Hope is only surviving gold camp from Upper Kenai Peninsula gold rush
|Downtown Hope in 2014|
According to the 1915 U.S.G.S. report, Geology and Mineral Resources of Kenai Peninsula, Alaska, the only recorded instances of Russian gold exploration in Alaska occurred between 1848 and 1851, when Peter Doroshin, a Russian-American Company mining engineer, discovered gold in the Kenai River and spent two summers prospecting along the Russian River. Doroshin or his men may have searched further afield, though. American miners in the Hope area found abandoned workings that they attributed to the Russians.
After the 1867 purchase of Alaska, prospectors began pushing north along the coast from British Columbia. By the 1880s miners were working beach deposits along Lower Cook Inlet. In about 1888, a prospector named King (first name unknown) disappeared into the Upper Kenai Peninsula, returning two summers later with four pokes of gold.
King never staked a claim and moved on before revealing any information. However, his luck prompted others to explore the Upper Kenai. Gold was discovered on Resurrection Creek, near present-day Hope, in 1893. King’s diggings were found nearby.
The next few years saw increased mining on Resurrection Creek and on Sixmile Creek to the east. Mary Barry’s book, A History of Mining on the Kenai Peninsula, states that in 1895 a settlement consisting of about a dozen log cabins sprang up near the beach beside Resurrection Creek. There are several stories about naming the new town, the most popular being that miners named it after the camp’s youngest argonaut, 17-year-old Percy Hope.
That same year the competing community of Sunrise was established near the mouth of Sixmile Creek. According to Barry’s book, Hope was a dry town for many years, while Sunrise was wide open. By June of 1896 Sunrise had two saloons and a brewery, as well as two restaurants.
By 1896, The Upper Kenai was the scene of a bona fide stampede. The winter of 1896-97, there were 80 people living in Hope, and another 150 at Sunrise.
The boom times only lasted a few years though. Sunrise began declining after 1898 but Hope endured. In 1902 Hope had two stores: an Alaska Commercial Company store, and one operated by George Roll (shown in the drawing). Also, Hope was evidently no longer dry since it was reported that it had four saloons. Sunrise was down to one saloon.
The simple gold-recovery methods used by the original Upper Kenai stampeders gave way to mechanized operations around the turn of the century. Dredging was unsuccessfully attempted along Resurrection Creek, and hydraulicking (using high-pressure water jets to wash gold-bearing gravel through sluices) was the primary recovery method.
By 1905, the glory days of placer mining in the area were over. A few operations were still profitable, but richer mining areas such as Nome and Fairbanks siphoned miners away from the Kenai. In 1908 only about 50 men still worked area creeks, and by 1911 Sunrise had only 12 residents while Hope boasted about 35.
Sunrise’s last resident died in 1939. Hope, by contrast, had 71 residents in 1940. Unfortunately, the federal government’s closure of gold mining during World War II was a death knell for most area mines. After the war, increased labor and equipment costs, coupled with low gold prices, stymied mine re-openings. Mining continued, but on a much smaller scale.
Land in the Hope area subsided about five feet during the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, exposing a handful of buildings along the town’s seaward edge to flooding at high tide. The remaining historic buildings, dating from about 1900 to the 1940s, are part of the Hope Historic District, added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1972.
- A History of Mining on the Kenai Peninsula. Mary J. Barry. Alaska Northwest Publishing. 1973.
- Geology and Mineral Resources of Kenai Peninsula, Alaska. G. C. Martin. U.S.G.S. 1915
- “Hope Historic District – National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.” Rosemarie Levine. National Park Service. 1972
- The Great Alaska Earthquake of 1964. National Research Council. National Academy of Sciences. 1968