Tag Archives: Alaska Mining Hall of Fame

The Davidson Ditch

borderedThe January-February, 2020 issue of Alaskan History Magazine featured an article about the Davidson Ditch, a combination pipeline and actual ditch or channel which winds through the hills northeast of Fairbanks. Built in the 1920s, it begins just below the confluence of Ruby Creek and Sourdough Creek, just north of the Chatanika River, and runs 90 miles to the old FE Gold mining operations, more or less paralleling today’s Steese Highway. Abandoned in the 1960’s, it was the first large-scale pipeline project in Alaska, and lessons learned in its construction were applied to building the 800-mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline System from Valdez to Prudhoe Bay half a century later. 

The entire system was gravity fed, utilizing no pumps or mechanics. A containment dam fed water into open ditches which gradually descended along ridge lines. Fifteen inverted siphons channeled the water down hillsides, across intersecting streams, and back up to the grade level. A 3,700-foot long tunnel was blasted though a ridge between Chatanika and Goldstream Valley.

DD pipeline 420

Mining engineer Norman C. Stines, an unusual man with an equally unusual history, had worked abroad with some of the preeminent mining engineers in the world. He had observed the success of the huge gold mining dredges near Nome, and he believed the same technique would prove profitable in the Fairbanks area, but the lack of available water presented a problem. 

Dredges, which work from barges, require tremendous amounts of water to float the barges, thaw the permafrost, and remove the overburden, exposing the gold-bearing ground. In their research document The Davidson Ditch, produced for the cultural resource consulting firm Northern Land Use Research, Inc. in 2005, Catherine Williams and Sarah McGowan wrote, “Only by moving millions of cubic yards of the muck overlying gold-bearing gravels …. could the low-grade placer gold deposits be mined profitably.”

Chatanika RiverIn the 1930s the famed musher Leonhard Seppala, who had braved blizzard conditions in the 1925 Serum Run to Nome, lived at Chatanika and patrolled the Davidson Ditch with his dogteam, ensuring the steady flow of water to the gold dredges was not interrupted. 

Today the rusty red pipeline is visible from several places along the Steese Highway, and a Davidson Ditch Historical Site at milepost 57.3 tells of the history and construction. Abandoned in the late 1960s, the remains of the conduit are partially protected by its inclusion in the White Mountains National Recreation Area. It is eligible for the National Register of Historic Places, but to date it has not been listed. 

Resources:

Davidson Ditch: Huge aqueduct boosted Interior Alaska’s gold rush, maybe saved Fairbanks, article by Ned Rozell, Anch. Daily News, Sept. 27, 2013.  

Alaska Mining Hall of Fame  – Biography of James M. Davidson

• Wikipedia – A detailed history of the planning, surveying, construction, technical details, and more.

 Davison Ditch Pipeline Display, Pioneers of Alaska Fairbanks – photos of the pipeline display, related historic photos and history

 

Irving M. Reed

oie_21234926N4BBt391In his classic 1969 book, Boyhood in the Nome Gold Camp (Mineral Industry Research Laboratory, University of Alaska), Irving McKenny Reed records the observations made by an enthusiastic young boy in one of Alaska’s great gold mining towns at the height of its glory: Nome between 1900 and 1903.

An article in the July-August issue of Alaskan History Magazine highlights the young Reed’s adventures in Nome. He was only ten years old when he, his mother, and his six-year-old sister traveled by ship from Seattle to Dutch Harbor, where Irving’s father was developing a sulphur mine. It was a storm-tossed, 34-day voyage, but only the beginning of his life of Alaskan adventures. Irving Reed would grow up in the remote mining camps of Nome, Iditarod, Livengood, and Takotna, and he would go on to be a respected mining engineer, Alaska’s first fire warden, a State Game Commissioner for 12 years, and the Territorial Highway Engineer.  His complete biography can be read at the Alaska Mining Hall of Fame, and a collection of Irving Reed’s photographs at the University of Fairbanks, including several photos from the Iditarod Trail in the 1920’s, can be found here.

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Article in the July-August issue of Alaskan History Magazine.