Local group uncovers lost piece of Southeast Alaska's gold mining history
Article by Brian Weed
An old map of Eagle River and the location of the ghost town, Amalga.
Twenty-five miles north of downtown Juneau, hidden in the Tongass National Forest rest the remains of the once profitable gold mining town of Amalga. The town's beginnings can be traced back to a chance discovery made by Neil Ward and O.L. Sandstone, who were prospecting near Eagle Glacier in 1902. After a hard day's work, they were heading back to camp, and Neil wanted to stop for a break. He leaned against an uprooted tree to catch his breath, and was surprised to see gold-bearing quartz trapped in the root system of the tree. C. D. Mallory of Macon, Georgia, learned of the find and took an option on the property later in 1902. With the help of Bart Thane, the Eagle River Mining Company was born. Around this time, the Daily Alaska Dispatch stated, “The ore at the Eagle River property is said to be the richest in Alaska.” When the mine started up, Paddy O’Neil became the mine foreman. He hired 25 men to work inside the mine and another 25 for the mill and support buildings. Several years later O’Neil became famous for driving the 2-mile-long Sheep Creek tunnel for the Alaska Gastineau Company. The Eagle River Mining Company in Amalga. Photo circa approx. 1910.
Thane became superintendent, and under his watchful eye a seven-mile road was built from the mine to Amalga Harbor. A 10-stamp mill was brought in, and flumes, a waterpower plant, boarding house, bunkhouse, general store, assay office, sawmill, blacksmith, machine shop and two-mile horse tramway were built. By 1904 the mill was fully operational. Another 10-stamp arrived in 1905. The Douglas Island News reported the mine was doing so well, that the men did not have to work on Sundays but still received half pay for the day. Mallory was in Juneau in February overseeing the mine, but then left town quickly in early March. A Juneau newspaper mentioned that Mallory, of the Eagle River mines, was a passenger on the Princess May as it was heading south. However, the Ketchikan Mining Journal reported that he was actually chased out of town after being charged with seducing the young daughter of a prominent resident of Juneau. A number of shots were exchanged between the parent and Mallory before he was run out of town. The mine continued to operate from 1904 to 1915. A total of 74,876 tons of ore was mined, with 19,451 ounces of gold recovered and 8,900 ounces of silver, for a total of $399,991 dollars or about 10 million dollars at today’s prices. The peak year was 1908 which produced a total of $97,376. After 1908 the gold production dropped drastically. Thane left the Eagle River Mine in 1910 to become the superintendent of the Kensington operation north of Berners Bay, and James Whipple became the new superintendent. Over the next few years more tunnels were dug but less and less gold was extracted each year. In 1915 mining stopped for good at the Eagle River Mine, and the town of Amalga was abandoned. Most residents quickly moved out of the company town, but a few stayed as late as the 1930s. Many of the buildings were dismantled, and, along with some of the lighter pieces of equipment, hauled out on the seven-mile-long horse tram. Over time the remaining buildings fell down due to snowfall and rotting timbers. Nature took over and the area was covered with brush and moss. In 1935 and 1940 the area was explored once again. The Whelan Exploration Company restaked the area in 1980, and Placid Oil Co. and Houston Oil and Minerals Co. did some drilling in 1981, 1982 and 1985. Over five and a half miles of underground workings exist in the area with 10 different levels, however most are now caved in. The buildings are flat and in ruins; the remains of the old aerial tramway still exist and head up the hill towards the caved in tunnels. The Risdon Stamp Mill, now uncovered, stands out on the hillside looking very out of place. Using a GPS application on my phone called “BackCountry Navigator,” several old pictures, and a map from 1914, I recently visited the site on two different occasions with other members of the hiking group, Juneau's Hidden History, to locate the center of the ghost town. Greg Taylor, Gerald Hewes, Jennifer Garcia, Ammie Rector, Jason Rupp and I searched around the area. Four-inch-thick moss covered everything and Devil’s club and alders were thick on the hillside. After a few minutes of looking over the area, it appeared that there were no manmade objects around us. I began to get worried I had messed up on the GPS data, or flipped the image of the town around somehow. As my doubt took hold, Greg yelled out that he had found something. It was a 55-gallon barrel that had been converted into a wood stove. Jackpot! Nearby we peeled back sections of moss from the ground; dishes, pots and pans were uncovered. The foot of a stamp from the mill, a wash basin, and then a large boiler were found. A bottles and pans that had been buried beneath moss in the ghost town of Amalga. | photo: Brian Weed
