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Historic Structures Report
The Juneau area, and more particularly the Gold Creek drainage, was the earliest large-scale mining development in Alaska. Gold was discovered along Gold Creek in 1880, thirteen years after the purchase of Alaska from Russia. During its first thirty years, Juneau evolved from a small, lawless mining camp to one of the most sophisticated hard rock mining centers in the world. The mines brought to Juneau some of the greatest financiers, promoters and engineers of their time. Had it not been for the men who invested in Juneau, there would have been no mines. Without the mines, no capital city would have existed on Gastineau Channel. And so, it seems only fitting that we not only preserve our mining heritage, but that we also honor the mines and men that gave Juneau the distinction of being one of the most successful mining centers of the world.
The City and Borough of Juneau's commitment to preserving the history of Last Chance Basin dates back to 1978 when the City Assembly passed a resolution defining the Last Chance Basin Historic District. In 1978, the City adopted the Last Chance Basin Land Management Plan as an element of the Comprehensive Plan, and in 1981, an Ad Hoc Advisory Committee made preservation recommendations in the report, "A Second Chance for the Last Chance Mining Museum." In 1987, the City and Borough Department of Community Development prepared an inventory of the historic buildings, sites, structures, and objects of the Jualpa Mine Camp and submitted a nomination to the National Register of Historic Places for the Last Chance Basin Historic District. At this writing, the nomination has gone through preliminary perusal by the keeper of the register in Washington, D.C., and has received favorable review. It is expected that final placement on the National Historic Register will be accomplished in 1991.
Over the years, many individuals ranging from planning staff members to advisory committee members have put in time and effort on behalf of preserving the Last Chance Basin Historic District. Their efforts must be commended for unrelenting support of an important historical asset in our community.
Gary Gillette, CBJ Historic Preservation Planner
A. Historic Events Associated with A-J Mine
Gold was discovered in the Juneau area in 1870 at Sumdum and Windom Bays. A string of highly mineralized deposits along the coastline extending from Windom Bay north to Berners Bay became known as the Juneau Gold Belt. Of the six districts within the Juneau Gold Belt, the Gold Creek and Douglas Island areas received the greatest amount of development.
The generally recognized Alaskan "gold rush" began in 1897, 27 years after gold was discovered in Southeast Alaska. The stampede of fortune hunters only passed through Alaska on their way to the gold fields of the Yukon. Skagway provided the supply center and the famous Chilkoot Trail was the route to the Yukon. Alaska's other famous "gold rush" began on the beaches of Nome in 1900. The Nome stampede only lasted one summer and established Alaska's last gold rush boom town which still survives today as the hub of resource developments in western Alaska.
Less publicized Alaskan "gold rushes" occurred within the Juneau Gold Belt and the Willow Creek district lying approximately 40 miles north of Anchorage. The Independence mine located in the Willow Creek district was developed and profitably mined during the period 1936 to 1943. Like the mines of the Juneau Gold Belt, the Independence received orders to close in 1942 as a result of World War II edicts against non-essential mining.
Attempts to reopen after the war proved fruitless due to the fixed price of gold and the inflated costs of the post-war era. During their operational years (1909 to 1950), the gold mines of the Willow Creek district recovered 623,874 ounces of gold valued at $17,780,929. In comparison, the Treadwell Group, Alaska Gastineau Gold Mining Company and the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company recovered about 6,600,000 ounces of gold valued at over $158,000,000. During peak operation the Independence mine employed 120 employees compared to the 1,000 men employed by the Alaska Juneau. The gold concentration of the Independence mine averaged 1.25 ounces per ton whereas the Alaska Juneau averaged .032 ounces per ton.
Small hard rock gold mines occurred in other parts of Alaska including the Fairbanks district (which was smaller than the Willow Creek district) but clearly the Juneau Gold Belt was the leader. And, the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company operation was ranked as the world's largest in its day.
