Juneau: History

In the late 1800s when gold prospecting began in the Gastineau Channel region, the area was a fishing ground for local Tlingit Native Americans. A mining engineer from Sitka, George Pilz, offered a reward to any local native chief who could show him the site of gold-bearing ore. After Chief Kowee of the Auk Tlingit arrived in Sitka with ore samples from the Gastineau Channel, Pilz outfitted Joseph Juneau and Richard Harris for a trip to investigate the lode.

The prospectors reached the area in 1880, and although they found gold samples, they did not follow the gold to its source. After their return to Sitka, Pilz sent them out again. On the second trip Harris and Juneau climbed Snow Slide Gulch at the head of Gold Creek and observed the mother lode of Quartz Gulch, and Silver Bow Basin. They staked a 160-acre town site on the beach. By the next year more than 100 prospectors had arrived in the settlement, which was later named in honor of Joseph Juneau.

Within a few years, Juneau grew to a center for large-scale hard-rock mining, and tunnels and shafts wound through the surrounding hills. Two great mills were developed, the Alaska-Juneau at the south end of the city and the Alaska-Gastineau at Thane.

In May 1882 John Treadwell established the Alaska Mill & Mining Company with the construction of a five-stamp mill. The Treadwell Gold Mining Company produced more than $70 million of gold before it closed. Treadwell's production peaked in 1915, but a 1917 flooding of three of its mines after a cave-in spelled its demise. The Alaska-Gastineau closed in 1921 when operations became too expensive. The final big mill, Alaska-Juneau, folded in 1944 as a result of high prices and labor shortages due to World War II.

By the beginning of the twentieth century, Juneau had become a transportation and regional trading center. It assumed the title of Alaska's capital in 1906 following its transfer from Sitka. In 1931 the Federal and Territorial Building, now the State Capitol Building, was constructed. Juneau has remained the state capital despite attempts to move the capital elsewhere. In 2005 the city announced its desire to build a modern, $100 million facility to replace the aging Capitol Building. Today, government—local, state or federal—employs one out of every two workers and tourism is the largest private-sector employer in Juneau. A federally recognized Native American tribe lives within the Juneau community.

With its vast natural wonders, temperate climate, and position as the capital city, Juneau has the foundation for a long-term prosperous community as can be seen in its population growth since 1980. The Juneau Economic Development Council has programs in place to create positive business conditions for new and existing companies.

Historical Information: Juneau-Douglas City Museum, 155S. Seward St., Juneau, AK 99801; telephone (907)586-3572; email mary–pat–wyatt@ci.juneau.ak.us