Home » Minnesota » Coleraine

James W. Loewen (1942-2021)

We mourn the loss of our friend and colleague and remain committed to the work he began.



Basic Information

Type of Place
Independent City or Town
Metro Area
Politics c. 1860?
Don’t Know
Unions, Organized Labor?
Not Strong

Sundown Town Status

Sundown Town in the Past?
Was there an ordinance?
Yes, Written Evidence
Don’t Know
Year of Greatest Interest
Still Sundown?
Don’t Know

Census Information

The available census data from 1860 to the present
Total White Black Asian Native Hispanic Other BHshld

Method of Exclusion

  • Zoning
  • Unknown

Main Ethnic Group(s)

  • Unknown

Group(s) Excluded

  • Black
  • Asian
  • Native American
  • Unknown


I am writing from Itasca County, MN, which contains a piece of Minnesota’s Mesabi iron range. In 1905, John C. Greenway, who at the time was well known due to his status as former “Rough Rider” and his close personal connection with Theodore Roosevelt, became General Superintendent of the Canisteo mining district. Not impressed with the dirty little town of Bovey, Greenway decided to build a “model town,” which he named Coleraine in honor of Oliver Mining Company president Thomas Cole. At any rate, Coleraine was Greenway’s town. Though his paternalism was said to be “soft,” he was in complete control, and no one could live in Coleraine without his approval. And Greenway was determined that only the “best classes” of people should live in Coleraine; this of course meant native stock Americans or those of western European origin. Just a few miles to the east of Coleraine, the Mesabi took on a decidedly more ethnic flavor, with numerous Serbs, Finns, and others, but Coleraine was known as an “American” town.
Today, of course, the process of assimilation has erased many distinctions formerly considered to be of great import. Yet, a vestige remains. There is a segregated cemetery overlooking Trout Lake near Coleraine. One half of the cemetery contains lots of typical “American” names, but off to one side is a section quite distinct. Here are found all the “iches;” that is, all the Serbs, whose names often ended in “ich.” Segregation persists even after death.

Glad to hear that historical events in Itasca County may be of interest to you. I will send anything I find regarding blacks, though I suspect that since there were (and still are) virtually no blacks here, the issue of black employment may never have arisen.
As far as slavs and others of eastern European origin, what took place was a pattern of sometimes subtle and sometimes more overt discrimination. Of course, such discrimination was not codified in the laws, but the reason I thought of Greenway immediately is because, as General Superintendent of the Canisteo, he WAS the law in Coleraine to a very large extent.
Much of what I know about the situation in Coleraine comes from a book written by retired history professor who wrote a book in the 1970s titled _
John C. Greenway and the Opening of the Western Mesabi_. In this book, he documents the racial attitudes of Greenway, though that is not his major focus. Here is an interesting quote:
“Because of Greenway’s selection process, Coleraine also had an ethnic composition which set the town apart from others on the Mesabi Range. Greenway reflected a typical turn of the century American middle class racial bias.” He goes on to demonstrate Greenway’s racial attitudes by refering to events in his life in which such views become explicit.
He also cites the diary of a man by the name of W.L.O. Bartlett, who lived in Coleraine during the Greenway years. The following excerpt is significant:
“About August 3, 1908, I arrived at Coleraine…Previously in July, I had visited Hibbing, Virginia, and other towns with George Mitchelson, leaf tobacco man from St. Paul. At that time I thought the range was so foreign that I classed it as out of the U.S.A. However, there were lots of good Americans scattered thru the towns, and I decided to start a cigar factory in Coleraine about September, 1908. In the spring I opened a retail as well and did fairly well. This was in the iron mining pioneering of this district. Mines were just starting and things were booming some…Bovey joins on to Coleraine and was and is somewhat foreign. Coleraine was and is to this day the only really U.S.A. citizen town on all the Range.”
As an aside that may be relevant insofar as it further demonstrates the prevalence of anti-slav and anti-immigrant attitudes in this region, I have done limited research regarding the impact on Itasca County of the great Mesabi strikes of 1907 (organized by the Western Federation of Miners) and 1916 (organized by the IWW). It is interesting to read editorials in the Grand Rapids newspapers in which again and again it is stated that the strike on the eastern Mesabi was possible only because IWW agitators were able to stir up the uneducated immigrants who made up much of the work force and who were unfamiliar with American ways.

