Melding the past and future of Treadwell

Posted: Sunday, August 16, 2009

The city and a local historical society are working together on a vision of Treadwell's past and future.

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Michael Penn / Juneau Empire
Michael Penn / Juneau Empire

At its height, the Treadwell Mine south of Savikko Park was the largest gold mining operation in the world, but it closed in 1922, leaving behind trails and derelict buildings.

Juneau Parks and Recreation approved a plan in June 2008 that outlined dramatic changes to the Treadwell Mine Historic Trail.

A small part of the restoration effort wrapped up Friday after parks department workers and SAGA volunteers put in two weeks of trail clean up and managing vegetation to keep the mining artifacts clear. They were clearing brush around the stamp mill and steam plant for greater visibility.

Other parts of the long-term plan are more dramatic, like clearing and resurfacing the old parade ground in the heart of the Treadwell complex, adding an outdoor theater and creating a viewing platform at the cave-in site. They also plan to put up interpretative signage along the trails.

The plan also calls for developing three trails: a trail that complies with the Americans with Disabilities Act, a runner's trail and a nature trail along the beach.

Much of the plan is cost prohibitive, Parks Director Marc Matsil said, but it serves as a framework that "explores possibilities for enhancing the site." The total cost is estimated at about $600,000.

The Treadwell Historic Preservation and Restoration Society Inc., founded in May 2008, has stated goals to "stabilize, preserve and restore the existing structures and buildings" of the mine area.

"The biggest, most ambitious project (of the society)," society President Paulette Simpson said, "is to restore the office building to serve as a museum of Treadwell's history."

The New Office Building was constructed in 1915 to hold the mine offices. It's the most complete structure remaining of the Treadwell complex. The rest were destroyed in a fire in 1926.

"The Treadwell Society's vision for the site is just that - a vision. Restoration will require major grant funding," Simpson said. "At this point, the goal is to begin educating the community about the rich historical significance of the site."

Simpson said that in a year or two, the society would like to expand the historic trail to include the school, post office, cow barn and bakery.

"The first order of business is the survey. On our behalf the city applied for and received a grant for a historic resource survey from the Alaska Office of History and Archaeology. For restoration work, we need that survey before we can apply for any major grants," Simpson said.

The society's Web site,, is expected to be up and running in a few weeks and they are putting together a PowerPoint presentation for local groups. Sheila Kelly, whose father was born at Treadwell where his father worked, has a book slated to be published in February by the University of Alaska Press that will be the first comprehensive book on Treadwell.

"There's just a wealth of history here that most people don't know about," Simpson said.

Treadwell Historic Preservation and Restoration Society was incorporated by Mayor Bruce Botelho, Assembly member David Stone and Fourth of July Committee Member Rich Poor in May 2008. Since then, they've mainly been getting organized, Simpson said.

Board members represent various Douglas Island and historical groups, including the Douglas Fourth of July Committee, the Juneau Gold Rush Committee and the Gastineau Channel Historical Society.

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