Mine and held jobs that helped build this community.
That can never be forgotten and indeed through the efforts of Rolando and many others, the Pioneer Mine site stands as a monument to the community’s past.
Passion was purely on display Monday as Rolando talked of the many efforts that have gone into preserving the mine complex, and when Erzar rattled off names from the past and donned a hard hat to show how miners, with candles attached to the hard hat, would see in the dark caverns of the mine.
We hope too that city leaders latch on to that passion, and that those officials who toured this week see how important it is to preserve the Pioneer Mine and, as mayor Chuck Novak implored, that they “find us all the (revenue) sources they can.”
Saving history comes with a price, but there’s a strong case to be made for saving the Pioneer Mine and showcasing what led to what Ely is today.