Ball Bluff is a corruption of the name of a tall nearby hill, Bald Bluff, which is actually a pile of rubble edged into place a few thousand years ago by glaciers (a moraine); the hill is topped with grass instead of trees, hence its bald appearance. Ball Bluff is another community along the Mississippi that began because someone was attracted to pine trees.

Logging began in the area in the 1870s. Some of the loggers were men who farmed during the warmer months and cut down trees in the winter. In spring, they’d float the cut timber down the Mississippi River to Aitkin where they’d sell it to a lumber mill. With money in hand, they’d walk back home, a trip that took several days.

Ball Bluff ferry, 1926 (Sylvia Hill)

Ball Bluff ferry, 1926 (Sylvia Hill)

The community was served by steamboats from 1870 to 1920 and a busy ferry that began in 1918. The ferry was entirely human-powered: it moved back and forth across the river by tugging on ropes.

After logging faded in importance, Ball Bluff became a farm community. Potatoes were a major crop. Many of the farmers on the east bank of the river were Swedes. In 1915, a group of Swedish socialists built Red Hall to serve as the village’s social center. It was later sold and turned into Ball Bluff Store. Some Finns moved into the area after labor troubles forced them from the Iron Range in the 1910s; most of them settled on the west side of the Mississippi River. They eventually built their own hall for community events that was run by Farmer’s Social and Educational Society.

Ball Bluff got phone service in the early 1920s, from McGregor, but the township soon after decided to build its own system, operating it independently for many years until selling it to the Northland Phone Company. Ball Bluff today is a quiet community that never found a reason to incorporate.

Next stop downriver: Sandy Lake.

Next stop upriver: Jacobson.

© Dean Klinkenberg, 2015