On July 14, 1914, North Shore pioneer Andrew Hedstrom began sawing lumber on the banks of the Devil Track River north of Grand Marais, Minnesota. From its humble start in a pioneer settlement during the tall-pine logging era, Hedstrom Lumber Company has survived for a century to become the modern, no-waste sawmill operation it is today.
From the beginning, Hedstrom Lumber has been woven deeply into the economic and social fabric of Cook County. In 1913, Andrew purchased from Ed Toftey a sawmill that was burned up in a 1910 fire that destroyed most of the village of Tofte. The mill was moved to Grand Marais in winter using horses and sleighs. Then, working with only hand tools, the wrecked mill was entirely rebuilt. Hedstrom Lumber got its official start on July 14, 1914, when the mill began sawing logs into lumber.
In the early years, the company was able to acquire enough wood for the mill with winter logging operations in the nearby forests. Beginning in 1929, the company began setting up a portable mill at the winter logging camp, first on Maple Hill (the ridge above Grand Marais) and later, from 1939-48, at sites about halfway up the Gunflint Trail.
In 1948, the mill came “home” to its present location on the banks of the Devil Track River. In 1951, a new planing mill was built, followed in 1955 with the construction of an entirely new sawmill on the north side of the river, where the mill is located today. Efficient band saws replaced the circular saws in 1957. In 1959, Andrew died of a severe stroke.
During the 1960s, the mill became more mechanized. The output was 3 million board feet per year. Improvements continued through the 1970s, including a sawdust-burning boiler that heats the dry kiln and the entire mill. The mill was the county’s major employer—members of many Cook County families worked there.
Disaster struck in 1981, when the entire mill burned to the ground. The company had to rebuild from the ground up. Traveling across North America to find the necessary equipment, often used and then refurbished by the Hedstrom crew, the company was able to get the new mill up and running by May 1983. Operations then expanded. By 1989, the company was cutting 16 million board feet per year.
Hedstrom Lumber has since moved more into the specialty lumber market, which has allowed it to survive when other mills have not. Especially challenging have been the economic downturns of the 2000s. The company has needed to downsize—from 25 million board feet annually to 17 million board feet—due to reduced demand. Hedstrom Lumber has persevered—as it has for 100 years.
Copy By Shawn Perich