In the Fall of 1880, Joe Juneau and Richard Harris, bankrolled by Sitka mining engineer George Pilz, were led by a local native, Chief Kowee, to gold in the valleys of Gold Creek behind present-day Juneau. A small rush of miners, who concentrated on placer deposits in Silverbow Basin and the adjacent Last Chance Basin, soon followed. Placer claims in the Gold Creek area were first staked in June, 1881 by William Stewart, Squire Howe and Oscar Cooper. The claims were called the Last Chance Group thus giving the Basin its name.
Within the Last Chance Basin, the Historic District lies along Gold Creek and is defined by a series of historic mining claims: Last Chance Placer Claims, Cape Horn No. 2, Colorado, Bear No. 1 and Gerald. These mining claims and the remains of later placer and lode mining activity are encompassed within the 121.4 acre district.
The district includes some of the Ebner Gold Mining Company operations (1887-1923) located inside the district's northern boundary; the Last Chance Hydraulic Mining Company (later Jualpa Mining Company) placer operations and the Jualpa Mine Camp built after 1911 to support the expanded operations of the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company. Throughout the district there are extant and collapsed buildings, structures, objects and sites, all evidence of mining operations from 1887 to 1944.
Mining activity in Last Chance Basin was continuous from the 1880's until 1944, and it included both placer and hard rock gold mining. William Ebner organized the Ebner Gold Mining Company in the 1880's, and he erected a small stamp mill by 1887 alongside Ebner Falls above the floor of Last Chance Basin. His mining activities were not profitable, and they passed into receivership. Efforts by others to develop the Ebner workings were also not successful. The project was abandoned by 1917, and the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company took over the property on a royalty agreement in 1925.
Placer claims in the Last Chance Basin were also worked prior to 1904. The Last Chance Hydraulic Mining Company was organized in 1898 to work the Last Chance placer. The Last Chance Company sold the property to the Jualpa Mining Company in November 1901. They had successful large scale placer operations as early as 1900. The company finished a 2,000 foot long tunnel in 1899 and constructed a dam and a large scale wooden flume in 1900 to divert the water of Gold Creek. The miners washed the gravel down the flume with powerful hydraulic streams of water while riffle blocks set in the flume caught the gold. The extensive operation depleted placer deposits in a short time, and hard rock mining methods were needed to exploit the gold rich hills of Last Chance and Silverbow Basins. The Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company consolidated a number of mining claims and began its operations.
Hard rock mining began in the Juneau area before 1900 with the consolidation of many of the early placer works and later small lode operations. Mining in the Juneau area soon came to be dominated by three major mining operations; the Treadwell Group on Douglas Island; Alaska Gastineau Mining Company, with operations in Silverbow Basin and Thane; and the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company, with operations in Silverbow and Last Chance Basins and its mill located on Gastineau Channel. Together these three mining developments produced $158,000,000 in gold during their operational years.
In 1917, triggered by an extremely high tide and strong winds, the tunnels under Gastineau Channel filled with water and collapsed, closing the operations of the Treadwell Group on Douglas Island within a few years.
The Alaska Gastineau Mining Company operated Perseverance Mine in Silverbow Basin and a mill at Thane but their operations were shut down by 1921 having run out of profitable ore. The Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company became the world's largest low grade ore producer totaling $80,000,000 during 31 years of operations. With the shortages of manpower brought on by World War II, the local union demands for increased wages, and the government's fixing of the price of gold at $35 an ounce, the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company determined that it was not profitable to continue its operations and closed on April 9, 1944.
In 1910, engineers of the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company concluded that if the company was to be profitable, it must operate all year round and would require underground mining, a sea level mill and a continuous source of low cost power. The power problem was solved by purchasing hydroelectric power from the Treadwell Group's Nugget Creek power plant. To get low cost underground mining and a sea level mill, the company contracted with F. W.. Bradley, mining engineer and an established exploiter of low grade ores, to drive a 6,500 feet long adit (Gold Creek Adit) from Snowslide Gulch to a point below the then existing surface workings (A-J Glory Hole in Silverbow Basin) and then to erect a mill along Gastineau Channel. A series of three tunnels would connect all mining activities to the mill at tidewater south of downtown Juneau and allow year round operations.
