Saturday, August 30, 2014

Snowy Eagle Summit on August 30th, 2014

Drove up the Steese Highway to Central this morning. The heavy frost I thought I saw on the heights of Eagle Summit turned out to be fresh snow!

Snow was all melted by the time I drove back to Fairbanks in the afternoon, but it was a bit of a shock, nonetheless.

Friday, August 22, 2014

Fairbanks Exploration Company's pump house --a watering hole of a different sort

Pump House Restaurant in Fall 2013

The Pump House Restaurant is one of the premiere dining establishments in the Fairbanks area, but more than 80 years ago it began its life as a different sort of watering hole. It was originally a pumping station to provide water for the Fairbanks Exploration Company’s (F.E.Co.) dredging operations in the Cripple Creek area on the opposite side of Chena Ridge.

The F.E. Co. began dredging north of Fairbanks in the late 1920s, with its first dredges located on Goldstream and Cleary creeks. Water for dredges north of the city came from the Davidson Ditch, which brought water to Fairbanks from the Chatanika River.

When the company decided to dredge near Ester, it needed another water source. To provide the volume of high pressure water necessary to hydraulically strip away thick overburden above the gold-bearing gravels and to thaw frozen gravels, it decided to pump water from the Chena River over Chena Ridge.

National Register of Historic Places documents state that from 1931 to 1933 the F.E. Co. constructed a pump house, three 26-inch pipelines from the river to the top of Chena Ridge, and three miles of open ditches beyond the ridge to carry water to the diggings.

The original pump house building was 20-feet wide by 108-feet long with a gable roof and five skylights to provide interior illumination. Both the roof and exterior walls were covered with corrugated metal sheathing. The pumphouse was set back about 100 feet from the river, with a raceway on the north side of the building carrying water from the river. (The water intake apparatus can be seen in the drawing foreground.) Ten 14-inch double-suction centrifugal pumps (rated at 6,000 gpm) pumped the water up Chena Ridge. Each pump had a 400-hp motor, and electricity was provided by the F.E. Company power plant on Illinois Street.

For those of you wondering where all that water ended up, eventually it flowed back into the Chena River. According to John Boswell’s history of the F.E. Co., two options were considered for routing the return water. The first was a 10,200-foot tunnel through Chena Ridge. The second was a six-mile-long open ditch. The company finally decided the open ditch was more practical. However, even it was not without engineering difficulties since keeping the ditch at the proper grade meant excavating 100-foot-deep cuts in places. The remains of this ditch can still be seen.

After the F.E. Co. shut down its Cripple Creek operations in the 1960s, it closed the pump house. The building sat derelict for years, surrounded by pieces of mining equipment and encroaching trees.
In 1976, Bill and Vivian Bubbel bought the property, planning to convert the building into a restaurant. In 1978 they completed initial renovations for the Pump House Restaurant.

The Bubbels wanted the building to retain its historical significance so renovations incorporated as much of the original structure as possible. The building north exterior looks much the same as it did when it was used as a pumphouse, with the exterior metal wall sheathing being original. A new main entrance on the north side of the building was added, and kitchen and service addition were constructed on the south side of the building.

Inside, the main dining room space has been kept open, and patrons can still see the underside of the original metal roofing. A new insulated roof was installed over the top of that.

The Bubbles, who still own the restaurant, had made additional improvements, including adding a large deck between the restaurant and river. The building is on the National Register of Historic Places, and the Bubbles intend to maintain the building’s historical authenticity.


  • Conversation with Bill Bubbel, co-owner of the Pumphouse Restaurant

  • Historic Resources in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Janet Mattheson & Bruce Haldeman. Fairbanks North Star Borough, 1981

  • History of Alaskan Operations of United States Smelting, Refining and Mining Company. John C. Boswell. Mineral Industries research Laboratory, University of Alaska. 1979

  • “Chena Pump House - National Register of Historic Places Inventory-Nomination Form.” Jane Galblum. National Park Service, 1980

Monday, August 18, 2014

Old farm tractors at Chena Hot Springs

We were up at Chena Hot Springs Resort yesterday and I took photos of the old equipment there. Here are three farm tractors on display.

Ford Model T tractor conversion
Ford Ferguson
Allis Chalmers B

Sunday, August 3, 2014

Ups and downs of Circle City, the "Paris of the North"

Old Circle City cabin in the spring of 2014

Circle is a small, predominantly Athabascan community at the end of the Steese Highway 160 miles northeast of Fairbanks. Located on the Yukon River’s south bank, it began life in 1894 as the supply center for the Circle Mining District 50 miles to the southeast, and as a winter haven for miners frozen out of their diggings.

