Thursday, November 1, 2012

Nordale Adit at Homestake mine a remnant of Fairbanks hard-rock mining

Before the development of Fort Knox gold mine northeast of Fairbanks, it’s likely that most people had only heard about the Fairbanks area’s placer gold production.

The early drift mines and later dredges that tore hundreds of millions of dollars worth of gold from the frozen gravels of streams such as Cleary, Fairbanks, Ester and Engineer creeks received most of the press, but the hills above the streams also supported hard rock mines. The gold-bearing quartz veins in the area were not very large and could never be classified as bonanzas, but they did support a few dozen mines. The remains of some of these mines can still be seen on Ester Dome and in the Cleary Creek drainage.

All placer gold begins as lode gold, which is embedded in rock. When gold-bearing rock such as quartz is exposed, it eventually erodes, freeing at least some of the gold. The gold may then work its way downslope and end up in placer deposits.

Soon after placer gold is discovered in an area, prospectors invariably begin looking for the “mother lodes.” Sure enough, according to the U.S. Bureau of Mines publication, “Gold-Lode Deposits, Fairbanks Mining District,” the first gold-quartz claim in the Fairbanks area was staked in 1903, about a year after placer gold was discovered by Felix Pedro.

Five years later, in 1908, the Homestake Mining Company located a gold-quartz claim at the head of Wolf Creek, about 20 miles northeast of Fairbanks. The drawing is of a headfame at the mine, used to hoist ore buckets out of the mine. Across the road from the headframe is a building that probably housed the hoist’s engine.

The company excavated a south trending adit (a horizontal or nearly horizontal tunnel used to enter a mine) and began hauling out ore. This adit is now called the “Nordale Adit,’ (named for Anton J. Nordale, Fairbanks hotel owner and a principal in the Homestake Mining Company.) 

Between 1908 and 1938, miners excavated more than 800 feet of southerly tunnel, and another 1,500 feet of drifts (tunnels that followed the mineralization) to the east and west. During that same period about 2,900 ounces of gold was taken from the mine. (Much of that gold ore was processed at the McCarty stamp mill, about two miles away on the other side of the ridge.) During World War II, gold mining was considered a non-essential wartime activity, and all gold production in the United States was halted in 1942. The Nordale Adit was closed down, just as every other gold mine was.

Post-war production costs, coupled with the expenses of rehabilitating a closed mine, prevented the re-opening of the Nordale Adit until 1982. The mine then operated until 1986 when the adit’s portal collapsed, sealing off the mine.

Numerous other old diggings are located in the immediate area. Old U.S. Geological Survey maps show at least a half dozen old mine sites within a mile of the Nordale Adit. Standing on the edge of the road, mere yards from the headframe, you can look down Wolf Creek gulch and see the ruins of another mine about 300 feet below. 

The friend who tipped me off about the Nordale Adit warned me that there are open shafts in the area, so anyone who goes poking around should be very careful. The headframe is located on state land but there is private property nearby. Please be respectful of property rights.


“A Geologic Reconnaissance of the Fairbanks Quarangle,”  L. M. Prindle, 1913, U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 525

“Gold Lode Deposits, Fairbanks Mining District,” Bruce Thomas, 1973, U.S. Bureau of Mines

“Homestake Mine,” Alaska Resource Data File, C.J. Freeman & J.R. Guidetti Schaefer, 1999,  U.S. Geological Survey

“Mineralization in the Wolf Creek-Fairbanks Creek Area,” Robert Warfield, 1970, U.S. Bureau of Mines

“Mineral Resources of Alaska,” Alfred Brooks, 1916, U.S. Geological survey Bulletin 662

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