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Gold! The Yellow Rock that Made Fairbanks

A Guide to Fairbanks, Alaska

    There's gold in them thar hills! It's difficult to say if those were the exact words gold miner Felix Pedro shouted out to the residents of the small trading post along the Chena River in 1902, after he struck gold in a creek located in the hills some 10 miles to the north. What is known is that Pedro's strike helped spur a stampede that would transform the trading post known as Fairbanks into a thriving town with the largest population in Alaska in just a few years. And today, while it has been some time since Pedro made his strike on that eventful day, gold fever still exists in Alaska's second-largest city.

    Visitors to Fairbanks will find a number of tours and attractions based on the colorful history of the area. These tours and attractions are informative, entertaining and, in some instances when gold panning is involved, profitable!

    One such example is Gold Dredge #8. This enormous gravel-eating, rock-crushing machine operated from 1928 to 1959 during Fairbanks' second gold rush. While the earlier gold rushs involved smaller mining operations, the mining of later years was done with large dredges operated by companies such as the Fairbanks Exploration Co. The F.E. Co. operated eight dredges in the Fairbanks area between 1928 and 1958. During its 30 years of operation, Gold Dredge #8 took in approximately seven million ounces of gold from Goldstream and Engineer Creeks. Now located nine miles north of Fairbanks on the Old Steese Highway, the dredge was designated a National Historic District by the U.S. National Park Service. In the summer visitors can tour the dredge. They can also roll up their sleeves, grab a shovel and try their luck at gold panning in the area. Afterward, they can help themselves to a huge miner's lunch in the mess hall.

    There is also a chance to find gold at the El Dorado Gold Camp, as well as the chance to see a mining camp in action. The camp is located in the heart of the historic Fox gold fields, a mining area since the early 1900s. Visitors take a trip through a historic mining camp aboard a vintage 1904 narrow-gauge railway that transported miners to the dredge sites. Once off the train, visitors get to see a modern mining camp in operation and, like Gold Dredge #8, they get to try gold panning themselves.

    If visitors prefer rolling up their sleeves with a cool beverage and letting someone else do the work for them, there are two revue shows in Fairbanks that highlight the golden days of Interior Alaska. The Palace Saloon, located in the historic theme park Alaskaland, features a nightly show in the summertime called the Golden Heart Revue. The show takes the audience from the Felix Pedro strike to life in modern day Fairbanks, complete with side-splitting jokes and foot-stomping music. The Malemute Saloon, located in the historic Ester Gold Camp ten miles south of Fairbanks, is the home of the Service with a Smile show. The show features songs and stories of early gold rush days along with the poetry of the Bard of the North, Robert Service.

    Ester Gold Camp was set up in 1936 to support the employees of the F.E. Company who
were operating the dredges in the Ester area. The camp was named to the National Register of Historic Places and features original buildings from its early beginnings. The bunkhouse, which housed and fed miners during F.E. Company days, is still used as a hotel and restaurant today.

    Remnants of the F.E. Company can be found in other areas of Fairbanks. The Chatanika Gold Camp, located 27.5 miles up the Steese Highway, was used to house employees of the company in 1921. The camp now contains rooms and cabins for visitors to stay in and offers outdoor excursions in both the summer and winter. The Pump House Restaurant on the Chena River was originally a building used to house pumps which pulled river water to the gold fields of Ester.

    People of Fairbanks are proud of their history and prove it every year during the Golden Days celebration. The celebration will be held in 2000 from July 13-23 and features a parade, races, sourdough pancake feeds, can-can dancers, a street fair and much more. Golden Days was named one of the Top 100 Events in North America by the American Bus Association.

    On an even larger scale, Alaska is celebrating the centennial of its gold rushes from 1995 through 2005. Activities, events and celebrations will be taking place in gold rush towns in Alaska such as Skagway, Nome, Juneau and Fairbanks; as well as in the Yukon including Dawson City and Whitehorse.

    For more information, visit the FCVB web site at www.explorefairbanks.com.

Copyright Fairbanks Convention and Visitors Bureau. Used here with permission.