Between 1911 and 1916, all three major mining operations in the Juneau area were working at capacity. There was a building boom in the City with new housing and increased downtown business development. The downtown area expanded down South Franklin Street to the new A-J Mill. These years were the high point in economic development in the area, second only to that attributed to the oil boom of the mid 1970's to early 1980's. This overwhelming success was made possible by the use of leading edge technology. Low cost hydroelectric power operated lights, locomotives, motors, and compressors which in turn operated drills, hammers, welders, and hoists and made possible the mining of the large quantities of ore necessary to produce a profit. The high-tech mining and milling methods utilized by the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company were the topic of a full magazine feature story in the Engineering and Mining Journal published in September 1932.
The structures and artifacts at the Jualpa Mine Camp are true vestiges of an early twentieth century gold mining camp. The world class Ingersoll-Rand compressor and sophisticated electric tramway system represent mining technology of the period. The gold mining industry was transformed during the first quarter of the twentieth century. The independent placer miner was replaced by the company mines. Men worked for wages operating levers and throttles, oiled machinery and drew their salaries.
Machines replaced men and many left the mining companies and the industrial bondage they had come to escape. The new technology gave the mining companies the ability to work large deposits of low grade ore and recover the gold through the amalgamation process. The free gold was dissolved in cyanide and mercury, leaving the waste rock or tailings. Later the pure gold was easily separated from the mercury. The Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company was able to mine an incredible 13,000 tons of ore per day resulting in nearly 90 million tons of rock and ore processed during its period of operation from 1893 to 1944.
B. Establishment of Jualpa Mine Camp
Crews working on the construction of the Gold Creek adit erected a camp known as Jualpa (the name is the combination of three abbreviated names; Juneau, Alaska, Pennsylvania). In addition, they laid 10,000 feet of tramway, including the three tunnels needed to connect the adit to the mill site on Gastineau Channel. The A-J mining operation used a combination of caving and shrinkage stoping methods to extract ore which was then hauled by train through the Jualpa Mine Camp site to the mill.
The Jualpa Mine Camp was strategically located in Last Chance Basin on the A-J mine's main haulage level between the Gold Creek Adit, and the three tunnels connecting the adit to the Gastineau Channel mill site. Known as the Jualpa Division, services provided at the mining camp included a boarding house and mess hall for miners, locomotive repair and car building shops and a variety of support services for mining operations.
Operations at the Jualpa Mine Camp were conducted on three separate levels. The upper level, (at the same elevation as the Gold Creek Adit), featuring tunnels and tram system, was developed as the railroad level. This level contained the Main Haulage Tracks, Powder Magazine Building, Car Repair Shop, Scale House, Drill Sharpening Shop and Snow Shed Structures. Secondly, mid-level on the hillside was located the Compressor Building that housed the mine's main air compressors which powered pneumatic tools used in mining operations. The Transformer House was located adjacent to the Compressor Building to house step-down transformers to power the compressors.
Along the banks of Gold Creek on the third and lowest level were the Dormitory, Mess Hall and the Heating Plant/Change Room. The three levels of the mining camp were connected by an inclined rail system used to transport supplies to the Compressor Building, Mess Hall and Heating Plant from the railroad level.
C. Historic Building Fabric
Lying in a narrow, steep-walled, glaciated valley, the Last Chance Basin was formed hundreds of years ago by a great landslide from the northern wall of the canyon. The Juneau "gold rush" began with the discovery of gold by Joe Juneau and Richard Harris in 1880 on the banks of Gold Creek which traverses the basin from east to west and reaches tidewater about a mile from the lower end of the basin floor.
Initial excavation and construction of the Jualpa Mine Camp began in 1911. The development of the Gold Creek Adit and three tunnels joining the adit to mine, mill and mine camp required construction and operation of a tram system to move ore, men, supplies, and equipment. As originally constructed the single-tracked line consisted of 40 pound rails laid on a 30 inch gauge. Three 18-ton articulated Baldwin Westinghouse locomotives hauled ore to the mill and by 1932 the company owned and operated 186 10-ton ore cars, all built in the company shops. In 1916 a second track was added to allow continuous transport operations. While a loaded train hauled ore from the mine an empty train was leaving the mill and a third train was being loaded in the mine.
