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Beneath Still Waters: Charting the Hidden Legacies of Alaska's Historic Gold Mills

Authors: Paul White*, University of Nevada - Reno
Topics: Historical Geography, Environment
Keywords: Mining, Environmental change
Session Type: Poster
Presentation File: No File Uploaded


During the late nineteenth to mid twentieth centuries, three mining companies near Juneau, Alaska achieved international acclaim for their profitable working of large, low-grade (poor value) gold deposits. The Treadwell Gold Mines (1882-1917) for a time touted the world’s largest gold processing facility. In 1913, the Alaska Gastineau Gold Mining Company (1911-1921) demonstrated the first successful application of mass-milling techniques on precious metal ores. Two years later, the Alaska Juneau Gold Mines (1897-1957) began construction of a state-of-the-art plant that briefly returned the title of world’s largest gold operation to the Alaska Territory. All three companies were sited along Gastineau Channel, a navigable strait separating Douglas Island from the Alaskan mainland. It was along the shores of this channel where the Treadwell, Alaska Gastineau, and Alaska-Juneau companies constructed their milling plants, and where more than 99 percent of the material received from the mines—amounting to several million tons of rock—was discarded. Salvage and abandonment have since reduced the surface visibility of Juneau’s mining past, but the legacies of historic milling operations remain evident in other ways. This poster analyzes historic bathymetric maps to reveal how decades of milling operations altered the depth and coastline of Gastineau Channel, leaving an enduring footprint that contrasts with the "out of sight, out of mind" philosophy that historically justified such dumping practices.

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