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Situated on the western shores of Lake Superior, the city of Two Harbors, Minnesota is the county seat of Lake County. This is a guide to Two Harbors.

Originally, Two Harbors was two separate settlements, Burlington and Agate Bay.

The townsite of Burlington at Burlington Bay was platted in 1856 and was incorporated as a village in 1857. There was a post office in Burlington between 1856 and 1862.

Agate Bay was named for pebbles of agate found in the sand and gravel there. It was platted in 1885, although its post office, established in 1883, was known as Two Harbors, as it served both Agate Bay and Burlington. The village of Agate Bay began as a construction camp for workers on the Duluth & Iron Bridge Railroad.

When the Minnesota Iron Company began operations in Tower, a railroad was needed to haul iron ore from the Vermillion Range to Lake Superior, where it could be shipped across the Great Lakes. The clay bottom at Agate Bay was ideal for dock development.

In the early years, Two Harbors was primitive, by most standards. Most people lived in log homes without floors. Other than whatever vegetables they could grow, or animals that they could catch in the area, there wasn't much to eat, as the forests were too dense to support game animals. Most of the land surrounding Agate Bay was owned by the railroad, with the exception of about four acres, known as Whiskey Row, which was leased to merchants operating crude saloons, restaurants, shops, warehouses, and hotels.

By 1890, workers had sent for their families, and civilization came to Two Harbors. Whiskey Row was closed, and its buildings moved inland, where they were put to other uses. Besides the ships picking up loads of iron ore, passenger boat traffic increased. Dropping passengers off at points along the Great Lakes provided extra income for shipping companies and boat owners, and this continued until the 1940s when the availability of automobiles increased.

The Two Harbors Cigar Factory was opened in 1900 by John H. Kallin, and Ed Sorenson built the Sorenson Cigar Factory in 1907, although neither are in operation today. Two Harbors Bottling Works began in 1912, producing several brands of pop. It remained in business for several years. The 3M Company (originally Minnesota Mining and Manufacturing Company) was founded in Two Harbors by five local men in 1902, although the company no longer has any operations in Two Harbors.

Minnesota State Highway 61, then known as Highway 1, was built in the 1920s, and currently serves as the main route through the city.

The 1960s marked a downturn for Two Harbors. United Steel closed its iron ore mining operations in Tower, devastating the shipping industry in Two Harbors, and leading to four decades of decreasing populations. By diversifying its economy, the loss was controlled, however, and the total loss was held to around a thousand.

The abandoned railroad buildings were used to house Universal Fiberglass in 1964, producing three-wheel mailsters for the US Postal Service, as well as automobile fenders and other products. A fire closed its operations, however. Still in business, Granite Gear began producing heavy-duty backpacks for the military and outdoor recreation in 1986.

In 1900, the population of Two Harbors was 3,278, its peak population was 4.695 in 1960, and its population in 2010 was 3,745.

Two Harbors is about twenty miles northeast of Duluth. It is bordered by Lake Superior to the east and southeast, by Silver Creek Township to the north and east, and by Lake Number 2 Unorganized Township to the south, west, and north. The unincorporated communities of Waldo, Larsmont, Stewart, Silver Creek, and Knife River are nearby.

Two Harbors Central High School opened in 1902, teaching arithmetic, grammar, and American history. Latin and music were introduced the following year, and science and sewing were added in 1906. Other manual trainings and domestic services were added to the curriculum in 1908. Today, Lake Superior School District (ISD #381) is headquartered in Two Harbors and serves the communities of Two Harbors and Silver Bay, to the northeast.

Although the city's importance as a shipping port has diminished, the North Shore Scenic Railroad operates a six-hour excursion train that begins in Duluth and has a two-hour stop in Two Harbors. Historic locomotives, ore cars, and a caboose are on display near the Duluth and Iron Range depot.

In the spring and fall, visitors to Two Harbors can also tour the Edna G, a tug boat that was based in Two Harbors for its entire career, except for a brief time moving warships on the East Coast during World War I. The last coal-fired, steam-powered tugboat in operation on the Great Lakes is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. The city also hosts the county fair and other events.


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