An essential part of the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company operations at Jualpa was the single story Compressor Building completed in 1913. The building housed the company's air compressor units providing air for drilling and mining operations. The main air compressor unit, the largest in its day and still extant, is a 4,000 cubic feet per minute (cfm), 100 pounds per square inch (psi) Ingersoll-Rand Compressor powered by a 750 horsepower (hp), 2,200 volt General Electric induction motor. The compressor building, built on a concrete foundation was of heavy timber frame construction and clad with corrugated metal siding and roofing.
In 1914, under contract to Quist & Co. of Seattle, a Dormitory and Mess Hall were constructed enabling 100 miners to reside in the camp. The dormitory building, a three story structure, measured 135 feet by 30 feet while the 106 feet by 25 feet Mess Hall was 1-1/2 stories. Both were built on wood piling foundations and were wood framed with horizontal tongue and groove wood siding and gable roof systems covered with corrugated metal roofing. Also located in this area was the Heating Plant/Change Room, measuring 25 feet by 70 feet, which was of timber construction built on a concrete foundation. The walls and gable roof were clad in corrugated metal.
In conjunction with improvements to the mine tramway in 1916, a Car Repair and Blacksmith Shop was constructed. The shop provided space for repair, maintenance, and fabrication work for the mine train cars, as well as other mine equipment. It was equipped with two sets of tracks with work pits, cranes, monorails, car-straighteners and electric and dry acetylene welding equipment. The Car Repair Shop measured 30 feet by 110 feet with a 30 feet by 40 feet wing on the south side used as the blacksmith shop. The building was constructed of heavy timber framing with corrugated iron siding and roofing.
The Locomotive Repair Shop was built in 1916 and housed the repair facility for the electric driven locomotives and other electrical equipment. The building was of wood frame construction sheathed with horizontal tongue and groove siding and corrugated metal roofing. The 18 feet high single story structure, measuring 75 feet by 25 feet was set on wood pilings and incorporated the main water flume constructed below its wooden floor.
Shortly after completion of the Locomotive and Car Repair shops, an extensive system of snow sheds was constructed to cover all exposed tracks to allow year round operation of ore trains. It had become evident after a couple full fledged winters that operations would be hampered without some protection of the rail line from snow accumulations.
Built circa 1925, the Powder Magazine Building was located on a spur of the main haulage tramway between Tunnel No. 2 and Tunnel No. 3. The A-J consumed 80 cases of dynamite per day, and 3,000 cases were kept in this bullet, weather and fire proof structure. The Powder Magazine Building, featured an innovate design as protection for its explosive contents. The building was a wood frame structure clad in corrugated metal siding and roofing, with 6-8 inches of weak mortar mix concrete placed on the interior between the studding.
In 1927, a small Transformer House was added to contain a bank for General Electric self-cooled transformers (used to step down voltage from 23,000 volts to 2,200 volts for powering the compressor and main hoist which was installed in 1930). The 18 feet by 32 feet by 14 feet tall single story wood frame structure was clad with corrugated metal siding and roofing. The building, located on the north side of the Compressor Building, replaced the use of a steel transformer tower which remains adjacent to the Transformer House.
A fire suppression system was constructed on the site primarily to protect the Dormitory and Mess Hall buildings. Throughout the site wooden pipes were connected to a series of monitors, hydrants, hoses, and storage tanks. Water from a drainage tunnel located below the Main Haulage level No. 4 was diverted via a wooden flume from the Jualpa Mine Camp to the Gastineau Channel mill site for use in the gold recovery process. Deteriorated remains of this flume system are still visible throughout the site.
A number of smaller buildings were located throughout the site for a variety of uses including a scale house used to weigh ore samples, a drill sharpening shop used to re-sharpen miners' drill bits at the end of each shift and numerous valve shacks containing water and air shut off valves. Today these buildings are in a collapsed and deteriorated condition.
