Sawbill Landing, Lake County Minnesota

It turns out, Forest Center was not the only community to spring up deep in the Northwoods during the 1940s lumber boom. There were more than half a dozen logging camps that dotted the northland during this time.  Sawbill Landing is another one that was founded in the late 1940s, thrived for two decades, then vanished.

The Birth of Sawbill Landing

In the case of Sawbill Landing, however, the community was not built by a lumber company. Rather, it was built by families who chose to create their own, independent town.  They chose the landing area for the railroad where lumber would be transported to Lake Superior to be shipped out.

These families created a lovely community complete with a cafe, grocery store, gas station, post office, school, community center, and roughly a dozen homes. The school at Sawbill Landing, like the school at Forest Center, taught the town’s children until 8th grade.  In the early days, high school students from the two communities would board in Ely as the roads between Ely and the area were often too treacherous to pass in the winter months. In the mid-1950s the town of Silver Bay was founded along Lake Superior’s North Shore and high school students were now close enough to be bussed daily.

Sawbill Landing Becomes a Ghost Town

The town prospered for many years. Then, in 1964 the first sign of trouble came with the school building burning down. In 1965 the BWCA boundaries were established and cut off part Sawbill Landing- residents living in the portal zone had to move out. Finally, as the lumber industry slowed the need for the railway was eliminated, and the rails were removed in 1970, the remaining residents left with it.

Like Forest Center, very few signs of the community exists today as much of it having been reclaimed by nature.  Those who once lived in the area can still detect traces of the community, but visitors would look upon the area and simply see the forest.

Getting There

Follow directions to Forest Center, but instead of turning left onto Forest Road 369, continue on Forest Road 173.  Tale a slight right to stay on Forest Road 173.  The town is located at the intersection of Forest Road 173 and Forest Road 174/Dumbell Road. Please note that these are not paved road and not well marked. Please consult a map before heading out and ensure you know where you are going. Cell phone reception is not available here. A four-wheel-drive vehicle is recommended.

Forest Center and Sawbill Landing Photos Courtesy of the Ely-Winton Historical Society


Listen to Joe and Jaye explore and discuss Ghost Towns on the Exploring the North Shore Podcast: