In 1973, a group of like-minded individuals got together on the east end of the Mesabi Range in northeastern Minnesota and founded a new organization. Their goal was to preserve the history of the area. There was a deep concern among officials and citizens alike that buildings, documents, photographs, and other items of historic value were being lost to the elements, carelessness, and even just the complacency of the people of the region. This new organization took the name; East Range Historical Society. It was the first historical society on the Mesabi Range. Members of the Society met first in Aurora, then briefly in Biwabik. By 1976, the group moved the organization to offices in Gilbert. The founding members sought an organization that was different from other historical societies in northern Minnesota. They chose to focus their efforts on a research and archival library. In a short time, however, their Iron Range spirit propelled the members of the Society into creating a museum that was a must-see place. Upstairs of the old Gilbert city hall, members of what is now called the Iron Range Historical Society (IRHS) set up exhibits on topics such as iron mining, logging, farming, Italian ancestry, and Will Steger’s Antarctic exploration. School children came regularly and visitors from across the world stepped through the door to experience everything “Iron Range.”
Due to unforeseen events, IRHS lost its museum space in the old city hall in 2006. Currently, the Society has an office in the old Gilbert Police Department headquarters on the main floor of the old city hall. The jail cells in the station, which was built in 1915, are still intact and the public is invited to tour the early 20th century state-of-the-art cells.
In early 2017, the Iron Range Historical Society's Board of Directors decided to once again focus solely on historical research. Improving and up-dating the archival library housed within the Society's office will make the historical archives much more accessible to patrons. During the next few years the Board and volunteers will work on culling the Society's museum collection in order to house and display the most valued and Range approriate pieces. With this renewed focus, the Board is committed to forward thinking through preserving Iron Range history for generations to come.