Photographic book

Importance of mining in Alaska's development


John Treadwell
John Treadwell

However, it was mining, not fishing, that brought Alaska’s first population boom. Some gold mining had been done in Southeastern, and the 1880 census listed 82 Sitka residents as miners. In 1880 George Pilz of Sitka, a German-born mining school graduate, grubstaked (supplied food and other necessities to) two men, Joseph Juneau and Richard Harris, to search for gold. Near Gastineau Channel Juneau and Harris found placer, or flake, gold in a stream they called Gold Creek and also at Silver Bow Basin at the head of the creek. Miners rushed to the area, which they named the Harrisburg Mining District. A town quickly grew up, which was named Juneau City, later shortened to Juneau.

The miners would have left after the placer deposits were worked out, but the town of Juneau survived because of the discovery of lode, or hard-rock deposits, which required expensive machinery to extract the gold.

California promoter John Treadwell purchased a claim, the Paris Lode, on Douglas Island across from Juneau and developed it into the profitable Treadwell Mine. It provided year-round employment and gave Juneau its economic base. By 1890 Juneau had 1,251 people and was a typical American town with a variety of privately owned stores, schools, a hospital, nine saloons, and two breweries.

Napoleon LeRoy “Jack” McQuesten, Arthur Harper, and Al Mayo, agents of the Alaska Commercial Company, opened the Yukon Valley to mining. Although primarily interested in the fur trade, they did some prospecting and, most importantly, furnished other prospectors with supplies and grubstakes (money or supplies in return for a share of prospective profits).

Mining on the Yukon was confined almost solely to the Canadian side until 1886. In that year, gold discoveries near the Fortymile River on the Alaskan side triggered a new rush. Prospectors made discoveries in the Birch Creek area, which became the gold mining center of the Yukon Valley and the most important camp there until the Klondike discovery of 1896. By 1896 the value of mining from the Alaska side of the Yukon Valley had risen from about $30,000 to $800,000. The white population of Alaska had grown from fewer than 500 in 1880 to 8,000, most of whom were miners. About 1,000 of these lived in the Yukon Valley. "USA" © Emmanuel BUCHOT, Encarta, Wikipedia

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