Thursday, April 14, 2016

Hi-Yu Mine was one of the Fairbanks area's most successful hard-rock gold mines

 
The Hi-Yu mine as it looked in the 1990s

About 25 miles northeast of Fairbanks sits one of the area’s most successful lode mines, now abandoned and decaying.

The Hi-Yu mine is located in the Fairbanks Creek valley, which was one of the richest gold-producing areas in the Fairbanks Mining District. Mining activity along the creek represented all the major forms of gold recovery used during the early 20th century: open-cut mining, drifting, dredging and hard-rock (lode) mining.

The second-largest lode mine in the Fairbanks area during the first half of the 1900s, the Hi-Yu, producing 110,000 ounces of gold, was on a tributary of Fairbanks Creek. Clarence Crites and Harry Feldman discovered a rich gold-bearing quartz vein on Moose Creek in 1912, about a half-mile upstream from its confluence with Fairbanks Creek. It was one of the last significant lode discoveries during that time period.

According to a 2002 article by Curtis Freeman in Alaska Miner magazine, Crites and Feldman had put the word out that they were looking for new lode-gold prospects in the Fairbanks area, and two local Athabascan residents informed them of a likely site on Moose Creek. The mine’s name, “Hi-Yu,” is supposedly an approximation of the Athabascan words for “white rocks,” referring to the gold-bearing quartz found at the site.

The book, Historic Resources in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, states that the two partners quickly built a cabin and sank several prospecting shafts (what we called “coyote holes” in California). By the next year they had begun tunneling into the hillside. In 1914, the mine was in full production, and they moved a five-stamp mill from Chatham Creek (on the opposite side of the ridge) to the Hi-yu site to process their ore. The stamp mill, which had a capacity of processing 15 tons of ore every 24 hours, crushed the ore with heavy, vertical pistons called stamps, allowing the gold to be removed.

By 1930, the partners had acquired several new claims adjacent to the mine site and erected a building to house the stamp mill equipment. They also added an assay office the same year. Four years later they built a larger-capacity five-stamp mill on the site of the old mill.

In 1934, a mess hall was constructed on the hillside above the mill, and a 30-man bunkhouse was added a year later. The millhouse was expanded in 1936 with the construction of a new power plant, office, and the addition of five more stamps (10 total), doubling the mill’s capacity. By this time miners had blasted four main tunnels into the hillside, and a small railway system was installed to transport ore from tunnel to mill.

By 1941, the millhouse had again been enlarged to include a garage and a sauna for the workers. Several ancillary buildings such as coal storage shed an explosives cabin had been added, and two residences for the mine superintendent and engineers had been constructed.

Unfortunately, the advent of World War II forced the closure of the Hi-Yu mine, as well as almost every other gold mine in the United States. In 1942, under War Production Board Limitation Order No. 208, the federal government closed gold mining as a non-essential war-time activity.

The Hi-Yu, like many mines, never re-opened. Low gold prices and increased production costs made re-opening the mine uneconomical. Except for a few brief periods of activity, most of the facilities have sat abandoned and deteriorating for over 50 years. The bunkhouse burned in 1969. The 3 ½ story wood-frame millhouse is still in remarkably good condition. However, it is considered dangerous, and has been enclosed by a chain-link fence to deter the curious.

The site is now owned by the state of Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.


Sources:

  • Fairbanks North Star Borough property records
  • Historic Resources in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Janet Matheson & F. Bruce Haldeman. Fairbanks North Star Borough. 1981
  • “History of lode mining, Fairbanks district.” Curtis Freeman. In Alaska Miner magazine, Vol. 30, No. 8, August 2002
  •  “Hi-Yu; Crites and Feldman Mine.” from the MineDat.org website, an outreach project of the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy. 2015
  • Lode Deposits of the Fairbanks District, Alaska. James M. Hill. U.S.G.S. Bulletin 849-B. book,

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