GOLD! A magic word that time cannot tarnish; a soft metal with the strength to forge history. Gold was the magnet that drew thousands of adventurers to the last frontier. Though most Alaskans recognize that gold played an important part in Alaska's history, they normally think first of Nome, Fairbanks, or the Iditarod country. But even before a quarter-of-a-million gold seekers began their stampede into those famous areas, gold was discovered just southeast of Anchorage in 1886. From there prospectors spread into the Susitna and Matanuska river basins, testing the creeks in the nearby mountains.
They found hard rock (lode) gold scattered in quartz veins throughout the granite in the Talkeetna Mountains. These veins were created by hydrothermal action that filled fractures in the rock. Erosion loosened flakes of gold, and flowing water eventually washed the gold-bearing gravel into a stream. Throughout the history of gold mining, placer mining has preceded lode mining, and this area was no exception. The rough-textured gold found in the bottom of pans and sluice boxes hinted at something more: a nearby source, or mother lode.
Robert Lee Hatcher discovered and staked the first lode gold claim in the Willow Creek Valley in September 1906, and others soon followed. But lode mining was expensive for an individual operator; it required elaborate tunnels and heavy equipment, so companies merged to pool resources and reduce expenses.
What is now called Independence Mine was once two mines: The Alaska Free Gold (Martin) Mine on Skyscraper Mountain, and Independence Mine on Granite Mountain. In 1938 the two were bought together under one company, the Alaska-Pacific Consolidated Mining Company (APC). With a block of 83 mining claims, APC became the largest producer in the Willow Creek Mining District. The claims covered more than 1,350 acres and included 27 structures. In its peak year, 1941, APC employed 204 men, blasted nearly a dozen miles of tunnels, and produced 34,416 ounces of gold worth $1,204,560; today $17,208,000. Twenty-two families lived in nearby Boomtown, with eight children attending the Territorial School in the new bunkhouse.
By 1942, the United States had entered World War II, and the War Production Board designated gold mining as nonessential to the war effort. Gold mining throughout the United States came to a halt, but Independence Mine continued to operate because of the presence of sheelite. Sheelite occurs in some of the quartz veins along with gold, and was a source of tungsten, a strategic metal. But because Independence Mine's scheelite production was low, the exemption was short-lived. In 1943, Independence Mine was ordered to close.
The wartime ban was lifted in 1946, but gold mining was slow to recover. After the war, gold could be sold only to the U.S. government at a fixed rate of $35 per ounce. Postwar inflation raged, and gold mining became an unprofitable venture. Finally, in January of 1951, after mining nearly 6 million dollars' worth of gold, Independence Mine was closed by APC, and a chapter of Alaska's gold mining history came to an end. In 1974, Independence Mine was entered into the National Register of Historic Places, a list of cultural resources significant to American history. In the late 1970's, 271 acres of land were donated to the Alaska Division of Parks & Outdoor Recreation for establishment of Independence Mine State Historical Park. On January 16, 1980, title to the acreage was transferred to the State of Alaska.
Learn what it was like to live and work in one of Alaska's largest gold mining camps.
Begin your tour of the Independence Mine State Historical Park at the Mine Mangers's House, which houses the Visitor Center and museum. Inside you'll see displays about mining, natural history and the Independence Mine story.
Take a self-guided interpretive tour through the mine camp.
Independence Mine is typically open from mid-June to Labor Day. For current information and hours of operation, see the latest Conditions Report at: http://dnr.alaska.gov/parks/asp/curevnts.htm.
Artifacts should be left for others to enjoy. Alaska law prohibits the disturbance or removal of historical material from a state park.
Road conditions to Independence Mine State Historical Park are subject to weather. Check conditions before attempting the drive
between September 15 and May 30. The use of snow machines and off-road vehicles is prohibited within the park.
Winter recreation opportunities include sledding, snowboarding, and cross-country skiing. The park is open year-round to the public,
however, the Visitor Center is closed during the winter months.
Pets must be on a leash near developed facilities. Please remember, pets can be annoying to others and frequently harass wildlife.
Do not feed the wildlife. It is unhealthy for them, and feeding ground squirrels can lead to serious bites.
Discharge of all weapons is prohibited at Independence Mine State Historical Park.
Private property adjoins the park. Please respect private property, historical structures, and artifacts found throughout the area.
In Case of emergency
Alaska State Troopers 911 or (907)745-2131
State Park Rangers (907)745-3975 or 745-2827
Emergency telephones are located at:
Independence Mine Visitors Center
Hatcher Pass Lodge, mile 17, Hatcher Pass Road
For More Information
Mat-Su/CB Area Park Office
Independence Mine State
Historical Park Visitor Center
23264 Gold Cord Rd, Palmer, AK 99645 (Approximate address for Google Maps)