Monday, November 7, 2011

All that's left of Eldorado - Chatanika Valley, Alaska

Eldorado Creek building as it looked in 1994

The Tanana Valley Railroad (which operated from 1905 to 1930 under various names and owners) used to run 35 miles from Fairbanks to Chatanika through country that, although close to town, probably relatively few people have seen. The TVRR followed the route of the present-day Alaska Railroad right-of-way from Fairbanks to the Goldstream Valley, then along Goldstream to Fox and the old townsite of Gilmore, and over the hills to the old Olnes townsite about 20 miles north of Fairbanks (the Elliot Highway follows roughly the same route). Then the railroad right-of-way turned east-northeast and ran an additional six miles to Chatanika.

About half way from Olnes to Chatanika the railroad crossed Little Eldorado Creek, which flowed down from the Cleary Summit area to the south. Three miles up that creek was the bustling little mining hamlet of Eldorado City, so it was natural that a small train station was established at Little Eldorado Creek and a road constructed to Eldorado City. For many years the building in this drawing was identified as "the" Eldorado Station.

However, some old-timers say it is actually an Eldorado City building that was put on skids and hauled down the creek at a later date. Eldorado City is now gone. In fact, the town didn't even survive into the mid 1900s. The easy gold diggings in the Fairbanks area were exhausted by the mid 1910s, and many of the smaller gold camps such as Eldorado City just withered away. Even Fairbanks experienced a drastic population decrease.

Then the Fairbanks Exploration Company moved into the area in the 1920s, bought up mining claims along all the major creeks and began dredging. Eldorado City's buildings had to be moved or destroyed to make way for the dredge which began operations in 1947. So in either case, this is all that's left of Eldorado.

The old TVRR right-of-way through the Chatanika Valley passes through a lot of low-lying muskeg and marshy areas, and the building in the picture is pretty much impossible to get to to except during winter. Back in the mid-1990s a group of us railroad buffs tried to walk the old right-of way from Olnes to Chatanika one summer, but when the ground under our feet started acting like Jello we turned back. I was able to get out there by waiting until early October, after the ground had frozen but before deep snow covered the trail. Then I hiked in the three or so miles from the Chatanika end. (In my next post I'll talk about my hike out there and put up a few photos of other sights along the way.)

If you look closely at the drawing you will see a large post propped against the back of the building. There were actually about 10 or so posts back there holding the building up, and numerous small posts inside holding up the second floor. I haven't been out there in over 10 years, so who knows what is left of Eldorado now.


  • Fairbanks North Star Borough property records
  • “Historic Resources in the Fairbanks North Star Borough,” Janet Matheson & F. Bruce Haldeman, 1981, Fairbanks North Star Borough
  • “Tanana Valley Railroad, the Gold Dust Line,” Nicholas Deely, 1996, Denali Designs
  • “History of Alaska Operations of United States Smelting, Refining and Mining Company,” John Boswell, 1979, Mineral Industries Research Laboratory, University of Alaska

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