Thursday, January 26, 2012

Meandering mining camp? Where is Meehan, Alaska?

The Eagan cabin at Meehan, Alaska—all that's left of the mining camp

Where, oh, where, oh, where is Meehan? That’s what you might wonder looking at different U.S. Geological Survey maps of Fairbanks Creek.  Meehan, active during the early 1900s, was a mining community about 20 miles northeast of Fairbanks. Early maps show it upstream from the confluence of Alder and Fairbanks Creeks, but later maps show it about a mile or so downstream.

In an article in "Alaska Sportsman Magazine" titled “The Silent Creek,” Isabel Eagan Richards (who grew up at Meehan) writes the town was on the north bank of Fairbanks Creek at Discovery claim (the first mining claim staked on a creek). That would place the town where older maps show
it—west of Alder Creek. 

Later maps may be in error because Alder Creek moved. The “Dictionary of Alaska Place Names” indicates that Alder Creek’s channel was altered by mining, and its outlet at Fairbanks Creek moved about one-half mile to the west. It may be that some mapmaker, confused by the surveyor’s notes, moved the town to the east rather than move the creek to the west.

The town was established in about 1905, after the Meehan brothers (Matt, Pat and Tom) staked the Discovery claim (and most other claims along Fairbanks Creek.) The town was the center of social life on Fairbanks Creek during the early 1900s and had a post office, several stores and roadhouses, two dance halls, a restaurant, four saloons and a school. In 1907 it had 300 residents, with maybe another thousand living in the surrounding area.

Isabel Richards’ father, Dan Eagan Sr., walked the 380-mile Valdez-Fairbanks Trail in 1908 and ended up working as a bookkeeper for a Meehan merchant. By 1913 Dan was doing well enough that he and his partner, George Griffin, bought the store, renaming it Eagan and Griffin General Merchandise. That same year, Dan brought his childhood sweetheart, Isabelle, to Alaska, married her, and they set up housekeeping on Fairbanks Creek. The Eagans raised seven children there.

Eagan and Griffin General Merchandise sold a little bit of everything and was a social center for the area. (It was also the post office.) At the center of its large main room was a big barrel stove surrounded by chairs. 

The store also acted as agent for the two banks in Fairbanks: Washington-Alaska Bank and First National Bank. At the back of the store was a small room with a barred window, a counter with a large gold scale and large safe. It was there that miners brought their gold dust to be weighed and traded for currency. Isabel estimated that her father weighed out over $10 million in gold dust at the store.

By the 1930s mining activities at Meehan had ebbed. In 1937 there were only a handful of residents, and in 1942 the post office closed. The store closed and was torn down, and the Eagan clan moved into Fairbanks, leaving the empty family home to decay.

Today all that remains at Meehan is part of Dan and Isabelle Eagan’s home. Their home, which stood next to the store, originally was a large two-story log and frame house. The main part of the home has collapsed and disappeared, and all that remains is what used to be the family kitchen.

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