Telling Alaska’s Story : Preserving the history of Independence Mine
HATCHER PASS, Alaska (KTUU) - The buildings of Independence Mine State Historical Park stand today as a reminder of a gold mining operation in Hatcher Pass that had its heyday long ago.
Independence Mine is a place where Alaskans and visitors can still poke inside the bunk house and other buildings to learn more about life at another time.
“It’s great that most of these buildings are strong enough to still be open to the public, where they can go in and walk through and see where people lived and experience life up here,” Alaska Department of Natural Resources Historian Amy Hellmich said.
At its peak in 1941, the mine employed just over 200 men. That year they extracted gold from the Talkeetna Mountains worth more than $17 million in today’s dollars. However, World War II disrupted operations, and by 1951 the mine had shut down for good.
Today, the Independence Mine State Historical Park and its buildings are listed on the National Register of Historic Places. Mat-Su Trails and Parks Superintendent Stuart Leidner said that properly caring for the buildings has been a challenge, especially with the large snow load in Hatcher Pass, but just as much because of vandalism.
“Vandalism is the main reason that the public doesn’t get to enjoy this space until we can get it secured,” Leidner said.
Leidner added that many of the buildings are closed to entry because of repeated acts of vandalism.
“Mostly they are just going in, they are roaming around, they are messing things up, and we’ve had people set off fire extinguishers,” Leidner said. “It’s just that type of malicious vandalism that just makes our job more difficult.”
Leidner said no one has been arrested for the vandalism, and the state doesn’t have the money to make repeated repairs, or to restore the buildings that have more serious problems, which is why a recent announcement was such welcome news.
On Monday, Helmsley Charitable Trust Trustee Walter Panzirer announced that the trust had awarded the Mat-Su Trails and Parks Foundation $1.3 million for Independence Mine repairs. Panzirer said the money will be used to rehabilitate four of the 16 buildings at the mine.
Hellmich said the money will be an important tool to help protect the mine for the future.
“I think we can look around this place and see that the history is being lost with the deterioration,” Hellmich said. “To be able to fortify the buildings that we are focusing on with this grant will keep them open and available to the public for a long time.”
Historical architects and engineers are assessing the building’s structures. Most of the work is expected to be done next summer.
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