With our excitement growing, we split up and started to grid search the area. Using the old photos of town we began to locate where the buildings once stood. The machine shop/lumber mill and blacksmith were located, and the ghost town of Amalga started to take shape. Large pieces of equipment covered in several inches of moss went unnoticed for some time as we walked around them. The remains of Superintendent Thane's house were located, along with the Risdon 10-Stamp Mill that was not removed from the mine upon its closing in 1915. We carefully removed moss from the larger pieces of equipment and building ruins, and took photos and video during the process in order to show the before and after taking place. We marked several GPS coordinates on our maps to show where the buildings once stood. The town of Amalga could be seen once more. We spent several hours locating some of the collapsed adits in the area. Many still had rail tracks covered in moss running right to them from the town site. Members of the Juneau Hidden History group exploring the Amalga site. | photo: Brian Weed
We followed the tram cable up the hill to the 1800 foot level to find the main working adit, and dump sites. The most unique thing we found up on the moss covered mountain was a claw-footed bathtub, which seemed to weigh several hundred pounds. It was tipped on its side next to an old wheelbarrow. Piles of old boots, glass bottles, and rusty pieces of food cans were everywhere on the hillside. Our group explored Amalga until late in the afternoon. Heading back to camp was difficult as going downhill is often harder than going uphill. We arrived at the Eagle River cabin late in the afternoon, where our friend, Gordon Taylor, was waiting for us and that afternoon we soaked our tired feet at Eagle River Falls, about ¼ mile south of the cabin. The group spent the night at the cabin, enjoying the wonderful views of Eagle Glacier and the pink mountain tops at sunset. In the morning, we hiked out the 5 ½ miles back to the parking lot. What an amazing adventure! Eagle River Falls | photo: Brian Weed
Eagle Glacier Trail is located at mile 27.3 Glacier Highway in Juneau, Alaska. The trail to the cabin is 5½ miles long. The cabin can be rented at recreation.gov. The trail is strenuous but has very little elevation gain. Several washed out sections, fallen trees, and many dangerously slick wooden stairs exist on this trail. With full overnight packs and our packrafts on our backs it took us a little more than three hours from the parking lot to the cabin. It is also possible to rent a helicopter and fly in, as there is a clearing near the Eagle River Cabin. On one trip we flew in with Temsco Helicopters (www.temscoair.com) about $800 one way, split between four people. The trail continues another 2 miles past the cabin toward Eagle Glacier, but at this time it is nearly impossible to reach the face of Eagle Glacier due to the steep cliffs on either side, and quicksand-like silt at the river delta. As you hike this trail remember the miners that came before you. They left a lot of history behind. Enjoy it while you can; it will not be here forever.
VIDEO OF TRIP: Juneau's Hidden History group uncovers Amalga. | Video: Brian Weed For more information about Juneau's Hidden History group, or renting the Eagle River cabin, click on the links below. Juneau's Hidden History | Eagle River Cabin Article by Brian Weed Originally published in the July/August 2016 issue of Last Frontier Magazine
I had no idea after living here 35 years. I love this stuff.
Miss hiking up there! Remember a great ski trip up the river the winter of 89-90 no cabin then! We went right up close to the glacier and it was amazing! Thanks for sharing!
Very interesting historic information and thank you for sharing your treasure.
Agreed! There’s so much out there that we pass by all the time, without realizing it is there.
You can follow more of our history adventures around Southeast Alaska on Facebook, our group is called Juneau’s Hidden History. Just search for us on Facebook. I recommend checking out the photo or video section… we have some amazing stuff.
Interesting article, fabulous video, lovely song.
This was so interesting, can only imagine what still, is in the findings of Alaska.
Love all of the stories I can find