Rumors of copper riches hidden in the North Shore’s streams and hillsides had excited the imaginations of mineral prospectors and speculators for years. Copper towns were numerous along the North Shore of Lake Superior in the mid-19th century. With few exceptions, the townsites, much like their creators’ dreams, never became a reality.
In 1856, Buchanan was established as the seat of the U.S. Land Office in the northeastern land district in Minnesota Territory. The founders of Buchanan had high hopes of creating a boomtown — they believed there was a lot of copper in the nearby bed of the Knife River. The first settlers expected Buchanan to eventually become the capital of the county and the greatest copper port in Minnesota. Along with the perceived mineral seams, a seemingly endless supply of white pine and fur-bearing animals all around, and the close proximity to the port of Duluth seemed to make this an ideal place for a town.
It wasn’t long before a hotel, several saloons, boarding houses, a steam dock, residences, and buildings for the post office and newspaper office sprang up in Buchanan. All of the buildings were likely constructed with logs from the forest along the shore. An early copper prospector described that, “Timbers were taken out, nicely hewen for five two-story buildings in town.” Two of these buildings were used by the land officers while the others served as a hotel, boarding house, and saloon. When men ventured out of the wilderness and into Buchanan, they typically were looking for three things; provisions, a saloon, or the temporary companionship of a woman.