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A quarterback, business man and visionary

Posted: May 13, 2012 - 12:01am
Bartlett Thane  Courtesy of Alaska State Library Historical Archives
Courtesy of Alaska State Library Historical Archives
Bartlett Thane

Bartlett Lee “Bart” Thane was born in California in 1877. He attended the University of California at Berkeley, where he was the star quarterback for the football team, pursuing a degree in mining engineering in the class of 1899.

For several years the university had had difficulty hiring a good football coach. The university had lost several of its most important games in 1895, 1896, and 1897. Then in 1898 a new coach was hired that had become famous playing for Princeton. In short order, the new coach built up a new college spirit and tore the old football team to pieces and put it back together with Thane as the quarterback.

On Oct. 1, 1898, against the Olympic Club, the team scored 17 to the Olympics’ 0. Game after game was won by the team but the big game was to be against Stanford, which had beaten them miserably year after year. So on Thanksgiving Day (Nov. 24, 1898) the two teams met.

The end result was California 22 Stanford 0 in one of Pacific Coast football history’s greatest games. You must keep in mind that the kind of football played in that era was not like the game played today. There was no passing; it was all ground-eating running plays and the teams had little or no padding. Thus, the ability of the quarterback and his two halfbacks was paramount.

Thane, at 19, first came to Alaska in 1897 to work for Herman Tripp, running and maintaining the shaft pumps at the Sumdum Chief Mine 60 miles south of Juneau. A year later he returned to California where he planned to complete his degree. Back in Alaska the following year, he worked at the Ebner Mine on Gold Creek and in 1901 became its superintendent. At the same time, Thane gained controlling interest in the Sumdum Chief mine. He then served as superintendent of the Eagle River Mining Company from 1903 to 1910 and promoted the development of properties at Berners Bay, forming the Kensington Gold Mining Company. By 1911 Thane was made general manager and superintendent of the Alaska Gastineau Mining Company; controlling six gold mines in the Juneau Gold Belt and had a mountain, of which the Eagle River Mine is on the southeast slope, named after him.

Through some very unusual events, Thane gained control of the Perseverance mine near Juneau. The president of the company had been accused by stockholders of mismanagement and was sued. Sutherland dropped dead of a heart attack; two wives claimed his estate, neither of which knew the other. The company seemed to be hopelessly caught up in litigation when, with the backing of D.C. Jackling and W.P. Mammon, Thane raised $8,000,000 in 1912 to take over and develop the Perseverance mine.

Thane had a three part plan for the Perseverance mine:

1) Provide for tide water access via a two mile tunnel;

2) Develop a year-round hydroelectric power plant, and

3) Construct a revolutionary new mill that would handle up to 6,000 tons per day of ore.

The Sheep Creek Adit, as the tunnel was known, was started in November 1912 and completed in February 1914. The tunnel is 10,497 feet long and was driven at the fastest rate any tunnel had been excavated in the world. Thus, Thane had tide water access via Sheep Creek Valley.

The second part of his plan was hydroelectric power. Having similar needs for power as the Treadwell Gold Mining Company on Douglas Island, Thane decided to build a dam on Salmon Creek. With the design work of Harry Wallenberg and assistance from other former football teammates (all were mining engineers), Thane managed and Wallenberg constructed the Salmon Creek Dam, which is the first thin, constant-angle arch dam of its height and width class ever constructed. This unique design allowed an estimated savings of about 20 percent in the volume of concrete used as compared to the common type of arch dam built in that period. The project was started in June of 1912 and finished in August 1914. Today there are more than a hundred dams throughout the world designed after the one at Salmon Creek. If you haven’t already, take the short 3-mile hike up to this dam. It’s well worth the effort.

The third part of his plan was the construction of a revolutionary new mill that could handle 6,000 tons of ore per day. Most people in the mining industry believed it couldn’t be done. The mill relied on a new rotating process that was being used in the large copper mines of Nevada and Arizona but hadn’t been used for gold. By 1915 the mill was completed and it handled 12,000 tons per day at less than the cost projected.

With the success of the new mill, it became clear that more electrical power would be needed. Annex Creek on Taku Inlet was optioned from Hermann Tripp in April 1915. The power project was producing power by December of that year. It was the first time a lake had been tapped via tunneling under and punching a hole through the bottom of the lake. Amazingly, water was turning the generators 2 miles away within 42 minutes after blasting the hole through the lake bottom. Annex Creek and Salmon Creek still produce part of Juneau’s power today and are some of the lowest cost power producers in the state of Alaska.

The Perseverance and Alaska Gastineau mine, prior to World War I, became the largest gold mine in the world. It produced more than 500,000 ounces of gold. The loss of labor during the war and post war inflation made the mine unprofitable. On June 3, 1921 the mine was shut down. Thane promoted the hydroelectric plants, mill town, and support facilities for a new pulp mill site. In 1923 an apparent deal was made with Japanese investors. However, the Tokyo earthquake of that same year killed the investors.

Thane died of pneumonia in New Your City on Nov. 27, 1927 while continuing his promotion of a pulp mill. He was buried at the family home in Niles, Calif..

While researching this article I came across a statement concerning Thane Mountain. That statement read, “The name is no longer in use.” I found this on a Feature Detail Report for Thane Mountain by USGS on the Internet. It seemed odd to me that that the name would be dropped from use for no apparent reason from a mountain named after such an important historical figure. Interestingly enough, I checked the book written by DeArmond in 1957, “Some Names Around Juneau,” but found no reference to that statement anywhere in that book. I called Gregory Durocher of the USGS and he was surprised to find the statement connected to their maps. He said he had never seen anything like it before. Finally, I contacted Jo Antonsen who is the state historian in the Office of History and Archeology and asked her if she would look into this unusual statement. She contacted the U.S. Board on Geographic Names in Washington, D.C. The outcome to the mystery is Thane Mountain is the official name. Their staff is going to contact the USGS map folks in Denver so the name will be added to the revision file. Alaska “is on track to be remapped this year or next.” I also have been in contact with the USFS and they plan to make the adjustments. To some it may not seem to be a big deal, but I believe Thane deserves to be remembered with something a little more substantial than a road and a residential area. The town of Amalga and the Eagle River Mine have long since gone away but Thane’s mountain remains as a quiet forest covered sentinel overlooking the beautiful Eagle Glacier.

Acknowledgements:

Some Names Around Juneau by R.N. DeArmond

The Juneau Gold Belt, A History of the Mines and Miners by Earl Redman

USGS, Geographic Names Information System

Alaska State Library Historical Collections, Bart Thane Letter, Biographical note

Alaska Mining Hall of Fame

California Football History by Brick Morse, PH. B, Athletic Historian, A.S.U.C.

66 years on the California Gridiron 1882-1948 by S. Dan Brodie

Electrical Generation Facilities, history, AEL&P

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