D. Subsequent Use of Jualpa Mine Camp
Since the discovery of gold by Joe Juneau and Richard Harris in 1880, the Last Chance Basin has been an important factor in the growth and development of the City and Borough of Juneau. In addition to the mining activity, "the Basin", as it is commonly referred to, has provided locals and visitors a unique recreation opportunity. In the early 1900's, baseball playing fields were constructed in the Basin for the mine workers and Perseverance Trail has provided recreational hiking since the mid 1930's. One of the miners favorite pastimes was to pan for gold in Silverbow and Last Chance Basins. Their inspiration was that if they struck-it-rich they could retire from the hard labor of the hard rock mines.
The Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company was an astounding success and reached its peak in the late 1930's employing over 1,000 men on a three-shift, round-the-clock basis, 363 days a year (only closing on the 4th of July and Christmas). World War II brought labor shortages, rising production costs and edicts against non-essential mining. The A-J received a variance to continue reduced operations during the war due to its economic impact on Juneau, but the fixed gold price of $35 an ounce after the war made its operation unprofitable. The Alaska Juneau mining operation shut down in early 1944, having produced over $80,000,000 in gold, ranking it as the world's largest low grade gold mine of its time.
After closure of operations in 1944, the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company (AJGMC) survived by selling power from its hydroelectric operation to Juneau's local utility company. Alaska Electric Light and Power (AEL&P) purchased all of the AJGMC holdings in 1972, and conveyed much of the land including Last Chance Basin to the City and Borough of Juneau. The City and Borough of Juneau currently uses the No. 3 tunnel as water storage for emergency water supply needs.
A tourist related attraction in the mid 1960's featured a train ride from the Jualpa Mine Camp to the Gastineau Channel mill site and back. In 1962, the Juneau Chamber of Commerce sponsored a locally-written and produced melodrama (Hoochinoo and Hotcakes) which played in the Opera House located in the Compressor Building. During the 1971 summer season, a local entrepreneur leased a small tract of land along Gold Creek and instituted a unique outdoor dining experience known as the Gold Creek Salmon Bake which continues in operation to date. In 1976, development of the Last Chance Mining Museum was accomplished as Juneau's American Bicentennial Project with the assistance of a grant from the American Revolution Bicentennial Commission. The mining museum operated through the summer of 1982.
In 1987 and 1988, the Gastineau Channel Historical Society , with the permission of the City and Borough of Juneau, operated the Last Chance Basin Interpretive Center on a limited basis. During the summer of 1988, the Gastineau Channel Historical Society constructed a shelter over the Ingersoll-Rand Pelton Wheel air compressor at the end of Basin Road, and installed interpretive signs throughout the site.
The City Assembly officially declared the area as the Last Chance Basin Historic District in 1978 and in 1987, the CBJ Community Development Department submitted a nomination for placement of the Last Chance Basin on the National Register of Historic Places.
These past activities and commitments to the Basin illustrate how important the area has been to the people of Juneau. The 1978 Land Management Plan for the Last Chance Basin recommended the encouragement of resident and visitor appreciation of the Basin's rich historical heritage. The study goes on to say, "The scenic magnificence, historic mining heritage, natural beauty, tranquility and restorative qualities found by many Juneauites in Last Chance Basin are important to the quality of life in this community."
Today, evidence of the world class mining operations within the Juneau Gold Belt are best represented by extant structures, objects and buildings of the Jualpa Mine Camp in Last Chance Basin. The "Basin", as it is known by locals, provides recreational opportunities including hiking, biking, walking, jogging, gold panning, and just poking around the mining ruins.
The Last Chance Basin is one of Juneau's favorite summertime recreational and tourist areas. The Gold Creek Salmon Bake serves approximately 38,000 patrons per summer season, the Alaska Travel Adventures' Gold Panning Tour brings approximately 4,000 people to the banks of Gold Creek and the Perseverance Trail attracts over 6,000 hikers per season. In addition, countless citizens use Basin Road for daily walking, running, bicycling and occasional cross country skiing in winter.