VIII. KETCHIKAN AND WRANGELL MINING DISTRICTS (Historic Information)
Mining interests in the Wrangell district began with the opening of the placer workings on the bars of Stikine River in 1862, but they did not assume a serious aspect until the attention of the world was drawn to the Klondike discoveries of 1896. The official headquarters of the district, Fort Wrangell, for nearly a century was known successively as a Russian station, a Hudson Bay trading post, and a military post for United States troops. With a population of nearly one thousand, including natives, its local lumber and canning industries are supplemented by its trade relations with the Canadian miners in the Cassiar district and also with the various mineral operations in adjacent American camps. Being on the line of semi-weekly steamers from Seattle to Juneau, it is the natural transshipping point for the mines tributary to the Stikine River, and in connection therewith a river steamer makes regular summer trips as far as Telegraph Creek, 170 miles up the Stikine.
The Wrangell and Ketchikan mining districts are here treated together, as they originally formed one district and were divided in 1901 by order of the United States Supreme Court, in order to facilitate the transaction of business connected with recent mining developments at Ketchikan. The Wrangell district has as its northern limits Frederick Sound and Chatham Strait, while the Ketchikan district is bounded on the north by Sumner Strait and Ernest Sound and on the south by the international boundary. Two-thirds of the land areas, and even a greater portion of the valuable mineral deposits were thus transferred to the new district, which is now the more important of the two.
Apart from its mining interests, which naturally centre there as the official head-quarters, Ketchikan is an incorporated town of about 1,300 inhabitants, with quite extensive business interests. It is by law the first port of call for all steamers doing business with southeastern Alaska, which are required to here make entry of cargo and passengers. It has two good hotels, several large outfitting stores, canneries, a fish-plant, saw-mills, and is the commercial distributing point for adjacent regions. It is well provided with educational and religious institutions; has waterworks, electric-fight plants, telephonic service, and other modern equipment. Picturesquely located, with its famous salmon stream and forested hills, Ketchikan is an attractive place. Built with some difficulty, owing to the broken, hilly ground, it has an excellent system of board walks and roads, most creditable to the town. By almost daily steamers in summer, and semi-weekly in winter, Seattle is reached 660 miles to the south and Juneau 240 miles to the north. Local lines of steamers run with some regularity to Port Simpson, up the Skeena River, and to Prince of Wales Island.
The Ketchikan mining district comprises Cleveland Peninsula, the mainland between Portland and Behm Canals, the important islands of Prince of Wales and. Revillagedo (on which the town of Ketchikan is situated), and contiguous islets.
The most valuable ores are copper, and the only copper-producing mines of southeastern Alaska are in this district. Before 1905 the output, with by-products of gold and silver, aggregated about $200,000. Extended mining operations were then initiated and the values reached from six mines $339,000 in 190o, and from ten mines $920,000 in 1906. The average value per ton for two years was $10.80, and estimated output $840,000 in 1907. The decrease in the production for 1907 was due to the general depression in copper trade throughout the world, which rendered the mining of low-grade ores unprofitable in Alaska, as elsewhere. The general richness of the Alaskan copper mines, however, stimulated capitalists to extended operations in their development throughout the district. In all Alaska fifteen mines made shipments of copper in 1907 as against fourteen in 1906, ten being in southeastern Alaska, and there was increased activity in prospecting. Naturally the depression of the autumn of 1907 temporarily closed many mines.
The centre of copper-mining activity is Prince of Wales Island, where the earliest important developments were on the west coast, at or near Hetta Inlet, in the Copper Mountain, Jumbo, Red Wing, and Corbin mines. At Copper Mountain a 250-ton smelter was constructed and operated, while long tramways and wharves were built at Niblack, Skowl Arm, Karta Bay, Hetta Inlet, etc. Saw-mills and shops were erected and operations were usually by power, steam, or water.
Later there were very valuable deposits developed on the east coast, on and near Kasaan Peninsula, for which a smelting plant of 350 tons capacity was built and operated at Hadley, which has become a considerable centre. In 1907 there were thirty or more copper mines in process of development or operation on Kasaan Peninsula, which had become the principal copper-producing region of Alaska. The most important of the developed mines are those operated by the Brown-Alaska, Hadley-Consolidated, Mount Andrew, and Rust and Brown mining companies. There are other copper mines, promising or producing, on or adjoining Karta and Tolstoi Bays, Moira Sound, Skowl Arm, and also on Gravina Island opposite Ketchikan.
While the low price of copper caused several mines to suspend operations during 1908, yet there was an output of about 2,000 short tons of copper.
The ultimate success of copper mining in Alaska, as indeed elsewhere, depends on large preliminary expenditures of an unproductive character, both in the mine itself and also in necessary plants. Even in the richest mine dividends are the outcome of judicious expenditures and of an able, economical administration.
Regarding silver, lead, and zinc it may be briefly stated that they are not plentiful in Ketchikan or Wrangell districts, and efforts for their development have been hitherto unprofitable.
But few of the numerous gold prospects in Ketchikan district have developed to the producing stage. Many are at present unpromising, as profitable working depends very largely on nearness to tide-water to insure cheap transportation, and to water-power for economical operation. The gold ores are largely free-milling, and are most advantageously treated in stamp mills by amalgamation and reduction. Lode ores are present in greater quantity, as well as the lower-grade vein ores; both types are mined with profit under skilled and economical management. Promising gold prospects have been located at Thorne Arm, George Inlet, Tongass Narrows, and Kasaan Bay, while small and increasing profits are being made at favorable mines on Cleveland Peninsula, Revillagigedo, and Gravina Islands.
A new industry of southeastern Alaska pertains to building materials, the non-metallic minerals of cement, gypsum, clay, and granite being widely distributed. Marble quarries have been located and opened at various points on Prince of Wales Island, though very promising deposits are elsewhere in process of exploitation. The most extensive operations have been made by the Alaska Marble Company, whose quarries near Shakan have been worked since 1905. They have ample installation and plant in the shape of a gravity railroad, dressing and cutting machinery, with suitable shipping facilities. The importance of the industry is shown by the increase of shipments of marble and gypsum from $11,995 in 1906 to $71,958 in 1907, and yet greater in 1908.
Not only are the deposits most extensive in distribution and practically inexhaustible in quantity, but the marble is of the best quality. It is free from silica and flint, takes the chisel readily, presents a beautiful surface, and has an average crushing strength of over ten thousand pounds. The main deposits are of three varieties, pure white, light blue, and white with blue veins, some of the colored marbles being unexcelled by the finest Italian products.
The only known gypsum deposit is that of Chichagof Island which is largely developed, its output in 1906 being valued at S17,500.
Granite of good uniform color and in favorable location has been noted, but its development is not yet attempted. Mr. Wright, the geologist, estimates that granite can be quarried in the Ketchikan district most reasonably, while the freight to Puget Sound is very moderate.
In general it may be said that the future of mining in the Ketchikan district, especially of copper, appears certain of steady and extensive development. While its plants are necessarily costly, its labor uncertain, and competition threatening, yet the availability of water power, the richness of the deposits, facility of working, and cheapness of transportation are factors that should insure its continued prosperity.