The conception of Independence Mine was proof of what thinking outside the box can do. Robert Lee Hatcher, who became the namesake of the area in which Independence Mine resides, wasn’t content to seek his riches from the gold-laden creeks in what became known as the Willow Creek Mining District. He knew there had to be a source for all the wealth many were pulling out of the creeks, and he searched the mountains until he literally struck gold. In 1906 he staked a claim high in the mountains, and I doubt he knew his discovery would become the most abundant and concentrated gold mine in Southcentral Alaska. That only came to be because many innovative miners wised up and realized their finances and energy would be far more useful together. One large company was created, called the Alaska-Pacific Consolidated Mining Company, and its gold claims in the area covered over 1,300 acres of land. The weight of gold extracted from Hatcher Pass came to nearly 39,000 pounds. In today’s dollars, that would bring in over $300 million dollars.
What gets my curiosity going the most is wondering what daily life was like for the people living and working there. Were the handful of wives and mothers that lived in the small settlement near the mines excited to be part of such a grand adventure? What was school like for the children in a frenzied mining area? Did the miners consider their sacrifices worth it years later?
Did they look up at the mine shafts in wonderment or dread every morning after what was probably too short of a rest?
I will never know how these people felt and lived, but I can only imagine how thrilling and exhausting this lifestyle was. I feel privileged to experience this remnant of recent history in Alaska, and I'm already planning trips to more of the historic mines in the state! To read more about gold mining in Hatcher Pass (and read where I got much of this information), visit these sites: HERE and HERE. And check out Remembering the Gold Days, my first post in this series of two.
I was wearing two pairs of socks, insulated boots, two pairs of pants and a down skirt, five shirt and coat layers, a scarf around my neck, and three layers of headgear to keep warm. Two degrees Fahrenheit was warm enough for me to have an adventure. Putting one boot in front of the other, my faithful companion (husband) and I began our mile-long ascent from the parking lot to the old mine. On either side of us, sharp peaks stood tall and immovable in the brilliant sun. The biting wind had carved patterns in the deep snow that laid on the gentle slopes between the peaks and our little trail.
We were walking over what I like to call Styrofoam snow. Because the snow was so dry from temperatures well below freezing, and because many heavy winter boots had traveled over it and packed it down, its consistency was firm yet springy (when we weren’t falling through a soft spot up to our thighs). The path protested our disturbance by uttering strange groans and creaks, almost like sand barking under our feet.
We finally crested the hill and got our first good vantage point of Independence Mine. This beautifully preserved place always strikes me with awe and giddiness. Somehow the reality of gold miners living and working in this area during the first five decades of the twentieth century seems so distant. But this particular mine stopped operating only sixty-four years ago, in January of 1951.
We tromped around between buildings, crashing through packed snow every ten steps or so (we didn’t think to bring our snowshoes since we have virtually no snow at home in Anchorage). The sun, as it dropped toward the mountains, brought out the details of weather-beaten siding and cheerful red trim on tall, slender buildings. We were alone; no other hikers were enjoying the mine, and the silence was delightful. The mountains framed us in on three sides, and my husband laughed at his echo yelling back at him.
I studied the splintery wooden structures cascading down the mountainside from the mine shaft. I tried to imagine hundreds of men (and perhaps a few women sprinkled in) furiously working together to bring in their fortunes. Join me later this week as I share more photos and history of this fascinating place!
I'm a mom of twins, published author, editor, amateur photographer, and nature enthusiast with an unlimited supply of curiosity. Come discover the little wonders I find during my everyday life in Alaska.
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