|Gilmore McCarty mill as it tooled in the 1990s|
Fairbanks Creek, 20 miles northeast of town, was one of the most productive gold producing areas around Fairbanks. Genevieve Parker Metcalfe, who was the first woman graduate of the Alaska School of Mines (now the University of Alaska), lived along Fairbanks Creek from 1914 to 1921. She noted that several different types of gold mining took place while she lived there.
The Alaska Mining Hall of Fame quotes her as saying, “At the head of the creek the McCartys and, just below them, Tom Gilmore, tunneled hard rock. His ore was processed by a stamp mill. Well below, a very small dredge was owned and operated by an English company. Next came the Parker’s open-cut scraper mine at the mouth of Crane Gulch. At the lower end of the creek, underground mines were needed to reach gold bearing gravel lying under deep gravel and muck.”
Tom Gilmore, whom Genevieve mentioned, was Felix Pedro’s partner. He was one of the many “gumboot” miners (the sourdough term for placer miners) who after chasing alluvial gold for years, decided to trace it to its source and try his hand at lode, or hard-rock mining.
He had a lode mine and stamp mill at No. 13 above Discovery (the 13th claim upstream from the discovery claim). Lew McCarty, along with his sons Lawrence and Bill, tunneled at No. 16 above Discovery, about as far up Fairbanks Creek as you can go.
Stamp mills are necessities in lode mining, crushing ore so minerals can be extracted. They accomplish this by pounding the ore with heavy vertical pistons, or stamps, which are raised and then allowed to fall.
The Citizens Mill on Garden Island (near downtown) was the first stamp mill in the Fairbanks area, opening on Feb. 24, 1909. The day was so momentous that the mayor declared it a holiday. The town of Chena, not to be outdone, soon built its own mill.
The drawback to these mills was that miners had to freight ore to them. As lode mining developed, many owners built stamp mills next to their mines, eventually putting the Citizens and Chena mills out of business. At the peak of lode mining, there were about 10 stamp mills operating in the Fairbanks area.
The Gilmore/McCarty Mill (shown in the drawing) was built by Gilmore, and used by himself and the McCartys to process their ore. Eventually the McCarty’s purchased the mill. The three story wood-frame structure is built on the side of a hill and has cascading shed roofs, typical of many other stamp mills. I’m not sure what sort of sheathing and roofing the building had originally, but in later years it was covered with tarpaper held in place with furring strips.
Much of the building’s machinery has been removed, but it still houses two stamps. According to a 1941 report by the College of Mines, each stamp weighs 1,600 pounds and when in operation the stamps could strike 72 times per minute, allowing the mill to process 10 tons of ore each day.
At first, the mill was powered by a coal-fired boiler, but after the mine was acquired by the Fairbanks Exploration Company, electric lines were strung from the company’s power plant in Fairbanks.
The mine and mill closed down in 1942 and never re-opened. I’ve visited several times.
When I hiked in last year the mill was choked by surrounding trees, the lowest level’s roof had caved in, and the walls were in danger of collapse as well. It looks like this piece of mining history will not survive much longer.
For additional history of Fairbanks Creek check out these posts: Fairbanks Creek--mining camps, churn drills and gold dredges, and Meandering mining camp? Where is Meehan, Alaska?
- “Genevieve Alice Parker Metcalfe,” By Vieve Metcalfe, Thomas K. Bundtzen and Earl H. Beistline, 2004, Alaska Mining Hall of Fame
- “Historic Resources in the Fairbanks North Star Borough,” Janet Matheson & F. Bruce Haldeman, 1981, Fairbanks North Star Borough
- “History of Lode Mining, Fairbanks District,” parts 1 and 2, Curtis Freeman, 2002, in “Alaska Miner,” vol. 30, nos. 8 (August) & 9 (September)
- “McCarty Mine, Fairbanks District,” no author listed, 2011, Mineral and Locality Database, MinDat.org
- “The McCarty Mine, Fairbanks District, Alaska,” Henry R. Joesting, 1941, Department of Mines, Alaska College of Mines