NPS, Voyageurs National Park Rainy Lake City

Map Point 6

1927 Aerial

The area surrounding Rainy Lake City as it appeared on a 1928 survey map. Rainy Lake City was mapped as part of the International Joint Commission's survey of the border lakes, completed in the 1910s. At that time, only a couple of buildings remained from the 'city.' This map was published in 1928.

International Boundary Commission Map

Rainy Lake City 1895

Rainy Lake City ca1895. (Minnesota Historical Society, MK8.9RCr3, Negative 3124)

Rainy Lake City 1894

Rainy Lake City ca1894 (Koochiching County Historical Society)

Miner's Cabin

Saloon at Rainy Lake City, 1937-1938. (Original owned by Carl Aasen, copied with permission)

The Olive

Frank Palmer's boat The Olive at the harbor in Rainy Lake City, ca1920s. During the gold rush, people and goods were transported mostly by water. (Original owned by Marie Majewske, copied with permission)

Rainy Lake City Picnic

Rainy Lake City became a popular picnic area after the Gold Rush, ca1920s. Based on various accounts, the town had a population of 200 to 500. After the rush, many people relocated to International Falls or other areas. (Original owned by Marie Majewske, copied with permission)

Rainy Lake City was incorporated on May 17, 1894. The editor of the Rainy Lake Journal reported the "birth of the city was duly celebrated and hilarity reigned supreme." During the gold rush, the town was home to miners, prospectors, prostitutes, saloon- and shop-keepers. While the extent of the town's development is not precisely known, by June 1894 there were reportedly three general stores, a post office, a customs office, and five saloons.

The first mine on Little American Island was one of the more famous mines during the gold rush and in 1894, on the mainland peninsula to the east of the mine, a stamp mill was built to crush ore. A stamp mill works by crushing the mined rock using heavy steel 'stamps' to pound the rock so the gold can be extracted. As other mines opened in the area, the amount of extracted ore grew, and newspaper accounts boasted that the stamp mill was a 10-stamp mill (indicating that it was bigger than an 'ordinary' 5-stamp mill) which was apparently needed because of the huge amounts of gold being extracted. However, historic photographs of the site suggest that this might not have actually been the case. Newspapers and advertisements from the 1890s had a tendency to stretch the truth about the significance of the Rainy Lake gold rush. Regardless, it is known that the townspeople celebrated the opening of the stamp mill along with the festivities for the 4th of July 1894, featuring games, speeches, and a test-run of the stamp mill. In a moment witnessed by the entire town, residents gathered around the new machine, the steam-powered motor was fired up and George S. Davis, discoverer of gold at the Little American Mine, shoveled in the first ore. To the relief of all, "every part of the machinery worked to a charm. Both the mine and the machinery were a grand success," according to the editor of the Rainy Lake Journal.

A year after the city was incorporated, the city council, businessmen and residents developed plans for a hotel, drugstore, school, and improved sidewalks. Early boosterism and newspaper accounts likely inflated the size of the city. By one account the town had a population of five hundred people at its height. The Rainy Lake Journal continued to promote the town and the region, essentially boasting about any asset in order to attract settlers. According to various records, during the busiest part of the rush, Rainy Lake City had a dry goods store, lumber yard, bank, furniture store, hardware store, bakery, brick factory, butcher shop, several hotels, post office, customs house, newspaper, school, combination jail/city council building, and numerous saloons.

For the next few years, mining continued, but the majority of the mines were not particularly profitable. By 1897, mining interests waned as timber emerged as the area's dominant industry. The population of Rainy Lake City dwindled, and in 1900 the post office closed as the place was "practically abandoned."

In 1908 the community of Koochiching (now International Falls), published booklets promoting tourism, and Rainy Lake City was revived as a popular picnic area. Most buildings were removed and the wood used for construction of buildings in the new town of Koochiching. The Rainy Lake City saloon, constructed by 1910, functioned as a "blind pig" for the illegal sale of liquor in the 1920s. During the 1930s, the building was the dining facility for the Rainy Lake City Resort.

Today, the town is completely abandoned, although the saloon building still stands. Of the platted avenues and streets, Minnesota and Duluth Avenues and Main Street are still visible. These routes will eventually be developed by the park into interpretive trails.

Learn More!

ImageRainy Lake City Plat Map

Tracing of the original plat map of Rainy Lake City. The map is overlaid with structure locations confirmed through archeological investigation. (Mundus Bishop, VNP Archive)

'Gold to Ghost' Book Cover Gold Town to Ghost Town: Boom and Bust on Rainy Lake by David E. Perry (1993)
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'Reflections' Book CoverReflections of Rainy by the Daily Journal (2009)
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