Editor’s note: This is part 2 of two parts on the history of Douglas Island.
In 1889, John Treadwell sold all his mining properties for $1.5 million to Darius Ogden Mills of San Francisco. The mine continued to be known as John Treadwell’s Gold Mine.
There were two towns on Douglas Island in those days, the town of Douglas and the town of Treadwell. Both had post offices but Treadwell was really bustling.
The town of Treadwell had its own school, a dairy, an enormous company store, baseball field, a swimming pool, a library, reading rooms, basketball and tennis courts, a bowling alley, a billiard hall and a gymnasium. The Treadwell railroad that actually began in the town of Douglas had nearly 100 miles of track running to the Ready Bullion.
By 1900 the incorporated Treadwell City was one of the largest cities in Alaska, though by the 1920 census, Treadwell had unincorporated and had lost 75 percent of its population.
There were a number of cemeteries to account for the many deaths that occurred in that rough and tumble environment. When the cemetery at the northern outskirts of Douglas City was full, a new cemetery needed to be developed. During the first 18 years of operation, the four Treadwell mines had killed approximately 2,500 men, and 20 years of the foreign diseases and alcohol had killed as many of the Taku Tlingits.
Because Douglas Island was the traditional burying place of the Taku, they tried to maintain this aspect of their great heritage and laid their dead to rest in the ground once blessed by the mighty Ka-don-a-ha when he brought the people of Taku to safety by guiding the swift canoes beneath the glaciers.
To this day, all the cemeteries are ethnic, religious or fraternal. The cemeteries were: The F.O.E., where those of the Fraternal Order of Eagles are buried; the Douglas/Treadwell City Cemetery where those buried are Japanese, Chinese, Native, Roman Catholic, Russian Orthodox, Odd Fellows and Masons; and there was also a separate cemetery for prostitutes and those who took their own lives.
On March 15, 1907, a Serbian miner stabbed and killed a Japanese worker named John Yamanoi. Yamanoi’s countrymen buried him in the Douglas Japanese Cemetery and marked his grave with a 10-foot cedar monument which still stands, carved by Frank Weaver, a blind Tlingit carver in the Taku village.
A week later, the Treadwell Funeral Riots erupted.
Among the demands were caskets — people were buried in blankets; funerals, complete with the Treadwell Band; marked graves and notification of their deaths to their relatives. Their demands were met but the Army was sent in to protect the mines and the company officials.
The last victim of the mines was a 32-year-old man from then-Yugoslavia named Matt Slujo who died May 15, 1921.
By that time, the mines had killed more than 6,000 men during 35 years of operation.
Though Juneau and Douglas are now part of one borough and necessarily connected, until Sept. 2, 1935 the only access between Juneau and Douglas was by ferry.
A bridge had been contemplated as early as 1900 but the project didn’t become a reality until the Great Depression, when the federal Public Works Administration allocated funds for a bridge. The Alaska Road Commission contracted in 1934 with Alfred Dishaw Construction Company to construct the concrete piers, J.B. Warrack to construct the concrete approaches, Pacific Car and Foundry Company of Seattle to erect the steel, and A.W. Quist to lay the deck.
The total length of the bridge was 2,701 feet. The structure consisted of a three span steel cantilever sub-divided Warren truss that was 1,120 feet long and 66 feet above the water, 432 feet of concrete girder approaches and over 1,000 feet of rock fill. The concrete approaches were the first concrete girders built for an Alaska Road Commission bridge.
In 1935 the Alaska Road Commission hired its first bridge engineer, O.H. Stratton. Stratton had previously worked for the Wallace Bridge and Structural Steel Company designing bridges. His first job was to design the Gastineau Channel Bridge, then considered the most important steel bridge to be built by the Alaska Road Commission.
The first automobile drove across the Gastineau Channel Bridge on Sept. 2, 1935 and the Alaska Road Commission formally dedicated the bridge on Oct. 13, 1935.
In 1981 a new bridge was completed that replaced the original bridge.
Recently, I was sitting by a window looking out over the Gastineau Channel and Douglas Island. It was evening and I could see the many lights of Douglas gleaming across the width of the panorama before me. It was quite beautiful.
I couldn’t help but think back over the long history we and our ancestors have had with this island.
Who knows what will be coming next, but hopefully we have learned something about the corrupting influence of greed. It wasn’t all bad, because great people did great things in spite of extreme hardships. We have a wonderful place to live and all of us have a right to feel a great deal of pride in what we have now. We have Sandy Beach, an ice rink, a softball park, and wonderful trails to walk and jog on. There are all kinds of historical places and several old cemeteries to view, not to mention a great winter playground called Eaglecrest for all to enjoy.
Maybe it’s time for each of us to take a long hard look at Douglas Island and consider what the future may hold.
Daily Alaskan Empire, June 7, 1935
The History of Aukquon, Phillip Joseph
Alaska State Library Historical Collections
History of Mines and Miners in the Juneau Gold Belt
U.S. Census for Alaska, 1890-1920
Bridging Alaska: Historic Context for the inventory of Alaska’s Highway Bridges, By Rolf Buzzell, Ph.D
Treadwell Alaska 1881-1917 by Laura McCarley