Iron County was originally part of Marquette County. It was first surveyed in 1851 and the area was populated almost exclusively by Native Americans, the Menominee and Ojibwe tribes.

The original survey noted that there was presence of iron ore in the area, but it would be more than 20 years before it was mined. It was not until 1875 that European settlers arrived in numbers prospecting for iron ore.

The MacKinnon Brothers Arrive

Donald MacKinnonThe brothers Donald C. and Alexander MacKinnon arrived in April 1878 searching for ore deposits. They acquired land in the area in June of 1878 and came to stay in October of 1879. Donald and his brothers, Alex and Archie travelled by foot from the railhead at Quinnesec. Arriving in the valley of the Iron River they met the Seldens and built a temporary homestead cabin. The First permanent MacKinnon homestead cabin was built west near the site that would become Beta Mine.

MacKinnon was born in Canada to Scottish immigrants on April 5, 1846. Donald was born 2 years after his family arrived in Canada. The homesteaded near the waters of the Georgian Bay. There were nine MacKinnon children, three of them would come to Iron County.

Donald left school at only 14 years old. He started working as a carpenter and then later a mechanic and located near Marquette in 1864. Eventually he would become a contractor and builder in the Iron Range Mines area.

Mining Interest Grew

He developed an interest in mining and within a few months of his first visit or Iron River he discovered several ore bodies. The Nanaimo was the first mine to ship from Iron River and the Beta. He filed claims on both of these mines.

Two important ore strikes were made in 1880 along the Paint and Iron Rivers. The first by John Armstrong on the Paint River. He would open the Crystal Falls Mine. The second was Donald C. MacKinnon on the Iron River. He would open the Iron River (Riverton) mine.

MacKinnon House 1885These two mines created the two main population centers of the county. The county saw an influx of more prospectors as the mines enjoyed enormous success. Eventually there would be 70 mines producing ore in the county.

Iron River is Platted

In 1881 he plated the town of Iron River along with his brother Alexander. Donald was not happy with the routing of the proposed railroad. He did his own survey and headed to Chicago. There he persuaded the railroad officials to change the route.

The town was given a station on the Chicago & Northwestern Railroad and the post office was renamed Iron River on September 8, 1882.

In 1885 Iron River was incorporated as a village and then as a city in 1926. The first permanent structure, an inn was built by James Innis.

Donald Elected First President of  Village

Donald MacKinnon Grave MarkerWhen the village government was created he was elected the first President. His brother Archie became one of the trustees before leaving for Seattle Washington where he would pass away in 1910.
Donald was sometimes called the “Grand Old Man of Iron River”. It is believed that he contributed more to the iron mining industry in the area than any other man.

He died in 1913 in Negaunee. Leaving behind his wife of 29 years and 3 children. He had two sons and a daughter, Donald C. Samuel J. and Sarah.

Iron River Centennial Book

In the Iron River centennial book 1981 page 37 “The MacKinnon Home” told by daughter Sara MacKinnon McDonough

“The story of the MacKinnon Manse, one of the largest and oldest homes in Iron River, is interesting in itself. It became a pawn in the location of a new school building in 1927. MacKinnon house was saved when it was moved a few blocks distant to a new location. It was rejuvenated and expanded. The marrying, burying parlor with its exquisite parquet floors of light and dark design continued to serve as a social center for the elite of the town. The affairs were not quite the same as in the early days when Mother had all the furniture removed to the garage and the fiddler played all night for the dance but were more often events held…with a little social rivalry.”

Mr. and Mrs. Randolph Hearst of Chicago were among the parade of visitors.

A Return to Glory

MacKinnon Family GraveThe original home furnishings were replaced little by little with current styles. Later in life, Sara McDonough (MacKinnon) would try to return the atmosphere to the him by adding antiques.

The home was a two story late Victorian house constructed in 1885 at 411 North Ninth Street. The home featured glassed-in porches and cross-gabled roof with wide eaves and scrolled brackets underneath with an unusual fleur de lis design. As noted by Sara the home was moved in 1927 several blocks from its original location to make way for a new school.

After her husband died in 1948 she would move to Beloit. There she serves as a housemother for a fraternity and would return to the old house for vacations and summers. Upon her retirement she moved full time into the house build by her father. She passed away in 1977 living to see the appointment of the home to the State Historical Registry in 1974.

The home is missing and presumed demolished and as of 212 a Dollar General store is located in that spot. It is believe it was demolished around 2000.

Historical Marker – MacKinnon House

MacKinnon HouseIndustry and Invention (1875 – 1915) – Registered in 1974 and erected in 1978 – ID # S613A

Located at 411 North Ninth St., Iron River – Lat: 46.08000700/Long: -88.62894700

Donald C. MacKinnon built this house, said to be one of the oldest frame houses in the area, in the mid-1880s. He came to the vicinity in 1878 with W. H. Selden, founder of Stambaugh, seeking iron ore. Platting the village of Iron River in 1881, Donald and his brother Alexander filed claims for the first mines, the Nanaimo and the Beta, and helped bring in the railroad in 1882. Donald MacKinnon also served as the first village president. His daughter Sara, born in 1894, married Martin McDonough, an attorney involved in the 1920 “Rum Rebellion” incident.

Learn more about the rich history of the Western Upper Peninsula.