From 1896 until 1903 discovery after discovery of minerals fueled a rush to riches in Alaska and Katalla was no different.
It also shared the problems of other areas in this vast wilderness. How to get the minerals to a market? One answer seemed
to give the most promise. Railroads!! If a rail network could bring together the mineral wealth of the region, then maybe
Katalla could give eastern cities like Pittsburg some competition.
In 1904 and 1905 surveyors started to plan routes all over the region. They were trying to find good routes that would
allow the Bering river coal, the Katalla oil and the Kennecott copper to all come together, be processed and then shipped
to the lower 48. Many locations were considered and discounted for a variety of reasons. It was finally decided that Katalla
would provide the terminus for the different railroads.
Two companies put the earliest efforts into construction of a railroad to Katalla. The Alaska Pacific & Terminus
Railroad known as the Brunner Line and the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad (CR&NWR) owned by J. P. Morgan and the
Guggenheim mining company. One other small railroad was planning to start construction from the coalfields to the shores
of Controller Bay. This company was being run by a man named Clark Davis, and was called The Catalla and Carbon Mountain
The Morgan/Guggenheim company was called the Alaska Syndicate and incorporated the Alaska Steamship line, the railroad
and the Kennecott mines into a powerful conglomerate. They had plans to use the coal to fuel their trains and steamships.
They also planned to build a smelter on the Copper River delta to process the ore being mined in the interior. They felt
that it would be best to build a harbor jetty in Katalla Bay and use the facility to load the copper ingots onto ships. The
Brunner folks basically wanted to build a railroad, especially where rights of ways were tight, and sell it to the Alaska
Syndicate. (Mike Heney would later use this tactic in Cordova and make tons of money.)
Both of these companies started construction in spring of 1907, and it seemed a clash over rights of way was certain.
Just one month later on a trestle crossing Palm Lake this issue would be settled. This was called the Battle of B S Hill.
It started when the Brunner Line posted no trespassing signs and blew up some equipment belonging to the CR&NWR. The
Morgan/Guggenheim crews stormed the trestles of the Brunner line a couple of nights later and took over the right of way.
The fall of 1907 saw some of the worst storms in the history of the region. These storms were so savage they destroyed
the CR&NWR jetty. This is amazing considering that the jetty was constructed of huge boulders weighing several tons piled
tens of feet deep for almost 1800 feet into the bay. They also had parts of their railroad bed wash away and at least one
engine was knocked off of its tracks. The Brunner line faired no better, the bridge being built by them out to Martin Island
was destroyed in the same storms. This massive damage caused a halt to all construction after just 5 months. The Morgan/Guggenheims
moved their operation to Cordova and the Brunner line went bankrupt.
Other Railroads would be planned but only one would see anything near completion. The little Catalla and Carbon Mountain
Railroad would change its name in 1910 to the Alaska Anthracite Railroad. Construction started in 1916 and by 1918 it was
hauling some small amounts of coal from the Bering River fields to a terminus on Controller Bay called Goose City. The problems
with this railroad were a lack of adequate funds and interest in the coal it carried. In 1921, the company reorganized and
tried to raise enough money through stock sales to complete the road. In 1923, the small railroad folded and went into receivership.
The hopes of an entire region died with this little railroad.
|Map of Brunner Line Survey 1906
|Courtesy of the Loussac Library Anchorage