Treadwell Mine trail gives glimpse of history

Posted: Sunday, June 23, 2002

The Treadwell Historic Mine Trail just behind Sandy Beach is a great place to glimpse a bit of Douglas' rich mining heritage. The following excerpt from Mary Lou King's "90 Short Walks Around Juneau" is used with the author's permission:

There are two trailheads, one on Sandy Beach in Savikko Park at the end of the paved path running between the hill and the log shelter. The second is at the end of St. Ann's Avenue.

A 20-minute walk on this historic loop trail to the "cave-in" takes you through the area of the gold mining operation that began in the 1880s.

In 1915 there were 960 stamps crushing 5,000 tons of ore daily, a world record. In the stamp mills the rotating cams lifted and dropped the 859- to 1,020-pound stamps on partially crushed gold-bearing rocks, pulverizing the rocks and the ore. Water washed the crushed material out through screens and over mercury-coated copper plates where the free gold was caught in the mercury. The sand and gold-bearing sulfides flowed to the vanners, a device used to concentrate the gold, where the sulfides were saved and the sand became "Sandy Beach."

The pounding of the stamps made so much noise the people in the downtown Douglas Caf had to shout to be heard. When the mills shut down for Christmas and the Fourth of July, people could not sleep because it was so quiet.

By 1917 the four mines in the Treadwell complex - Ready Bullion, Mexican, 700 and Treadwell - had a working depth of 2,800 feet and some 10 million tons of ore had been removed from below tidewater level. At this time the land was also beginning to subside in several areas in the mining complex.

On the evening of April 21, 1917, three of the four Treadwell mines flooded . An estimated 3 million tons of seawater filled this space in 3 1/2 hours. The three mines closed down after the cave-in of 1917. The foundry and one power plant continued to operate until the Alaska-Juneau gold mine in Juneau closed in 1944.

Still to be seen are the 300 Stamp Mill ruins, the main steam powerhouse ruins, the old town of Treadwell's office building and the cave-in. If you look up toward the Douglas Island mountains in an open spot, Mount Jumbo, renamed Bradley after the Treadwell Mine's superintendent, can be seen.

A detailed brochure recounting the history of the area is available from visitor centers in Juneau.

Make sure to stay on the trails because some areas have hazards. There are steep drop-offs in some areas of the extended trail system. Also, the area was honeycombed with adits, tunnels, shafts and other digging during mining days and could be dangerous.

On the Trails is written by members of Trail Mix, a nonprofit trails organization.

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