One hundred twenty years ago, the initial portion of the Gunflint and Lake Superior Railroad (GLS) was completed from Ontario into Minnesota at Gunflint Lake. Owned by the Pigeon River Lumber Company (PRLC), a Wisconsin Company operating out of Port Arthur (Thunder Bay), Ontario, it was built to allow the PRLC to cut white pine on the southeastern side of the lake. Initially 2 miles in length, the GLS would eventually reach 6 miles at its peak in 1908.
The Gunflint and Lake Superior was unique as it was likely the only American railroad that had no US terminus and its only access was through Canada. All of the timber cut in Minnesota was hauled to the PRLC mill in Port Arthur for processing. Most of the distance to the sawmill was done via the Port Arthur, Duluth and Western Railway (PAD&W), which had been completed in 1893 but was now owned by Canadian Northern Railway. The GLS connected to the Canadian Northern line, at the time known as the Duluth Extension, at Milepost 79.
Concurrent to the construction of the railroad was the establishment of customs facilities on either side of the border. The first photograph shows the international crossing between Little Gunflint and Gunflint Lakes looking south circa 1919-1920. The former US facilities are very prominent and the man in the foreground is likely the agent, Richard Dowman. The second photo, taken in 1997, shows very little traces of what was a very busy location between 1902 and 1909.
Period photo by George Shiras III