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Accumulated fragments: The little long-lost towns and villages of the CBJ

Posted: June 10, 2012 - 12:02am

Over the long history of the Juneau area, several small towns or villages were started, all of which have died out for one reason or another. Despite this, the City and Borough of Juneau is a better place because of the pioneers and Alaska Natives who populated those small towns and villages. Those hardy ancestors carved out places in the history of Southeast that should not be forgotten. With a few exceptions those tiny hamlets have returned to the massive forest that has stood here in Southeast for centuries. The exceptions are those who have melded into the town proper.

Treadwell

After gold was discovered on the beaches of Douglas Island in 1880, a mining town was formed. The town was named after the mine owner John Treadwell. Treadwell was largely a “company” town and in 1900 had a population of 522. It was incorporated on March 26, 1901 with a post office in 1902. Until 1906 they elected city councils and conducted a municipal government. In 1910 the population was 1,222 and the Treadwell Gold Mining Company, which operated all three mines, employed 1,900 men, many of whom lived in Douglas. After 1906 no city elections were held and in 1912 the town was unincorporated. On April 22, 1917, the Treadwell and Mexican mine were flooded when a portion under the Gastineau Channel caved in. With the Treadwell and Mexican mines closed, the population of Treadwell shrank considerably and Treadwell became part of Douglas. Nine years later a fire struck Douglas and spread into what had been Treadwell, burning most of it.

Douglas

The Town of Douglas was established as a result of mining activity which commenced on the island early in 1881. The first house in Douglas, a log cabin, was reported to have been built by William Newcomer in 1881. The community was for some time called Edwardsville, perhaps for H.H. Edwards an early miner and resident. This name was in use at least as late as 1886. Douglas, then frequently called Douglas City, was established, along with a post office Sept. 28, 1887 and was incorporated on March 29, 1902. By 1890 the population of Douglas was 402 and in 1900 it had reached 825. In 1910 the population had grown to 1,722 but after that the town was struck by a series of disasters. A fire on March 9, 1911 destroyed 16 business buildings including two hotels. On April 22, 1917, the Treadwell and Mexican mines were flooded when a portion under the Gastineau Channel caved in and hundreds of men were thrown out of work. By 1920 the population had dwindled to 919. Fire struck again on Oct. 10, 1926 burning the entire eastern part of town, including the Indian village and most of the adjoined Treadwell. In 1929 the population was 593 but another fire on Feb. 23, 1937 leveled a great deal of the remaining part of Douglas, including the school, post office, city hall and fire hall. One thing that was a great help getting Juneau’s fire department to the fire was the new Douglas Bridge that had been dedicated and officially opened on Oct. 13, 1935. The population by 1939 had dropped to 522 but after that year it began to increase and in 1950 it had reached 699.1 In 1970 the city of Juneau merged with the city of Douglas and the surrounding Greater Juneau Borough to form the current home rule municipality.

Fish Creek

On the northern end of Douglas Island, a creek called Fish Creek flows into Fritz Cove, a part of Stevens Passage. This creek drains a sizeable watershed – in the upper end a ski resort would be developed in the mid-20th century. Just east of the mouth of Fish Creek is Hut Point, named in 1880 by Lt. F.M. Symonds of the USS Jamestown, from the fact that there was an Auk Kwaan village and nearby native fort on the point. It was known to the L’eeneidi clan as Aangooxa Y’e. Before gold discoveries diverted settlement to Juneau and Treadwell, estuaries at Fish Creek and Outer Point hosted the principle village sites on Douglas Island. The name “Fish Creek” first appeared in the mining records on Aug. 25, 1885 when the water of Fish Creek was claimed for use at the Treadwell mines. It subsequently became the northern terminus of the great Treadwell Ditch. Homestead claims at the mouth of the creek were filed as early as 1800 and in later years a settlement known as Fish Creek grew up there. A school was established in 1936, and records show it was still open in 1943, with 10 students. Up until that time, there was no way for the people of Fish Creek to get to Juneau or Douglas except by boat at high tide. In 1941, a 2-mile segment of the North Douglas Highway was built from the Douglas Bridge north. In 1950 the Fish Creek Bridge was constructed. I believe that a trail of some sort was developed from the end of that 2-mile segment to the Fish Creek settlement in order for the heavy equipment to be moved out there to do the bridge construction. In 1954 and again in 1956 additional segments (then considered upgrades) were added so North Douglas Highway was able to cross Fish Creek. Considering everything, it is my thought that Fish Creek should be named the oldest known settlement on Douglas Island and possibly in the Borough.

Gastineau City

Gastineau City was a short-lived realty development at the mouth of Nevada Creek on Douglas Island. It was about four miles south of the town of Douglas. In 1905 Mike Hudson, who had mining property on the creek, staked a 320-acre homestead at its mouth. In 1910 he subdivided this into lots and called it Gastineau City. He offered free boat trips to the site so prospective buyers could make their selections. There is no information as to the number of actual buyers.

