A Golden History

Posted: Saturday, February 02, 2008

A first rush of about 40 miners brought trading posts, saloons and missionaries. Within a year, the tent camp became a small town, the first founded after Alaska's purchase from Russia.

Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire
Brian Wallace / Juneau Empire

Across the Gastineau Channel in the community of Douglas, the Treadwell and Ready Bullion mines operated from 1882 to 1917. Before a cave-in and flood closed the mine, the Treadwell produced $66 million in gold in its 35 years of operation. In 1916, the Alaska-Juneau gold mine was built on the mainland and became the largest operation of its kind in the world. Fishing, canneries, transportation services and a sawmill contributed to Juneau's growth through the early 1900s.

Before the Alaska-Juneau (A-J) mine closed in 1944, when it was declared a nonessential wartime activity, it produced more than $80 million in gold. Mining was replaced by the expansion of government during the war and afterwards, when Alaska became the 49th state in January 1959.

Juneau's prospector heritage and incredible scenery began drawing visitors in the early 1900s. As a popular cruise ship port and a favorite destination among adventure travelers, Alaska's capital continues to draw visitors from around the world.

Alaska State Museum

The Alaska State Museum at 395 Whittier Street, a 10-minute walk from the cruise ship docks, is one of the best museums in the state, with Native, mining, fishing and Russian displays, as well as traveling art and cultural exhibits.

A circular staircase encircles the museum's tribute to the state's wildlife, including a life-size eagle's nest that rests atop a two-story tree.

The gallery that showcases the culture of Northwest Coast Indians - the Tlingit, Haida and Tsimshian peoples - is in the form of a clan house, built from Sitka spruce with traditional Native carvings and paintings.

Summer hours are 8:30 a.m. to 5:30 p.m. daily. Admission is $5. Members and those 18 and under are admitted free.

Juneau-Douglas City Museum

A short climb up the hill from Juneau's waterfront brings you to the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, at Fourth and Main streets.

Two totem poles sit in the small, landscaped park where on July 4, 1959, the first Alaska flag was raised, celebrating statehood.

The area's gold mining history is captured in the Leslie Murray gallery.

The East Gallery focuses on the life of the pioneers in the Gastineau Channel area. A 5-by-7 foot relief map provides an eagle's-eye view of the region.

You can also put your feet up and watch the documentary video "Juneau: City Built on Gold."

Summer hours are 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. weekdays and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday and Sunday. Admission is $4.

Last Chance Mining Museum

A short drive or an enjoyable 45-minute stroll to the end of Basin Road brings you to the Last Chance Mining Museum.

As you go, watch for bears, porcupines and eagles.

The hands-on museum is in a building associated with the Alaska-Juneau Gold Mining Co., which operated in Juneau from 1912 until 1944. It features original tools, machines and infrastructure of what was once the world's largest and most advanced hardrock gold mine.

Displays in the mine's old service center include antiques, minerals and a three-dimensional glass map of the mine shafts and caves inside the mountain.

Summer hours are 9:30 a.m. to 12:30 p.m. and 3:30 to 6:30 p.m. Monday through Sunday. Admission is $4.

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