Editorial: Saving our history has a cost

For over 100 years the Pioneer Mine site has been a part of Ely’s history. But time is a cruel partner to buildings, even those on the National Register of Historic Places. Instead of giving up, a group of volunteers is pushing forward with a plan to save one of the remaining buildings.
The Ely Arts and Heritage Center board is charged with overseeing the use of the Pioneer Mine buildings and works with the Heritage Preservation Commission to find funding for projects.
What the EAHC did a month ago was a bit out of the ordinary. The Captains Dry building, built in 1910, has been left out in the cold when it came to repairs and maintenance over the years and it was becoming clear that without some immediate work it could go the way of the now torn down Engine House.
The board was able to work with contractor Russ Rider to put together a plan where a new rubber roof would be installed to keep water from continuing to seep into the walls. Rider knocked $4,000 off the $28,000 price and the board was faced with a big decision: wipe out the savings and spend $24,000 or gamble for another year or two.
The right decision was reached and for the first time in decades, water can now drain off the roof into downspouts away from the building. We give credit to these volunteers who were put in a tough position, which included criticism from some who felt the building wasn’t worth spending money on.
A fundraising campaign was started and already over $6,000 has been raised to help replenish the funds. There is also discussions being held on accepting a large private collection of mining memorabilia that could be displayed in the top floor of the Captains Dry. A historic building hosting the display of Ely’s mining history. It just makes sense.
We believe the Pioneer Mine, which shipped 41 million long tons of iron ore that helped win two world wars and built a country, is an integral part of Ely. Currently the history is being told in the Shaft House, a small space at the base of the head frame where volunteers give personalized tours to the public at no charge. Donations are accepted, of course.
There’s also the fantastic Miners Dry building, the largest public space currently available in Ely. It has become a popular spot for large gatherings including conventions and wedding receptions. The board has invested in some improvements to make the space work better for functions. And people love the history that the Miners Dry brings to the party.
The Pioneer Mine will also be home to a Miners Memorial in 2022. This project has been in the works for many years but has new momentum thanks to a $15,000 contribution from the City of Ely and a $15,000 grant from the IRRRB. The EAHC has set a goal of raising $15,000 to put toward the project and is currently at just over $10,500. The hope was that the IRRRB would approve a $30,000 grant to fund the entire $60,000 cost. The project is now being looked at in a phased approach.
Saving our mining history is so important to who we are as a community. The Pioneer was just one of many mines that existed here at one time. Sadly, it is the only one left where the structures remain.
Putting a roof on the Captains Dry is not the end all to being able to use that building in the future, but it does allow for the future to happen. There will need to be new windows, an electrical overhaul and other improvements made as well.
But sometimes you can’t eat the whole elephant at one sitting. Just taking a bite, or putting on a new roof, goes a long way toward a successful history saving project.