One of the most significant events in Juneau’s history turns 100 years old this week, and it isn’t going unnoticed.
The Treadwell Mine caved in on April 21, 1917, which set in motion the demise of the largest gold mine in the United States. The Treadwell Historic Preservation &Restoration Society, in conjunction with multiple other organizations on Douglas Island, has organized more than two months’ worth of events that begin this week.
This string of events have been branded as Douglas Days, running from April 20-July 4. The events are meant not just to commemorate the 100-year anniversary of the mine’s collapse, but also to celebrate the history of Douglas Island. Paulette Simpson, the chair of the Treadwell Historic Preservation &Restoration Society, sees the string of events as a long-term storytelling project.
The mine, located on Douglas Island, yielded nearly $70 million in gold during its operation from 1882-1922 and was the largest gold mine in the world at its peak. It brought in workers from all over the world, and when the mine went out of business, many of the miners remained and found work on the Juneau side of Gastineau Channel.
The night of April 20 (this Thursday) will feature a program at the City Museum where Simpson and Wayne Jensen will give a presentation about the history of the mine and its demise. Doors open at 6:45 p.m. and the program is scheduled to run from 7-8 p.m.
At 5:30 p.m. Friday, there’s a meeting at the cave-in site to commemorate the anniversary. As part of the centennial celebration, there will be two new signs installed at the cave-in site. One will go on the upper historical trail and one will go on the lower historical trail, Simpson said.
The next night, there’s a Treadwell Miners’ Ball at the Baranof Hotel from 7-11 p.m. Admission is $50 per person, and period dress is optional. Local band Susu and the Prophets will play, and food will be provided. It’s based on the annual tradition of a fireman’s ball, Simpson said, but it’s mining themed in honor of the Treadwell miners.
The miners were treated well during their time at the mine, and Simpson said Saturday’s event won’t compare to the dances and parties the miners had in their time.
“It’s nowhere near as extravagant as what they did in Treadwell back in the day at the Treadwell Club,” Simpson said.
The weekend finishes with a potluck picnic from 2-5 p.m. Sunday at the Sandy Beach Log Shelter. There will be walking tours of the Treadwell Mine Historic Park, where attendees can learn more about the history of the event while seeing the overgrown remnants of the mining town.
Simpson said the advent of Douglas Days came about “organically,” as there were already annual events in place. Gold Rush Days, annually in mid-June, highlight the city’s ties with the gold mining industry. Gold Rush Days will take place as usual, running from June 17-18.
The Douglas Fourth of July Committee always has activities planned for the holiday, and its annual activities on Sandy Beach will wrap up Douglas Days. At the end of June and the beginning of July, Perseverance Theater will unveil a new play based on historian Sheila Kelly’s book “Treadwell Gold,” which serves as one of the essential studies of the mine and its demise.
Performances of this new play begin in late June, and a special closing performance will take place July 4. Simpson hopes that by the end of Douglas Days, those in the area have a better idea of just how important the mine was in the city’s creation and development.
“It was, back in the day, the largest operating gold mine anywhere in the world,” Simpson said. “We want people to come away with an awareness and a sense of history and context when people talk about Juneau as a mining town and why it was important.”
• Contact reporter Alex McCarthy at firstname.lastname@example.org or 523-2271.