Friday, April 27, 2012

Mining camps merge to form Livengood in 1914

Livengood garage buildings as they looked in about 2000

In the spring of 1914, two Ester miners, Jay Livengood and Nathaniel “Teddy” Hudson, tramped off to the headwaters of the Tolovana River (about 60 miles northwest of Fairbanks) to prospect for richer diggings. The area had been scouted numerous times already, but color was about all that had been found.

Livengood and Hudson found promising paystreaks and staked claims on Livengood, Gertrude and Olive creeks in July and August. They returned to Ester for supplies and then scurried back to the Tolovana with their partners: Michael Beegler, J. C. Kinney, Gus Conradt, George Wheeler and Teddy’s brothers, James and Clifford.

Although this little expedition was supposedly secret, word leaked out and a small stampede headed to the Tolovana. The book, “Livengood, the Last Stampede,” by Audrey Parker, describes four camps that sprang up in the area. Lake City developed three miles below Discovery claim on Livengood Creek (probably near where the Elliott Highway now crosses the creek). Livengood City spread around the creek’s Discovery claim, and Brooks City was just upstream. In addition, Olive City was located on Olive Creek, about two miles to the east.

Olive City and Lake City quickly disappeared when richer diggings were located elsewhere. By the end of 1915, Brooks City (which had merged with Livengood City) was the surviving camp.

The town’s name was shortened to Brooks, but it did not retain that name for long. When residents applied for a post office that same year, postal officials feared that mail bound for Brooks, Alaska, would be confused with mail headed for Brooks, Alabama. Consequently, the town’s name changed back to Livengood.

As with many of Interior Alaska’s mining areas, underground drifting was the principal mining method. Eventually, as in Fairbanks, dredging was introduced. In the late 1930s, Livengood Placers Inc. brought in a dredge similar to ones used by the Fairbanks Exploration Company. Unfortunately, the venture was unprofitable and dredging ceased before World War II. The dredge was eventually moved to the Koyukuk River area. Mining has continued off and on over the years, and by 1990, more than 460,000 ounces of gold had been recovered from Livengood mines.

When Livengood was established, access was via the winding Tolovana River, or a 60-mile trail from Fairbanks. Residents quickly clamored for better access, and, by the fall of 1915, the Alaska Road Commission had pushed through a rough wagon road from Olnes, a stop on the Tanana Valley Railroad just north of Fairbanks. The wagon road was upgraded in the 1930s and eventually extended to Manley Hot Springs in the 1950s. This road is now the Elliott Highway.

The state of Alaska improved the Elliott Highway in the 1970s. Livengood was bypassed in the process and is now about two miles off the highway. The old highway used to wind along the ridges above Livengood Creek before dropping down into town. The cabins in the drawing are at the bottom of the old road coming off the ridge. A friend of mine, whose uncle is a long-time Livengood resident and still mines there, says these cabins used to house the town garage. The upper log cabin was the office, and the lower frame structure was where vehicles were repaired.

Most of the town’s buildings have been destroyed or have fallen into ruins, but there are still enough left to evoke memories of its pioneer days. Please respect private property if you visit.

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