Taku Village

The Taku Village was built close to a gravel beach just west of the mouth of Grindstone Creek, 10 miles southeast of Juneau. In 1882 Dr. Sheldon Jackson reported the name of this village as Tse-nuk-sank-y. The Alaska Boundary Commission map shows it as Kuteha.

In 1880 a summer school was held at the village under the auspices of the Presbyterian Church by the Rev. and Mrs. W.H.R. Corlies of Philadelphia. In 1882 they returned to the village and erected a school and residence buildings. The Corlies left in 1884 and by that time most of the villagers had moved to Juneau where they settled along the beach south of town in what was locally known as the Taku Village. The old village does not appear to have been completely deserted at the time. In the summer of 1894 the editor of the Weekly Searchlight of Juneau visited it and reported five large houses and four small ones, with 52 canoes drawn up on the beach for a potlatch then in progress. In 1901 Yosh-Noosh, or Chief Johnson as he was known by the whites, the leader of the Takus in Juneau, announced that they were going to move back to the old village as soon as he could sell his house. The house was apparently never sold and the move did not take place. Later, in 1913 a group of young people held a dance in one of the tribal houses at the deserted village. Nearly all traces of the old village have disappeared.

Thane

Four miles southeast of Juneau in 1881, mining activity began and a village was started at the mouth of Sheep Creek along with a post office. The settlement was known as Sheep Creek. Large scale operations began with the incorporation of the Alaska Gastineau Mining Company on Jan. 14, 1911. This was done in order to open the Perseverance property and take over the interests of earlier companies. The new company built housing, a wharf, power plants at Salmon Creek and Annex Creek, other facilities, opened a general store and installed a large mill to handle ore from the mines. A tunnel 10,497 feet long was “holed through” the mountain on April 1, 1914, to the Perseverance property at the head of Silver Bow Basin. At about the same time, the settlement changed its name from Sheep Creek to Thane after the mining mogul Bartlett Thane. On April 17, 1914 the Juneau newspapers used the new name for the first time. The census of 1920 showed the population of Thane at 421.

As a result of increased costs during and after World War I, mining operations became unprofitable and the mill was closed about the end of June, 1921. The company closed its store by 1923 and by 1929 the population had dwindled to 68. The mine and company properties were sold to the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company in 1934 and in 1936 the post office was closed. By 1950 Thane had become a residential area with a population of 81.

Perseverance

I think it’s questionable as to whether this settlement ever became a town or village. However, it does have some special attributes that are worth noting. The settlement was located about 2.7 miles east of Juneau on the southeast side of Silver Bow Basin. It began as a mining camp which took its name from the Perseverance lode claim and mine in 1885. In 1901 the Alaska Perseverance Gold Mining Co. built a 100-stamp mill there that remained in place until 1912 when it was destroyed by fire. In 1914 the camp was reached by a tunnel through the mountain from Sheep Creek. Perseverance was a voting precinct for some years and a territorial school was built there in 1916 and ran until 1921 when the mine was closed.

Gull City

This was an early name for the flats below Glacier Avenue from the mouth of Gold Creek to 10th Street. In common use in earlier years, it is now seldom heard. It is said to have been derived from the number of seagulls which frequented the area. For those who live in or own businesses in that area, I think I can say that the seagull population has not gone away with time and may have grown.

Auke Bay

The name Auk or Auke Bay in the present location came into use in the late 1890s. The name is from the Auk Tlingits who occupied the northern end of Admiralty Island, Douglas Island, and the mainland from approximately the present location of Juneau northward to Berners Bay and they are said to have derived their name from the Tlingit word meaning “little lake.”

The village really began to be settled soon after Glacier Highway reached there in 1918. In 1919 John Carlson built a cannery near the outlet of Auke Lake. It operated only a few seasons before closing down. A post office was developed on Dec. 23, 1946 and the voting precinct was established in 1952. The census bureau reported a population of 295 in 1950.

Auke Village

Thirteen miles northwest of Juneau on the open bight just east of Point Louisa, adjacent to Old Glacier Highway, is the site of the former native village of the Auk Tlingits. This site has been set aside by the U.S. Forest Service as a recreational area. The 1880 census of Alaska listed the Auk population as 640, of whom 300 were on Admiralty Island, 50 on Douglas Island and approximately 290 at the village. Just after the founding of Juneau, the Auk Tlingits moved closer to Juneau and established a village on the beach just north of town. This became locally known as Auk Village to distinguish it from Taku Village which was on the beach just south of town. Thereafter the old village was renamed several times. At one point it was called “Old Auke Village”, then “Aukan”, then in 1904 an anthropologist named J.R. Swanton reported its name as “antcgaltsu” meaning “abandoned town”. Today a totem pole stands as a lone sentinel overlooking the old village. It looks upon one of the best recreational sites in the Juneau Area. Today a soft breeze (possibly the spirits of the past) may drift through the bows of old spruce and hemlock that still protect the beach after all this time. The echo of children’s laughter, maybe hundreds of years old, may still be heard if you listen closely.

