Wrangell’s garnet ledge is noted for two things: its garnets are sold by Wrangell children to tourists who have spread the word about the garnets around the world, and the ledge was mined by the first all-woman mining corporation in an era when women were just begin accepted into the business world.
Other Claims Filed
What many may not realize is that Wrangell’s gannet ledge has a history that goes way beyond entrepreneurship by women and children. Other than the gold mining that was conducted along the banks of the Stikine River, it was the most active area of mining for non-metal ore along the historic river. There were at least 28 claims to the garnet ledge area (the majority by AGM&M Co.) and at least two leases to the site beginning in 1881. Most claims were short-lived no doubt because it was hard work mining garnets and then you had to figure out what to do with them!
The first recorded claim on record was filed in 1881, by Barney Johnson, Phillip Starr and R.D. Crittenden. The claim was short-lived, as there is no other information available on the claim.
The next claim to the ledge was filed in 1889 by David L. Shoemaker and Harry Swift. According to an article in the April 20, 1889 Sitka Newspaper, The Alaskan, the men called their claim the “Ruby Lode.”
A few years later F.F. Heath and Louis R. Dempster filed their claim to the ledge in 1893. This may have been the first commercial use of the site.
An article in the Juneau newspaper, The Alaska News, November 2, 1893, states:
Frank A. Brooks and A.G. Bays filed their claim to the site in 1897 as the Alaska Garnet Mining Co. Their claims were “Brooks Quartz Claim No. 1 and 2.” At some point, Fort Wrangel U.S. Commissioner Kenneth M. Jackson invested in the claim, becoming a partner in the endeavor.
George Clark, a local attorney, filed a claim in 1899 at the garnet ledge area near the Brooks, Bays and Jackson claim; and then filed another claim in 1900 on behalf of the Alaska Garnet Mining Association.
1905 Busy Year for the Ledge
Things were pretty quiet at the garnet ledge area for a few years — other than local residents making a day out of trip to the ledge to picnic and dig for garnets. In 1905 there were three separate claims filed to the area.
Alex Vreatt and Wm. M. Taylor filed their “Ruby No. 1 and 2” claims in early 1905. Several months later Wilson Foster staked his claim at a location nearby. And by the end of the year, Calvin H. Barkdall, from Petersburg, had also filed his claim along the banks of the Stikine River. Barkdall actually filed another claim in 1909, but no record of actually working the claims has been found. Foster’s claim also seems to have been short-lived.
Alaskan Ruby Mining & Development Co.
A group of businessmen from the Chicago area had visited Wrangell looking for investments property and decided that the garnet ledge looked like a perfect opportunity. The Alaskan Ruby Mining & Development Co. was formed and a lease was taken out on the property by the group. Harry Overman, president; Orval J. Stephenson, secretary; and Harry F. Parsons, treasurer; made up the company. The company offered shares in the corporation at $10 par value for only $4.00 each. As an added bonus, an “Alaskan Ruby” was added to sweeten the deal.
The men did ship about two tons of garnets, but nothing more was heard from the company.
First All-Woman Mining Corporation
No doubt the most active and most profitable claim to the garnet ledge (other than the current “conditional deed” held by the SE Council of Boy Scouts) was the Alaska Garnet Mining & Manufacturing Co., of Minneapolis.
Formed by a group of women in late 1906, Anna E. Durkee was the controlling stockholder, secretary and general manger of the corporation. She has been credited with finding the property while in Wrangell earlier in the year while visiting here in preparation to scoping out a copper mine located not too far from Wrangell.
Durkee made purchased the property from Vreatt and Taylor and returned to Minneapolis with plenty of garnets to show off to her friends. Armed with tales of Alaska and the deep burgundy-colored garnets, it wasn’t too hard to sell the women on the idea of becoming mining company owners.
The company was formed by 15 women, with the following women listed as the board of directors: Ann E. Rose, President; Minnie Towler, Vice-president ; Anna E. Durkee, Secretary ; Jean Anderson, Treasurer; Members of the Board: Letitia M. Crafts, Mary T. Elmer, Pearl Hewitt, Pearl A. Gunders, Rebecca Bausman, and Maria A. Crane.
News of the new corporation made the front page of the Alaska Sentinel, in Wrangell, but only generated about three inches of space on an inside page of the Minneapolis Journal. The women were very clear about this being an all-woman mining corporation. Durkee indicated to reporters that men would be hired to work the mine and help develop it but there would not be any men involved in the operation of the corporation.
Anna E. Durkee was a frequent visitor to Wrangell during the years of operation of the garnet mine. Letitia Crafts also made a few trips to Wrangell as did some of their friends.
The women participated in the 1909 Alaska-Yukon-Pacific Exposition held in Seattle, and again in 1915 for the Pan Pacific Exposition held in San Francisco. Several tons of garnets were shipped from the mine to Wrangell and then down to Seattle and San Francisco.
By 1921, activity at the mine had slowed down. The corporation leased the property to the Western Abrasive Paper Co., Ltd, of Victoria, B.C. For a few years and then a lease was signed with the Alaska Garnet Mining Co., Ldt., a British Corporation headed by Col. Harrison, of Victoria, B.C.
Mention was made in the newspapers across the county that the women were manufacturing jewelry and that sales were going well in England because the gems were from Alaska. To date, none of the jewelry that the women manufactured has been identified, although there is a great deal of garnet jewelry that can be found from that time period. In addition, Anna Durkee was awarded a patent for a process that used garnet waste in place of a more expensive compound used in foundries.
After the 1920s, work at the mine ceased and the buildings and equipment fell into disrepair
Still More Claims Filed
Larry and Lola Heiner filed two claims in the area in 1954 and in 1959. There was nothing done at the site. It isn’t know why they filed the claims or what their intentions were.
The final deed filed for the garnet mine was made in 1962 when Wrangell businessman Fred G. Hanford turned over the deed to the property to the SE Council of Boy Scouts. The deed allows the scout council to retain ownership of the ledge as long as the children of Wrangell are allowed to dig for garnets at no charge and that the ledge remains open. If the scouts fail to meet the conditions outlined in the deed, the property reverts to the First Presbyterian Church of Wrangell with no strings attached to their ownership.
Hanford foresaw developing the area into a recreation area with camping, tennis courts, fire pits and more. He hoped to see the area developed for family use. In a way, part of that dream has come true as parents bring their children up to the ledge and work with them to dig up garnets and bring them back to town. It’s an all day family trip.
Today, the children of Wrangell are the ones who mine the garnets and sell them to cruise ships and the ferries that call on the Southeast Alaskan community. Almost one hundred years ago it was the women of the AGM&M Co. who sold the unique gems to tourists from their little building on the old wharf.
Selling garnets to tourists goes back many years before the women arrived in Wrangell. Authoress Eliza Ruhamah Scidmore wrote about “cabinet specimens” in 1884, and even Wm. P. Blake, the American scientist traveling with the Russian exploration group in 1862, located the site. But even this group was more interested in finding out the valuable resources of the Stikine River and that meant gold and furs and the like; not garnets. It took a group of women to show the profitability of mining the garnets on the Stikine River. And prove it, they did.
A Brief History of the Wrangell Garnet Ledge, written by Patricia Neal. The story was written in 1993 and published in the Wrangell Sentinel on June 24, 1993. The copyright was retained by the author. Copyright 1993, 2005, 2010-2014. No use of any portion of this booklet without written permission of the author.