A gambler’s hunch compelled California mining magnate John Treadwell to purchase a claim near Juneau from “French Pete” for $400. That decision turned into the discovery of the famed “Glory Hole,” located on Douglas Island in Southeastern Alaska, in 1881.
Treadwell Mine, which over time grew to use 900 stamps, became one of the largest quartz lode mines in the world. It was so deep that men working at the bottom and along the sides appeared scarcely larger than flies when one looked down on them from the top.
Ella Higginson recounted her experience of dropping down into the mine in 1905 in her book, “Alaska: The Great Country.”
“…there was barely room on the rather dirty ‘lift’ for us. We stood very close together. It was dark as a dungeon.
“As we started, I clutched somebody – it did not matter whom. I also drew one wild and amazed breath; before I could possibly let go of that one – to say nothing of drawing another – there was a bump, and we were at a level 1,080 feet below the surface of the earth.
“We stepped out into a brilliantly lighted station, with a high, glittering quartz ceiling,” Higginson continued. “The swift descent had so affected my hearing that I could not understand a word that was spoken for fully five minutes.”
The scenes which met Higginson’s eyes included shafts, ore bins, drifts, levels, stations where quartz-laden cars passed and stopes, which were areas where the ore was removed.
Tram cars, each drawn by a single horse, carried ore from one location to another.
“One horse had been in the mine seven years without once seeing sunlight or fields of green grass,” Higginson wrote. “But every man passing one of these horses gave him an affectionate pat, which was returned by a low, pathetic whinny of recognition and pleasure.
“Each man worked by the light of a single candle (in a dark stope). They were stoping out ore and making it ready to be dumped into lower levels – from which it could finally be hoisted out of the mine in skips.
“The ceiling was so low that we could walk only in a stooping position. The laborers worked in the same position; and what with this discomfort and the insufficient light, it would seem that their condition was unenviable. Yet their countenances denoted neither dissatisfaction nor ill-humor.”
During its 36 years of operation, the famous mine produced $66 million worth of gold. A cave-in and extensive flooding in 1917 brought its era of prosperity to an end.