Story last updated at 8/1/2012 - 6:40 pm
Entrepreneurs spent thousands of dollars to obtain and process gold and copper ore in remote bays in Southeast. Most of these failed operations have long been forgotten. Now trees, devil's club and underbrush have obliterated most of the remains of men's dreams. One such venture took place in William Henry Bay, on the mainland's western shore of Lynn Canal. This became the only commercial copper deposit in Southeast Alaska north of Prince of Wales Island.
Many prospectors wandered the hills of this bay in the early days. I found that L. A. Moore and E. J. Harrison located a quartz claim somewhere in the mountains. Moore was an old-time prospector coming to Juneau prior to 1887. In 1908, the pair hired men to do assessment work such as trenching and trail building. The Juneau newspapers do not mention any further work. By 1916, H. J. Lorenzen of Eugene, Ore., had copper claims. That same year John Faherty had several prospect holes on his property.
The copper claims where major development occurred were located prior to 1915 by three old pioneers: C. C. Miller, Jim Cannon and an unknown third person. Cannon had a farm in William Henry Bay and raised strawberries.
Perhaps Territorial senator E. H. Aldrich heard about the claims and told his cousin, R.E.M. Aldrich of Spokane, Wash. R.E.M came north in 1915 to investigate the discovery and was impressed. He returned to Spokane and interested R. W. Turner, C. Z. Hubbell of Hubbell-Kelly, a Spokane architectural firm, and Walter Meleskey of Portland, Ore. The men agreed to form a company called Alaska Endicott Mining and Milling Company. This company's articles of incorporation were registered December 10, 1915 as a foreign company doing business in the territory of Alaska.
The company was capitalized for $1.2 million, meaning it could raise that much money. It didn't mean that the company had that much money from the incorporators and the trustees. The trustees were all from Spokane: P.A. Paulson, his son Chester Paulson, S.S. Bassett, and C. W. Mason. E. H. Aldrich, a Territorial legislator, was the resident agent.
C. W. Mason was in charge of operations at William Henry Bay. Miners began work on the claims in May 1916 at either the 160- or 300-foot elevation depending upon different accounts. It was during that year that water rights were staked on the north fork of the Beardslee River. This is the only significant stream that enters the bay's head. The Navy officers aboard the "Favorite" in 1880, named it after Commander Beardslee.
Exactly which year the sawmill was erected is unclear. It was used to cut timbers for underground workings and mine buildings, and to construct buildings at the head of the bay on the west side. A wagon road connected the bay with the mine one-mile south-southwest of the head of the bay. John Schnabel, of Haines, told my husband Frank that he heard there was a railway and an electric engine that hauled the ore down from the mine to the shore.
Miners blasted and hauled rock to drive a 1,800-foot adit into the hillside with several drifts, rises, and stopes to reach up or down from the adit. There were a total of 2,400 feet of underground workings by the time the mine was abandoned. These workings followed a quartz-calcite vein in sheared greenstone. It pinched and swelled from nothing to 25 feet, but averaged 5 feet. Calcopyrite and pyrite, copper-bearing ores, made up about one percent of the vein.
However, when a 100-ton sample of ore was sent to the Tacoma smelter in 1917, the returns averaged 1.7 percent copper. This value apparently encouraged the owners to erect a 30 stamp mill purchased from the receivers of the Sea Level gold mine near Ketchikan. This is a huge mill for an unproven mine.
The year 1919 was an exciting year at the mining camp. A pile driver crew began work on a wharf in early February. By June, the foundations for the mill were being placed, and Mason was in Juneau searching for miners and sawmill workers. Frank Metcalf, a Juneau mining engineer, arrived to survey the property. In late August, lumber was being cut for the ore bins and the mill buildings. The adit was in 1,100 feet. The dock was finished in time for ship that arrived in December with the parts of the stamp mill.
In early 1920, the company built a 59-foot wide dam on the Beardslee River and used a 4,400-foot pipeline to carry water to the sawmill and stamp mill to develop electrical power. Primary capacity was 1,250 horsepower with an average of 1,700 h.p. This was sufficient to run the 30-stamp mill: less than that was available for the same mill at Sea Level mine.
Insufficient ore undoubtedly caused the company to abandon the 30 stamp mill and change to a 15 stamp mill in 1922. It took the same number of men to operate either mill, though it took a great deal of mined bare rock in addition to ore to keep the larger mill operational. That took more miners to provide the raw material. The new mill was used at the Comet mine in Berners Bay and sold to Alaska Endicott Mining and Milling Company.
About this time it was found the deposit was smaller than anticipated. The company diamond drilled, and no new ore deposits were found. The enterprise was abandoned.
Production records indicate that 48 ounces of gold and 20 ounces of silver were recovered from 200 tons of ore. The U.S. Bureau of Mines investigated the claims years later. It estimated that the remaining deposit contains about 20,000 tons of ore, but the average grade is only a half percent per ton.
The patented claims of the Alaska Endicott Mining and Milling Company at some time became the property of Alaska Pulp Company. The area was logged in the 1980s, and the roads are now overgrown. The land was purchased from APC in 1998.
Weather began to take a toll on the mine's wooden buildings. Mine and logging machinery began to rust. Inside the adit water dripped, and mine timbers began to sag. The copper mine at William Henry Bay became a faded memory to a few.