The cabin in the drawing, dating from Circle’s early days, is located near the town cemetery. It is constructed of squared spruce logs with dove-tailed corners (a traditional Scandinavian technique) and has a galvanized metal roof. It was owned by Circle homesteader, Henry Appel, who willed the building to the Pioneers of Alaska when he died.

According to Melody Webb’s book, Yukon, the last frontier, gold was discovered along Birch Creek (in what is now called the Circle Mining District) in 1892, but mining didn't begin until the next year. In the spring of 1893 the discoverers, Sergei Cherosky and Pitka Pavaloff, returned to their claims after obtaining grubstakes from Leroy “Jack” McQuesten, an agent for the Alaska Commercial Company (ACC).  They were trailed by miners following rumors of a new strike.

The region’s creeks proved rich, but during the district’s early years miners didn’t overwinter on their claims. The winter of 1893-94 most lived at a site called “Fish Camp,” upriver from Circle’s present location.

Flooding the next spring forced the camp’s move downstream to a high riverbank on the edge of the Yukon Flats. A townsite was laid out and named Circle City. (Founders erroneously believed they were north of the Arctic Circle when they were actually about 50 miles to the south.)

Strung out along the riverbank, Circle quickly developed into a settlement of 300-400 log cabins. It also boasted several stores (including McQuesten’s ACC store), a hospital, Episcopal church, school, opera house (described by some as essentially a two-story dance hall), numerous dance halls and saloons, and even a newspaper. It claimed to be the largest log cabin city in the world.

Some residents called it the “Paris of the North.” James Wickersham, in his book, Old Yukon, wrote that in Circle’s heyday “its inhabitants were a cosmopolitan lot. Bearded and roughly dressed miners from the creeks, gamblers, actresses, prospectors, preachers, merchants, prostitutes, dog-mushers, hunters, dance-hall fairies, and dogs–a frontier gathering from every land, drawn together by the lure of a mining camp stampede.” Athabascan Indians also lived there and mingled with Circle’s other residents.

A few writers were less enthusiastic. Josiah Spurr, who visited Circle in the summer of 1896 with a U.S. Geological Survey expedition, described it as simply, “a settlement of log huts dignified by the name of Circle City.”

According to Spurr’s account, Circle’s population was about 700 people, but only during winter. In summer the population shrank to a few hundred as miners returned to their claims. In any event, Circle’s glory days ended in the fall of 1896 when word of the Klondike gold strike filtered down the Yukon River. Most miners abandoned their claims to join the stampede to Dawson City. By the spring of 1897 not more than 50 people, mostly women and children, remained in Circle.

The town recovered when disgruntled miners, unhappy with Canadian regulations and the lack of stakeable ground, began returning in the fall of 1898. By 1899 Circle’s population had rebounded to its pre-Klondike numbers, but the 1900 Nome gold rush once again emptied the town of most miners. Later stampedes lured others away.

The miners who stayed gradually adopted new mining techniques and fewer sought winter refuge in Circle. The town never again approached the population it had during its pre-1900 glory days. It survived as a regional supply center until completion of the Steese Highway in 1928 allowed miners to ship supplies out of Fairbanks.

Most of the town’s old buildings have been destroyed by fire, been torn down (with building materials either re-used or burned as fuel), or lost to the river. The only survivors from Circle’s early days are a few cabins scattered around town and the Washington Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System wireless radio station. Circle now has just two small stores and most residents live a subsistence lifestyle. 


  • Conversation with Earla Hutchinson, co-owner of HC Company Store in Circle
  • Gold Placers of the Circle District, Alaska—Past, Present, and Future. Warren Yeend. U.S. Geological Survey. 1991
  • Old Yukon: Tales, Trails, and Trials. James Wickersham. Washington Law Book Company. 1938
  • Yukon Frontiers—Historic Resource Study of the Proposed Yukon-Charley National River. Melody Webb Grauman. National Park Service. 1977
  • Yukon, the last frontier. Melody Webb. University of Nebraska. 1985
  • Through the Yukon Gold Diggings. Josiah Edward Spurr. Eastern Publishing. 1900

Friday, August 1, 2014

Misty morning at Birch Hill Cenetery - strawberry and rose leaves


I walked up to Birch Hill Cemetery this morning. It was misting and water drops were collecting on everything. Here are two photos I took.