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Crow Wing County park honors those who lost their lives in Milford Mine tragedy

Most of the 48 miners working in the Milford Mine near Crosby in 1924 died in the worst mining disaster in Minnesota's history. But out of the tragedy, a Crow Wing County park was born.

A sign indicates visitors to the Crow Wing County park of the location of Milford Mine Memorial Park in Crosby.
A sign indicates visitors to the Crow Wing County park of the location of Milford Mine Memorial Park in Crosby.
Steve Kohls / Brainerd Dispatch
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CROSBY — Out of the worst mining disaster in Minnesota’s history is born a Crow Wing County park that memorializes and remembers those who were lost.

Milford Mine Memorial Park, located about 4 miles north of Crosby along Highway 6, honors the 48 miners working in the Milford Mine on Feb. 5, 1924 — most of whom died.

“On that fateful day, around 3:30 in the afternoon, a mine shaft collapsed allowing a flood of water and mud to fill an underground network of tunnels claiming the lives of 41 men,” according to a county description of the park.

About 15 minutes before their shift ended, water and mud flooded into the mine at such a rapid rate that all the levels, including the 200-foot deep shaft, were filled to within 15 feet of the surface in less than 20 minutes, according to county officials.

“The first warning something was wrong was when the miners felt a sudden gust of warm wind. The gust of air was so strong it blew out the gas lamps on their hats or knocked their hats off altogether,” according to county information on the disaster.

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Only seven of the miners working that afternoon made it out alive and some of the descendants of the miners were present at the 2017 grand opening

“Transforming this natural and man-made habitat into a recreation area to be enjoyed by area residents and visitors is a humble attempt to preserve the memory of those who gave their lives to pursue the American dream and provide for their families,” according to county information on the park.

The county board approved the memorial park concept in 2007. Phase 1 of the project was completed in 2010 and included an access road, a parking area and a walking path construction.

Don Schmidt and Dean Francis walk the boardwalk bridge across Milford Lake in the fall of 2016 at the Milford Mine Memorial Park ceremony. Forty-one miners lost their lives in a Feb. 5, 1924, mine disaster when a nearby lake flooded the mine shafts. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls file photo
Don Schmidt and Dean Francis walk the boardwalk bridge across Milford Lake in the fall of 2016 at the Milford Mine Memorial Park ceremony. Forty-one miners lost their lives in a Feb. 5, 1924, mine disaster when a nearby lake flooded the mine shafts. Brainerd Dispatch/ Steve Kohls file photo

A sign was erected at the park entrance, a picnic shelter with three picnic tables and two cooking grills, a small lakeside picnic area, benches and a bike rack were built in 2012.

“The Milford Mine and the features still present today are a significant part of our culture and history in Crow Wing County,” according to county information on the park.

Construction work continued in 2016 at the memorial park located at 26351 Milford Lake Drive and included a boardwalk, trails, kiosk construction and interpretive displays.

Other plaques in the park include detailed information about the miners, such as their age, residency, whether they were married and more.

“More than 30 of the 41 miners who died were married, leaving 88 children fatherless,” according to county information on the park.

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MORE ABOUT BRAINERD HISTORY BY FRANK LEE:
Sylvan Township and Pillager School Community Education sponsored a presentation by Brainerd lakes area resort owners and operators at the CTC Center in Pillager about the history of Kavanaugh’s Sylvan Lake Resort, Madden’s on Gull Lake and Cragun’s Resort on Gull Lake.

Final work in 2017 included a permanent outhouse, a covered shelter and a canoe landing.

The site of the mining tragedy has been transformed into a natural and man-made habitat -- “a place of recreation, reflection and community to be enjoyed by families, residents and future generations,” according to county information on the park.

The Minnesota Historical Society listed the park in 2011 as a site on the National Register of Historic Places.

“The fact that it has been placed on the national register really solidifies its place in our country’s history,” according to county information on the park.

FRANK LEE may be reached at 218-855-5863 or at frank.lee@brainerddispatch.com . Follow him on Twitter at www.twitter.com/DispatchFL .

I cover arts and entertainment, and write feature stories, for the Brainerd Dispatch newspaper. As a professional journalist with years of experience, I have won awards for my fact-based reporting. And my articles have also appeared in other publications, including USA Today. 📰
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