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By Dan Rudy 

Former museum curator putting out Garnet Ledge history

 

Submitted Illustration

The photo on the cover of author Trish Neal's upcoming book is of Mary Elmer, a business partner and companion to frontier miner Anna Durkee. The full black and white photo is kept at the Wrangell Museum.

A former resident is finishing a book on Wrangell's famed garnet ledge, from which residents and visitors have extracted the precious gem for over a century.

Trish Neal first moved to Wrangell in 1979, and the site's story quickly caught her eye. She decided she wanted to write a book detailing the ledge's history, but soon discovered not much was known about it. The process of researching and compiling the information needed for Neal's project subsequently stretched on for nearly four decades, and she expects the book to be ready for publishing next month.

"When I found that all anyone knew were the names of the women who owned the mine, that project kind of got put on the back burner," she explained. "Even Pat Roppel could never find more information. She always chuckled when I would fill her in on the latest tidbit that I had discovered. We swapped info a couple of times as my research crossed her research path."

An accomplished historian, writer and contributor to the state's museums, Roppel had helped edit and arrange for publication Neal's History of Wrangell. Neal has also published Stikine River Journal, a compilation of content she had written for the Sentinel documenting the history of the river's settlement and of Fort Wrangell.

Her latest book will be titled Wrangell Garnet Ledge History, self-published using what she learned from her experience putting out Stikine River Journal in 2012.

"What took me so long was waiting for enough information to be uploaded to the internet. It is amazing what has been added to the internet in the last 16 years," Neal said of her upcoming work. "I started out researching at the library in Wrangell going through newspapers on microfilm and inter-library loan. Definitely the slow way to research."

Since 1881, Neal found the ledge had changed hands more than a dozen times. One concern, Alaska Garnet Mining and Manufacturing, was run entirely by women such as Anna Durkee. Passing on in 1948, Durkee was one of 28 women Neal has connected to the company over its lifespan, and their story plays an important part in the garnet ledge's history. It was a relative of Durkee who contacted Neal in 2000 after seeing her website, and the information the writer received as a result helped steer her on course to completing the book.

"I learned that she was a woman to be reckoned with. She was one smart woman and not afraid to do what she needed to do to get things done. A lot of the women who were involved were of the same caliber," Neal explained.

Now largely thought of as a source of summer income for area youth, the life of the laborers who mined the site was difficult, and the upcoming book details the miners' living and working conditions.

"The mining operation

wasn't just a little ledge where they chipped off slabs of rock with garnets," said Neal. "There was a tunnel, a

narrow gauge rail into the mine, cars to haul garnet in matrix down on the rails to the

shore to be barged to Wrangell, cook house, bunk house, et cetera. It was quite the operation."

The work was profitable, and Neal found the funds gleaned from the garnet operation helped fund other ventures for Durkee in Arizona. She expressed an interest in further pursuing the miner's story in a future project.

Neal conversed with

many relatives of former

participants in the mining concern, and worked with a number of Wrangellites in putting together her research. The book will cite those references in detail, and will include a number of period photographs and other resources. Neal is still looking for photos of family trips to the ledge, as well as a photo of the Forest Service cabin and view from the river. Those interested in submitting material for the book are invited to contact her at trishaneal@hotmail.com or message her on Facebook.

The garnet ledge was deeded to the Boy Scouts of America in 1962, and a tradition of encouraging local youth to harvest the stones was formally established. The deed transferred to First Presbyterian Church in 2007, which continues to the present.

People can learn more about the ledge at a site Neal set up for First Presbyterian at http://www.wrangellgarnetledge.com, or can learn more about her upcoming book at http://www.wrangellgarnets.com.

 

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