In regard to Coleraine. When John Greenway arrived here in 1905 to take up the enormous challenge of opening mines in the wilderness of the western Mesabi he found the newly developed little town of Bovey then boasting 26 saloons with a population of 500, open prostitution, wide open gambling and unsanitary conditions leading to such as typhoid. Needing to attract reliable family men to work in his upcoming large operation he decided on the need to build a new town. As he thought that through he hit on the idea of a model town, something new to the steel corporation and certainly new to Greenway.
The plans he developed called for rigid zoning requirements, wide streets, curbs, boulevards, lots three times the size of those in adjacent Bovey, brick buildings in the downtown area and free lots for churches. The Oliver Iron Mining Company (Greenway’s employer) backed by the steel corporation built houses, varied architecture at Greenway’s insistence, they could be purchased or rented at rates affordable by working men and even grass and flower seed was supplied. Greenway had full control over the town essentially dominating all aspects of the place. In this model town Greenway wanted model citizens. One had to apply to establish a business or to build a home or inhabit one of those for rent or sale. Greenway’s papers (in the AHS in Tucson) include correspondence in regard to the selection process: “If you desire to purchase lots, you should forward us letters of endorsement, as we do not plan to sell lots to anyone other than those who can come well recommended and who will make good citizens. If you are interested to this extent, kindly forward us some information that will let us know who you are and the reputation you bear in the community in which you live.” (signed Greenway) So, who would be in Coleraine was in the hands of Greenway. Thirty years ago I searched his papers for clues as to his racial attitudes and didn’t find much. He referred to a local as “a good Jew.” After the battle of San Juan Hill where his close lifelong friend TR lamented he wanted to be the first officer to the top but Greenway had longer legs and outran him, Greenway took a Spanish prisoner and was leading him around as a kind of trophy until the fellow was forcefully taken from him. Greenway once referred to Cleopatra as attractive but “of the wrong color.” Not having to offer explanation as to who was allowed in Coleraine and who not, Greenway could choose as he saw fit. (He was a Southerner with relatives who had fought for the Confederacy, a graduate of Yale where he played a significant athletic role, a hero of the Spanish American War, one who shared strongly in the ideology of TR, they desperately tried to resurrect the Rough Riders in WW II, and he went on from Minnesota to accomplish great feats in copper mining in Arizona and today resides next to Daniel Webster in statuary hall in Washington, DC) With new immigrants, many from southern and eastern Europe flooding the Mesabi, a list of inhabitants living in Coleraine in l908 shows a large number of “sons” but few “ichs” or “ics” as there were in neighboring Bovey and elsewhere on the Range. The cemetery the two towns shared originally had a Bovey section where the stones are sometimes in Cyrillic script and show Eastern European names and a Coleraine section reflecting the population there. The Oliver kept records in regard to its employees and they indicate a higher percentage of American born and northern Europeans in the district where Greenway served as superintendent than elsewhere on the Range and it can be assumed more of them lived in Coleraine than in the other towns in the district. The All American town designation comes from the diary of a 60 year resident who in 1931, referred to Bovey as “somewhat foreign” while he noted “Coleraine was and is to this day the only really USA citizen town on all the Range.”
So, nebulous, I am afraid. But when Greenway left Minnesota in 1910 and Coleraine became an incorporated community, I find it suggestive of Greenway’s influence that when the Coleraine Commercial Club was founded about 1910, the by laws stated: “The purpose of the organization shall be to promote the general welfare of the village of Coleraine, Minnesota. Its members shall be white male persons over 21 who are residents of Coleraine or the vicinity.”
Bovey and Coleraine remain side by side but efforts in the way of sharing services or combining have not amounted to much; the two towns remain quite different from each other.
>Sounds like you cannot say that Greenway managed to keep out ALL Slavs, Poles, etc. Indeed, he might have happily let in a few with the right recommendations?

I would say that is true. So many of those arriving on the Range were illiterate and unskilled and what Greenway really needed at the core of his operation which became one of the biggest mining efforts in the world at that time were skilled workers who were dependable and I think his town was designed more with them in mind than in racial discrimination. He did support an Americanization program at the local school and all foreign newcomers were welcome. He was the consummate master of paternalism and unlike other aloof and hard boiled Range superintendents he won the loyalty of his work force and his district was the only one to remain free of the early Western Federation of Miners efforts to organize (partly by force though, including an encounter with a young Elizabeth Gurley Flynn). On the other hand, I certainly don’t see him as one who would be a champion of human rights. He was later a key figure in the Bisbee Deportation which in an effort to drive out the Wobblies from the Arizona copper areas resulted in a brutal sweep that also picked up many innocents and loaded them on railroad boxcars to be removed from the area. I think Greenway ‘complacently’ thought he had done well to bring to Coleraine the composition it achieved under his direction.
> Can you say that he kept out all blacks? Maybe of course none applied? > (Although I am struck that in WI, MI, and further West like NE, blacks > were in almost every county in the era 1870 1890; by 1930 they were gone > from most such counties.)
There simply were few if any Blacks in this area. Certainly there were racial slurs in the local newspaper which I have extensively examined. Comes to mind, was it John Johnson? in a much touted fight where in Black vs. White, Black won… Whatever the name there was bitter feeling in Bovey and racial epithets were freely used by the editor. The town of Grand Rapids is six mile from Coleraine, the county seat, and was going from 1,000 in 1900 to about 5,000 by 1940. One Black, always referred to as ‘Nigger Dave’ worked in a restaurant and appears to have been quite alone; a couple of times a year he would offer possum and turtle soup and the community seems to have taken advantage of the opportunity. He went to church, there is a picture of him on the wall of the local historical society office and he is quite decked out including a Derby hat, regularly and seems to have been quite tolerated, more so than the Indians who particularly in the early years of the town were not respected, to put it mildly. In the 1930’s the well educated editor of the Grand Rapids Herald Review wrote using extreme demeaning racial stereotypes when a group of Blacks arrived in a nearby CCC camp. But, again, Blacks were not a regular element here. In more recent times the community college where I taught had a basketball coach who recruited a number of Blacks and there were many problems. They did not find a homely feeling here and animosities were raised when they dated local girls. At this point it is unusual to see Blacks in this region.
-Itasca County Resident