Bartlett Lee Thane

(1879 - 1927)

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Bart Thane Photo

Bart Thane, undated
Photo Credit: David Stone Collection

Bart Thane was a brilliant promoter and mining engineer who had a profound effect on the Alaska mining industry. One of a new breed of college trained engineers, he graduated from the University of California at Berkeley in 1898. He was the star quarterback on Berkeley's football team. Many of his teammates were majoring in mining engineering and would play key supporting roles in Thane's most ambitious endeavor. At just shy of 20 years of age, the young Thane came to Juneau, Alaska to begin his mining career. Long time mining man Herman Tripp hired Thane in his first job running and maintaining the shaft pumps in the Sumdum Chief mine 60 miles south of Juneau. Tripp, who had reservations about college boys, quickly became a fan of the young Californian, resulting in a lifelong friendship. In three years, Thane gained controlling interest in the Sumdum Chief mine.

By successfully raising money from state sources Thane had, by 1911, obtained operational control of six gold mines in the Juneau Gold Belt and had a mountain name after him.

Through a rather bazaar course of events, Thane would gain control of the Perseverance mine near Juneau. The President of the company, Colonel William Sutherland had been accused by stock and bondholders of mismanagement of the company and was sued. Sutherland dropped dead of a heart attack; two wives claimed his estate, neither of which knew about the other. The company seemed to be hopelessly caught up in litigation when with the backing of D.C. Jackling and W.P. Hammon, Thane raised $8 million in 1912 to take over and develop the Perseverance mine into the world's largest gold mine at the time. This complex would later be known as the Alaska Gastineau.

Thane had a three part plan for the Perseverance mine:

  1. Provide for tide water access via a two mile tunnel
  2. Develop a year round hydroelectric power plant, and
  3. Construct a revolutionary new mill that would handle up to 6,000 tons per day of ore.

The Sheep Creek Adit, as the tunnel was known, was started in November 1912 and completed in February 1914. It is 10,497 feet long and was driven at the fastest rate any tunnel had been excavated in the world. This tunnel gave Thane tide water access via Sheep Creek valley.

With the assistance of some of his former football teammates, Thane constructed the Salmon Creek Dam, which is the first thin arch concrete dam ever constructed. The dam is 172 feet high, 648 feet across at the crest, 47.5 feet thick at the base tapering to 6.5 feet at the top. Today there are more than one hundred of these dams throughout the world designed after the one at Sheep Creek near Juneau, Alaska.

The new mill designed to crush, grind, and recover gold from 6,000 tons per day relied on a new rotating mill that was being used in the large copper mines of Nevada and Arizona. Completed in 1915, and the mill, which many in the mining industry were skeptical as to its success, did not handle 6,000 tons per day, but rather handled 10,000 tons per day at less than the cost projected.

With the success of the new mill, it became clear that more electrical power would be needed. Annex Creek on Taku Inlet was optioned from Herman Tripp in April 1915, the power project was producing power by December of that year. It is the first time a lake had been tapped via tunneling under and punching a hole through the bottom of the lake. Amazingly, water was turning the water wheels 2 miles away within 42 minutes after blasting the hole through the lake. Annex Creek and Salmon Creek still produce 20 percent of Juneau's power today, and are the lowest cost power producers in the State of Alaska.

The Alaska Gastineau Perserverence, for a short period prior to World War I, was the largest gold mining complex in the world. It produced more than 500,000 ounces of gold.

The loss of labor during the war and post war inflation made the mine unprofitable. On June 3, 1921, the mine shut down. Thane promoted the hydroelectric plants, mill town, and support facilities for a new pulp mill site. In 1923, an apparent deal was made with Japanese investors. However, the Yokohama, Japan earthquake of the same year killed the investors and the proposed pulp mill died with them. Even though he had positively changed the course of the mining industry, Thane died in New York City in 1927, a broken and embittered man.

Fred Bradley, the genius behind the Treadwell and AJ Mines, said of Thane upon hearing of his death,

"He built great monuments to man, but forgot what he was here for."

Written by David Guy Stone, 1999

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