Range historian warms to former Ironworld

Hometown Focus, an Iron Range weekly newspaper, profiles the changes at the Minnesota Discovery Center in the last year. The MDC is the former Ironworld which famously closed down in 2009 after mismanagement occurred during its spinoff from state-run cultural site to a nonprofit. Among the controversial occurrences was the renaming of the facility with a moniker that did not reference the Iron Range, the very region the facility was designed to represent.

That particular change infuriated many, including the Range’s most preeminent working historian Pam Brunfelt. She publicly pulled her support of the institution. But after some tense years, the Minnesota Discovery Center has reorganized into a much more fiscally sound and Iron Range-centered organization. Gone are the attempts to turn the facility into a big concert venue or theme park, replaced by the more realistic realization that the place is simply a really cool museum and library dedicated to telling the story of the Range.

As it should be.

This week Brunfelt announced she was reversing her earlier decision and has now signed on as a principle historical advisor for the museum’s new, updated Iron Range exhibit. Anyone who’s been to the old Ironworld is familiar with the original Iron Range display that had been there since the 1980s. That display is being rebuilt and modernized, much to the delight of area history fans such as myself.

Brunfelt calls on people to support the Minnesota Discovery Center with their memberships and donations. My family has a membership in the MDC and it’s very affordable. The kids love the interactive displays and trolley rides and there’s usually something interesting going on there to boot. With enough support she hopes to see the name updated one last time to say Minnesota Iron Range Discovery Center. I’m with her on that, too.

(Disclosure: I have done contract work for the MDC in the past, including lectures and some writing. Brunfelt was a key source in my book “Overburden: Modern Life on the Iron Range.)”


  1. I haven’t been to “Iron World” in years, since way back when they used to actually advertise and inform us about events going on there.

    But I know that currently there is another emphasis. I need to get there soon. Currently, a number of my friends and I have some of our work displayed at the Minnesota Discovery Center, so of course, I want to see that professionally displayed. And they are sponsoring a special day for us, with a speaker, demonstrations, and a lunch.

    Other local groups with any kind of historical ties might consider the MDC as a place to have a display of their own local history.

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