Two Harbors Walk Through Time

The name “Two Harbors” implies the town is on water. It also suggests the history of the town probably revolves around shipping. If you are staying at Larsmont Cottages you can drive a short distance to investigate this town’s colorful history. For best results, park and get out and walk. Here you’ll find the birthplace of 3M, railroads, an old lighthouse, and more.

The place to start this history tour is near the Two Harbors Light Station. To tell the story of the lighthouse we must first tell the story of the bay.

If you look down you will see sheltered waters near large wooden ore docks. In 1856 Thomas Sexton became the first non-native to settle in this bay.

Away from the Bay and over the lighthouse’s hill is another bay, hidden from sight (the second of the Two Harbors). In 1857, a sawmill started at this other harbor. There, the community of Burlington, Minnesota was born.

In 1884, Thomas Sexton’s ship, or rather lots of ships, came in. The Duluth & Iron Range Railroad built docks to load big boats with iron ore. His land was suddenly worth a lot more, as it was the only non-railroad-owned land on the bay. He turned that land into “Whiskey Row”, the chief location for entertainment and vice for the flocks of new workers. All the buildings in Whiskey Row were destroyed or were forced to move a few years later.

Now you can look at the lighthouse. There were many ships coming in and out of the bay, and it was considered a big plus for them not to run aground. In 1892 the lighthouse began operations. During the summer you can tour the lighthouse and see how this lighthouse operated.

From the lighthouse, you can walk up the parking lot. After the boat launch, make a left on the lakewalk. On the lakewalk you will pass an area to the right behind a fence. This is where Whiskey Row once stood. This area was the site of an extensive archeological dig, a few years back, to see what could be uncovered from Whiskey Row.

You will get a better look at the ore docks and eventually reach the Edna G. tugboat. Just a few years after the lighthouse was built, the Edna G. was operating in this busy harbor.


If you head north straight into town you will see two trains. Since the track they are on goes nowhere, you might note they are not being used much these days.

On the right, the 3 Spot train is on display. It played a big part in building the surrounding town. This locomotive brought men and supplies up to where new track was being laid. Each time it went up, the tracks had moved further inland, a little closer to the mines.

Behind the train is the Depot Museum. The building was built in 1907 and was the headquarters of the Duluth and Iron Range Railroad Company, which built the ore docks and pretty much the town. The museum operates in the summer and one day a week during the winter. The museum has a number of exhibits and artifacts highlighting the history of Two Harbors.


Now that you have been in one building that was home to a big company you can walk a few blocks and see the birthplace of another giant corporation. If you walk two blocks to the north you will reach the 3M Museum. The museum is open in the summer.

This humble building was the birthplace of one of the largest corporations in the world. It started as the Minnesota, Mining, and Manufacturing Corporation. Eventually, it moved to Duluth and then the Twin Cities, and became the global giant it is today.

All this history happened in this little town. So take your time in Two Harbors as you take a walk through time.

Photos from US Library of Congress. See more historic Two Harbors photos.