Tee Harbor

About 16 miles northwest of Juneau is a cove that was originally named Stephens Cove by the Coastal Survey in 1897; the name apparently derived from Point Stephens which forms its southwesterly side. The local name, Tee Harbor, from its resemblance to the letter “T” was more commonly used and was eventually adopted. W.N. Lazier built a fish psaltery just inside the north point of the harbor about 1901 and in 1911 a salmon cannery was built on the same site. The cannery operated until 1924 when it burned down and was not rebuilt. In the 1950s a territorial ferry to Haines operated during the summer months from a landing on the south side of Tee Harbor.

Amalga

The Eagle River Mine was discovered in 1902 at the base of Thane Mountain. It is located about four miles from tidewater and 22 miles from Juneau. The mountain was named for Bartlett Thane, who was the mine superintendent. A 20-stamp mill and settlement were 900 feet below the mine and connected with it by cable tramway. By the end of the first year, Thane’s crew had constructed a 7-mile road through boggy country, flumes and waterpower plant, a boarding house, a bunkhouse, general store, assay office, saw mill, and a blacksmith and machine shop. The post office was established on July 29, 1905. A horse tramway ran from the settlement seven miles to the beach at Amalga Landing on what is now known as Amalga Harbor, where the company had a wharf and warehouse. The owner of the mine, C.D. Mallory, of Macon, Ga. paid $150,000 for the mine. In March of 1904 Mallory got himself into a bit of trouble in Juneau and had to leave the area. The following is from an article from the Ketchikan Mining Journal: “C.D. Mallory, of Eagle River mines was a passenger south on the Princess May. For reasons readily surmised but not easy of verification, the Juneau papers have failed to tell. Mallory is the fellow who is charged with having seduced the daughter of a prominent resident of Juneau, and with whom the outraged parent exchanged a number of shots some two or three weeks ago. He was waited on by a committee of citizens who suggest that his presence in Juneau was no longer desired, and given 10 days in which to arrange his business affairs and make himself scarce. It is to be regretted, in view of the fact that he not only admitted his intimacy with the young girl, but attempted at the same time to further blacken her character, that the committee did not arm itself with blacksnake whips and lash the lecherous rascal naked from the town.” I found this newspaper note quite interesting as it shows that even though these mining towns were on the very edge of civilization they still held everyone to a reasonable level of moral conduct.

Because the village was a company town, it did not last long after the mine was closed in 1923. Both the stamp mill and the post office were removed and the village was vacated by 1927. Today, if you hike up the Eagle River trail you can find the remains of the tiny town.

Just like in the present day, people came to Alaska for a variety of reasons. Some came for the gold, but others came for the kind of independent living not found close to big cities. They brought their families and built homes close to one of the settlements, planted gardens, grew dairy and meat animals, and developed hay crops. In the process, they cut trees to clear land and to make lumber to build their homes, town buildings, wharves and mines. If they couldn’t buy it, they made it or did without. I recall a story about my great grandfather, who had one of those first cars back in the early 1900s, I was told that, on the way from his farm to town, he damaged the transmission. He got under the car and found the damaged part, carved a piece of hardwood into some sort of gear and managed to drive the car on into town. That is the kind of independent, problem solving that allowed individuals to thrive in early Southeast Alaska, around small towns that were centers for buying or selling goods — most people didn’t live within the town at all but on the outside.

As much as I’d like to think otherwise, the independent attitude of the people who live here has slowly changed. It is my belief that one of the biggest mistakes we made was to form the Juneau Borough. In order to cut the number of levels of government we have partially destroyed the independent living so highly valued by our ancestors. Farming has become almost nonexistent and land values and property taxes are too high to allow any kind of startup. If any major emergency occurred in the Lower 48 that temporarily stopped the flow of goods and services to Southeast Alaska, many would be in serious trouble. Some argue that the weather of Southeast makes farming unfeasible or too costly and yet it was done before. Maybe by knowing our past we can evaluate where our future may take us and, if so, maybe adjustments might be called for in order to move toward a more independent Southeast Alaska.

Acknowledgements:

• Some Names Around Juneau by R.N DeArmond

• The Juneau Gold Belt, A history of mines and miners by Earl Redmond

• The Juneau Trails Project, City and Borough of Juneau

• Dept. of Transportation, Douglas Highway & Fish Creek Bridge

• Alaska Journal Magazine, vol. 6, No. 3, Summer 1976, Amalga by Patricia Roppel

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