The Tale of a Gold Rush Mining Camp
Located at the very top of the Kenai Peninsula are two tiny towns with big histories. The towns of Hope and Sunrise were once booming cities that people flocked to. It all started with a gold rush in 1896, one of Alaska’s first, which took place before the Klondike.
Alexander King was an American miner, who between the years of 1888 and 1889, mined some of the local creeks around the Hope/Sunrise area. Miners slowly began to trickle into the area and by 1893 the first claim was staked on Resurrection. By 1896, three thousand people arrived to the area to try their luck at mining for gold.
Two cities sprang up in the area: Hope at the mouth of Resurrection Creek, and Sunrise along the banks and mouth of Sixmile Creek. Sunrise was at one time for a few weeks was the largest Alaskan city.
Around 1895, forty-five claims sprang up along Canyon Creek, which is located in the Turnagain Pass, about twenty-five and a half miles from Hope. In 1917 seventeen of those claims were bought by Nels O. Anderson, who started the Canyon Creek Development Company. During its time of operation, the biggest project the company tried to accomplish was to build a 110′ tall dam across Canyon Creek. Although this dam never came to fruition, as Anderson’s wealthy sponsor had died.
Sometime during the operations of the Canyon Creek Development Company (CCDC) a man named Nick Bruhn (whom had been violin master and instructor before coming to Alaska) had come to work there. When Mr. Anderson died shortly after his financier passed on, Mr. Bruhn continued to assess the company’s claims. Instead of paying him for his work, Anderson’s family signed over the camp and claims.
During the time Bruhn was working for the CCDC and after Anderson passed on, Bruhn found a financier. That man was LeRoy Vincent Ray, who had moved to Seward from Massachusetts in 1906.
During his time in Seward, Ray became an outstanding member within the community and was a practicing lawyer with his own office. Eventually he became Seward’s city Council and the Seward Mayor. He went on to also become District Representative to the First Territorial Legislature where he presided over the Alaska Senate and served as president of the Alaska Board Of Law Examiners.
At the time when Bruhn and L Ray had acquired the camp and mining claims in the late 1920s. It became known as the Bruhn Ray Mine and consisted of five log buildings: The bunkhouse, blacksmith shop, meat house, cabin and barn. The duo ran the mine together until 1936. Bruhn died the following year, and his share was left to Ray’s daughter.
Although major improvements were done to the Seward Highway in 1937, making the mining camp more accessible, in 1939 the United States Government shut down gold mining operations during World War II. This ban lifted at the end of the war in 1945, but Ray passed on the following year.
The mine continued to remain open for the next several years, this time being run by Mr. Ray’s widow and daughter. By 1951, only two of those claims owned by the CCDC remained, plus the camp. These were sold to John and Linnie Coleman.
In 1996, the majority of buildings left with the mining camp had to be moved, for major changes were happening to the Seward Highway. The plan was to re-route the highway through the middle of the Bruhn Ray mining camp, so the Alaska Department Transportation offered the buildings to the Hope and Sunrise Historical Society.
While the blacksmith shop and bunkhouse traveled 16 miles on flatbed trucks intact, the barn was dismantled and reassembled at the Hope and Sunrise Historical and Mining Museum in downtown Hope. It took eight years to restore the buildings, which included the financial aid of Dennis Sammut, Alaska Department of Transportation, and the Turnagain Arm-Kenai Mountains Heritage Corridor Communities Association. Local Carpenter and museum founder Billy Miller oversaw the project with historical volunteers and the U.S. Forest Service.
Today the buildings still reside at the museum, looking how they once did when they were being used by the miners at Bruhn Ray Mine. The Historical Society tried very hard to make sure that the buildings retained their factual values, even down to the new metal roof, which was guaranteed to rust, and the tools that would have been used by the blacksmith at the time.
The bunkhouse houses such museum exhibits as: copies of the DOT (Department of Transportation) and Turnagain Arm Gold Rush signs done by Dr. Rolfe Buzzell, the Military Room, Bunkhouse Pantry, L.V Ray and building history interpretation and the Hope Wagon Trail Tee Shirt collection. Recently in March, major repairs were done to the foundation of the bunkhouse building by Hope resident Bruce Stavish.
On April 29 at 1 p.m., there will be a museum clean up to get ready for the season’s re-opening on Memorial Day weekend. If volunteers are interested in attending, please show up at the museum to lend a hand.
Thank you to Diane Olthuis whose book “A Canyon Creek Gold Mine” provided much of the information used throughout this article.