Jualpa Camp give glimpse of Alaska-Juneau Mine’s glory days
The buildings shown in the drawing, part of Jualpa Mine Camp, are in Last Chance Basin, located along Gold Creek a mile above Juneau. They are a remnant of the Alaska Juneau Mine (AJ), which was one of the Juneau area’s major lode gold mines.
Miners had begun developing lode deposits in Silverbow Basin, just above Last Chance Basin, in 1881, a year after gold was discovered there by Joe Juneau and Frank Harris. According to Earl Redman’s book, The Juneau Gold Belt, the first claim staked was filed on behalf of Nathan Fuller, one of the men who grubstaked Harris and Juneau. That staking was the progenitor claim for the AJ.
In 1910 the AJ’s directors determined that ensuring mine profitability meant operating year-round and building milling facilities at tidewater. To accomplish this, a 6,500-foot-long adit (a mine’s horizontal entrance) was drilled through the ridge between Silverbow and Last Chance Basins, and a 10,000-foot-long narrow-gauge railway was constructed along Last Chance Basin’s eastern edge, and through tunnels drilled beneath Mount Roberts to the mill site above Gastineau Channel. The above-ground portion of the railway was covered with wooden snow sheds in 1917, and the mine began operating 24-hours-a day, 363 days a year, closing only for the Fourth of July and Christmas.
A support camp was built at the old Jualpa (JUneau ALaska PennsylvaniA) placer mine in Last Chance Basin. National Park Service records state the camp’s facilities eventually included a dormitory, mess hall, heating plant, compressor building, transformer building, locomotive repair shop, railway-car repair/blacksmithing facility, and a powder magazine.
Between 1910 and 1941 (the mine’s last profitable year) the AJ became the largest low-grade ore gold producer in the world. After the demise of Juneau’s other major gold producers, the Treadwell and the Perserverence/Alaska Gastineau mines, the AJ absorbed their assets. At its peak the AJ employed over 1,000 workers, and processed about 12,000 tons of ore each day.
With the start of World War II in 1941, many AJ employees enlisted or found higher-paying defense industry jobs. The federal government, which, in 1942 closed most gold mines in the nation as nonessential wartime industries, allowed the AJ to stay open since it provided electricity to Juneau. However, with the manpower shortage, local union demands for increased wages, and a fixed $35-per-ounce price for gold, the mine proved unprofitable and closed in 1944.
Mine directors kept facilities mothballed, but the mine never re-opened. Most mine holdings were sold for salvage. Unfortunately, the mill facility at Juneau accidentally burned down during salvage operations in 1965.
The Jualpa Camp dormitory, mess hall and heating plant were destroyed by fire in 1967. In 1972 the Alaska Electric Power and Light Company purchased the remaining AJ property and facilities, and that same year the City of Juneau acquired the Jualpa Mine Camp property from the power company. A year later the car repair and blacksmithing building burned down.
In 1976, with a federal US Bicentennial grant, the city established a mining museum in Jualpa Mine Camp’s compressor building. The camp, including museum, is now operated by the Gastineau Channel Historical Society as the Last Chance Mining Museum and Historical Park.
Among the park’s primary attractions are the buildings shown in the drawing. The compressor building, of post and beam construction, is to the right. It housed a number of compressors, the largest being a huge Ingersol-Rand compressor, which was one of the largest compressors in the world and is still in the building. The ruins of the locomotive repair shop are above and behind the compressor building. The wood-frame transformer building, which used to contain the step-down transformers necessary to reduce the 23,000 volts received from the Salmon Creek hydroelectric project to the 2200 volts required by the Ingersol-Rand compressor, is to the left. On the same level as the locomotive shop are the remains of three electric-powered locomotives and several railway cars.
Jualpa Mine Camp is certainly a fascinating place to poke around. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1993.
- Hard Rock Gold: The Story of the Great Mines that were the Heartbeat of Juneau. David & Brenda Stone. 1980
- “Historic Structures Report. Jualpa Mine Camp of the Alaska Juneau Gold Mining Company.” Gary H Gillette. City and Borough of Juneau. 1990
- The Juneau Gold Belt, A History of the Mines and Miners. Earl Redman. Gastineau Channel Historical Society. 1988
- “Jualpa Mine Camp, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.” Gary H. Gillette. National Park Service. 1993