Located eight miles west of the City of Marquette in the forested ravines of the Marquette Iron Range, this modern museum facility overlooks the Carp River and the site of the first iron manufactory in the Lake Superior region. The museum tells the story of Michigan’s three iron ranges and the people who worked them, through dramatic exhibits, audio-visual programs, and outdoor interpretive trails. A high-definition video, “Iron Spirits: Life on the Michigan Iron Range,” is shown six times daily in the museum’s 88-seat auditorium.
The museum also offers an active education program including community outreach, seasonal events, a lecture series, and the Future Historians, a youth association that meets monthly during the school year. Every summer, the Future Historians share their knowledge and test their skills by providing costumed first-person interpretation for visitors at another Michigan Historical Center site, Fort Wilkins, through four 3-day living history camps.
The Jackson Iron Company and others manufactured wrought iron from local ore at this site from 1848-1855. In that pioneer enterprise was the seed of the Michigan iron industry that flourished for 125 years and still produces about 20 percent of the iron ore mined in the United States.
In the mid-1970s, the Michigan Department of State joined efforts with local citizens to acquire, preserve, and interpret the site of the Carp River Forge. In 1979-80, the County of Marquette and The Cleveland-Cliffs Iron Company deeded a 40-acre tract of land, including the forge site, to the State of Michigan for development as a museum. The museum was funded by the state at a cost of $1.5 million, built in 1985-86, and opened to the public in 1987.
In 2000, the State of Michigan appropriated $500,000 “to expand the exhibit space at the museum for artifact protection, additional exhibit displays, and public programming, especially for school-age children.” By a combination of public and private sector funding totaling more than $1.9 million, a 4,000 square foot addition providing space for a new exhibit gallery, a museum store, and enhanced visitor services opened in 2006; a new entrance road improving public visibility and access from U.S. 41 was built in 2009; and a four-season interpretive trail system featuring elevated walkways, scenic overlooks, and wayside exhibits was completed in 2011.
Visitors can view large scale artifacts like the 1929 Ford Model A Sports Coupe and the rare 1941 Ford Model JP. The prototype jeep is one of only 1,500 Ford ever made..
The museum exhibits interpret everyday life in mining communities. Visitors can view artifacts depicting not only work, but play in the Upper Peninsula.
The museum's Technology Timeline shows how iron mining evolved over the last 125 years, and contains several early examples of tools miners used.
A recently expanded trail system connects the museum to the Iron Ore Heritage Trail. The trail offers interpretative signs and scenic overlooks of the historic Carp River Forge.