Tag Archives: Chatanika

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.

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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

 

Canvas Tents

The July-August issue of Alaskan History Magazine includes a collection of early photographs of the ubiquitous white canvas tent which housed thousands of Alaskan pioneers, from prospectors to doctors and from explorers to families. A few are shared below, and several which didn’t run in the issue are also shown here.

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E. P. Pond, ca. 1897. [Winter & Pond photo. ASL-P87-0722. ]

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Rear view of Marshal’s tent & barricade on Western Railway Company’s grade, Lowe River, Keystone Canyon, north of Valdez, September, 1907. Two men were shot in a dispute with Home Railway men. [Photographer P.S. Hunt, UAF-1980-68-44]

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Glacier Creek Roadhouse, Nome, Alaska, July 13th, 1906. [photo by F.H. Nowell]

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There are several signs in this photograph. The most prominent one reads: “Law office. Martin, Joslin & Griffin. Lawyers and mining brokers.” The sign on the tent to the left of the law office reads: “Bank of British North America.” Another smaller difficult to read sign on the law office appears to read: “Lots in A [illegible, possibly: 1/2] days addition [illegible].” Another sign on the law office appears to read: “Martin, Joslin & Griffin, mining brokers.” The last sign reads: “Office of Yukon Exploration Co. Falcon Joslin, manager. Mines, real estate, loans, investment.” The signs indicate this is in the Yukon Territory. Falcon Joslin lived in Dawson, Y.T., from 1897 to 1902. [UAF-1979-41-438. Falcon Joslin Papers]

Winter and Pond at the Taku Glacier.

Photographers Winter and Pond at the Taku Glacier.

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Chatanika, Alaska, Fairbanks Mining District, 1912. [Photo by Basil Clemons. Harold and Leila Waffle Collection, Alaska State Library. ASL-P281-073]

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Tent roadhouse, sign: “BEDS”, Ruby, Alaska. Undated. [ASL-P68-057.
Basil Clemons Photograph Collection, 1911-1914. ASL-PCA-68]

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A tent at Twelve-Mile, June 12, 1898. Four men and a dog pose in front of tent on rocky beach. Two hold saws, one a pickaxe. A clothesline with shirts stretches from tent. Photographer’s number 30. [ASL-P201-030. Neal D. Benedict Collection, ca. 1900. ASL-PCA-201]

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Tent store, Shushanna (Chisana), Alaska, June, 1914. Hand-written note across photo reads, “In God I trusted, Here I busted, Be God;” man sits in front of tent with sign reading “Store, Louis K. Schonborn.” [ASL-P178-149. Lorain Roberts Zacharias Collection, ca. 1903-1921. ASL-PCA-178]

U. S. Mail at Eldorado, Chisana, Alaska, June 22, 1915.

U. S. Mail at Eldorado, Chisana, Alaska, June 22, 1915.

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White Pass & Yukon Railroad hospital tent, Skagway, Alaska. Several men in hospital beds and in attendance. Photographer’s number 88. [photographer Harrie C. Barley, ASL-P75-020. Paul Sincic. Photographs, ca. 1898-1915. ASL-PCA-75]

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A photograph from Alaskan photographer P. S. Hunt shows travelers gathered at a tent roadhouse at the north end of the Valdez Glacier, on the gold rush trail to the Klondike, 1899.