Archaeological Analysis of the Mines of Baraboo’s Iron Range

For January 3, 2018


Hi WN@TL Fans,

Because I grew up in northwest Illinois not too far from Galena, and because I went to school at UW-Platteville, when I think of mining in Wisconsin I first think of lead and zinc, Henry Dodge and Father Mazzuchelli, Mineral Point and New Diggings.

But there’s also iron, the ferrous of them all.

In 1975 I first drove through the Twin Ports of Superior and Duluth and saw the timber-framed ore docks upon which dozens of rail cars high above the lake opened their bellies to rain taconite pellets into the maws of ore carriers like the Edmund Fitzgerald.

From Duluth we drove north on Route 53 and east on 169 past the Soudan Mine in the Iron Range on our way to Ely to get to Moose Landing in the Boundary Waters. All these are on the Hudson Bay side of the 45th parallel.

So I was surprised to hear a few weeks ago about old iron mines in Wisconsin near Baraboo, far south of Ashland and Hurley.  I was also intrigued to hear the mines are abandoned and, moreover, are flooded.  In fact, it was the high cost of pumping water out of the mines that led to their closure in the 1920’s (p. 10 of Clayton & Attig).

There are tadpoles with more guts than I, but nothing beckons me quite like the opportunity to squiggle into scuba gear and go test the limits of my claustrophobia by diving into a flooded mine still full of mining drills, dead pumps and ore cars.

So that’s where Tamara Thomsen and Mark Langenfeld come in:  we can vicariously leave the exploration to them.

This week (January 3) we get to hear Tamara and Mark speak on “Archaeological Analysis of the Mines of Baraboo’s Iron Range.”

Here’s how they describe their talk:

The inundated mines of the Baraboo Iron Range, located in Wisconsin’s Sauk County, were explored by a small group of avid, certified cave divers who work with land owners to preserve the remaining submerged time capsules of the state’s mining industries. In 2014, the group located and filmed one of them: the Freedom Mine. In addition, an archaeological survey of the site — which is under consideration for nomination to the National Register of Historic Places — was conducted in November 2017, and data are currently undergoing analysis. During their talk, Thomsen and Langenfeld will show and explain the video footage, site plans, and 3D models of the remaining mining equipment, making for a rare look at part of Sauk County’s past.

About the Speakers

Mark Langenfeld ’70, JD’85 is a retired attorney whose practice included extensive involvement with the mineral-development and mining industries. Although intrigued by all aspects of mining history, his particular interest is the Upper-Mississippi Valley Zinc-Lead District. He lives in Monticello, Wisconsin, and has been an active Mining History Association (MHA) member since 1993. He served as MHA president in 2011–12.

Tamara Thomsen ’91, MS’93 is a maritime archaeologist with the Wisconsin Historical Society’s Maritime Preservation and Archaeology program. Her research has resulted in the nomination of 45 Great Lakes shipwrecks to the National Register of Historic Places. For her dedicated work, Thomsen has earned awards from the Association for Great Lakes Maritime History and the Great Lakes Shipwreck Preservation Society, and in 2014, she was inducted into the Women Divers Hall of Fame. Thomsen has worked as a photographer, researcher, and research diver on projects including the USS Monitor with the National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration’s National Marine Sanctuaries and the RMS Titanic with Woods Hole Oceanographic Institution.


Please do watch this video of Tamara diving the Captain Roberts Mine.

Keep breathing.

Next week:  They itches. They scratches. They can also spread some of the deadliest diseases known to humanity—diseases caused by viruses, bacteria, fronteria, and protists.  They are the insects and the ticks. They are the Vectors of Death your geometry teacher never warned you about.

Susan Paskewitz of Entomology will tell us about her research in medical entomology and about her roles in helping to lead the new Upper Midwestern Center of Excellence in Vector-Borne Diseases.

Hope to see you soon at Wednesday Nite @ The Lab!

Thanks again,

Tom Zinnen
UW-Madison and UW-Extension