Bornite Mine

Second sawmill for Bornite, photo USFS

Sometime in the later 1890s two prospectors by the name of Charles and Pat Kelly traveled from Robe, WA over Green Mountain, and then followed Canyon Creek and hiked through Windy Pass to the headwaters of Clear Creek. At least these are the names we have given to these places over time.  As for Charles and Pat, they traveled land not yet seen by white man. Upon their arrival at the headwaters of Clear Creek and Copper Creek they discovered a vein of ore called Bornite, a type of copper ore with a striking iridescent brownish-red color. 

The pipe to the old electric power house heading west.  A climbing route now follows the old pipeline,
photo by Nels Rasmussen, D.C.

By 1902-03 there were big dreams to develop a tramway into this discovery site, now given the name of Bornite, and go all the way into Darrington where the train could ship it to smelters in Everett. It was estimated that
there would be a need of $500,000 to develop this project.  Miles of pipe were laid from Bornite and headed up hill to capture Coppers Creek's waters high above.  This water was used to drive a turbine in an electrical power house for the mine.

Some if the remains of the old electric Powerhouse, photo by NelsRasmussen

The Bornite, Gold and Copper Mining Company of Bangor, Maine poured money into this project. The construction on the Darrington end started in 1903 and would continue to Bornite crossing over the hill at Backman Creek, then on over to Frog Lake where a construction camp was established with a big cookhouse to feed the many hard working men. A man by the name of Robb was in charge of the construction. Billy Hoffman and Al Dodge were acting as foremen, and the cook was Jack Keenan a brother of James Keenan owner of the Pioneer Saloon in town.  

Remnants of the old ground tramway as you hike the trail, photo, by Nels Rasmussen, D.C.

Construction ground to a halt in the harsh winter of 1904 and resumed again in early summer when deep snows melted away.  Lumber was first cut in Darrington at the U.S. Mill and a camp was near there. As the tramway grew closer to Bornite a second smaller sawmill and water tower was 
added south of Frog Lake. The tramway was over 11 miles long and consisted of ties and wooden rails topped with iron straps. Tram cars were drawn by mules in tandem and transported much machinery and tools to Bornite. At one time there were about 125 men working on the tramway to Bornite.  A 2,600 foot aerial tram was also constructed from the mining tunnel on Liberty Mountain then traveling down Windy Pass where Bornite Creek and the falls are located, to the camp below called “Copper.” The ore was offloaded from the aerial tram and transferred to the ground tramway and moved up to Darrington in carts pulled by tandem horses. The swift waters of Copper Creek powered the aerial tram and drills that worked none stop digging deep into the mountain side.  Predictions were to have the first shipment of ore on its way by December 1905.

The old water pipes along the western climbing route, photo by Nels Rasmussen, D.C.

The original plan for the mining tunnel was to drive it 3,000 to a rich deposit about 1,200 downward to strike a large body of ore.  The outcrop of this vein was very visible from the south summit of the mountain.  By 1906 over $300,000 had been invested, over 100 men had worked around the clock to build a 13 mile tramway, and miners had tunneled into Liberty Mountain over 3,300 feet, but no great strike was ever found. Investors began to pull their money out of the project and Bornite was shut down. L.W. Thiele stayed on as resident manager until 1910, then the equipment was sold and moved to the Sunset Mining Company located at Galena.  To get to Bornite you take the old trail that follows the remains of the old ground tramway, and follow the remnants of what is left of an old Forest Service trail once called Copper Creek

Article written by Martha Rasmussen

Memoirs of Nels Bruseth, 1939 ; Index To Mineral Properties Of Snohomish  County;  Mining In The Pacific Northwest, Whitehorse District

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