Alaskan Tokeen Grey Marble Quarry on Marble Island Alaska

Alaskan Tokeen Grey Marble Quarry on Marble Island Alaska

Alaskan Tokeen Grey Marble - Marble Island, Alaska




Mining of Industrial Minerals in Southeast Alaska

In the mountainsides of Southeast Alaska, prospectors also located what is known as the industrial minerals, the nonmetallic, non-fuel resources essential to the construction and for the industry. The importance of these non-metallic to the industrial economy is easily overlooked. They are bulky and usually low-value products. Their production is seldom dramatic, and there is often not the opportunity to get rich quickly which lured so many to gold mining.

However, in Southeast Alaska, a number of nonmetallic industrial minerals have been developed since the turn of the century. Many times this proved to be a slow, methodical, unexciting process with the resulting production of a non-glittery product attracting little attention.

Each of the industrial minerals was economically viable only when there were assured markets. Alaska itself did not provide markets, and it took a building boom on the West Coast to produce a demand for industrial minerals. It also took a financially secure corporation to run the operations. The people with large sums of money to invest in such corporations were generally not Alaskans, so the home offices were not in Alaska. The raw materials extracted and shipped to the West Coast were treated there and the end products utilized elsewhere than Alaska.

Marble was the first of the non-metallics to be developed successfully. A West Coast building boom in the 1890s created a demand for ornamental marble, so prospecting for commercially valuable deposits in Alaska began. Men staked a number of claims between 1897 and 1902 at such places as Marble Creek (Calder), Marble Island (Tokeen), Dry Pass (EI Capitan), and Red Bay on Prince of Wales Island. On the east side of that island, prospectors staked claims at Dickman Bay, Port Johnson, and North Arm (Baldwin). Other men found marble on Blake Island (Ham Island) near Wrangell. Small un-commercial deposits of marble were found in such places as Carroll Inlet, Thorne Arm, and George Inlet on Revillagigedo Island, and on Dall Island.

A number of quarries were opened, and sales of Alaskan marble showed an almost steady increase from 1904 to 1926. Alaska used little marble in its structures. The Alaskan marble, however, became popular, and many of the early buildings on the West Coast made ornamental use of it. In 1916, Alaska was fourth among the marble producing states and territories and, by 1924, $2.4 million worth of marble had been produced from Southeast Alaska deposits, mostly by the Vermont Marble Company at Tokeen.'

The Vermont Marble Company, which had its base in Rutland, Vermont, was the world's largest marble company. At times, it furnished three-quarters of the total production of marble for building purposes in the United States and four-fifths of the monumental marbles. Thus, the company had strong marketing programs into which it integrated its Alaskan product.

In the mid-1920s, the use of ornamental marble began to wane, and by 1932 it became unfeasible to keep Alaskan quarries open to supply the few West Coast markets.



The Vermont Marble Company, a successful Eastern marble company, ran the most productive operations in Southeast Alaska. Prior to its involvement, Robert L. Fox, promoter of the Calder and EI Capitan claims, became involved in an incredible complexity of wheelings and dealings by speculative promoters, ending with murder and subsequent court trial. Only then could Fox sell his property to the reputable company which operated the quarries.

After selling his Calder property in 1901, Fox began to promote El Capitan. By this time, the Natives of the area knew that white rock interested the prospectors. A Native approached W. A. Finn, a Shakan resident who had been involved with Fox at Calder, with the tale of an unnamed island made of great quantities of such rock. Finn and his associates staked claims there, and then sold them, in May 1903, to Fox for $5,000 and 2,500 shares of the EI Capitan Marble Company stock.

Fox hurried to the island where he staked further claims and named it Fox Island. Later it became known as Marble Island, thus depriving Fox of a permanent memorial for his contributions to the marble industry in Alaska.


With these new claims to promote, Fox traveled to Seattle where he met Robert Ball. The two men drew up a contract with the purchase price set at $250,000 and a provision that the property had to prove satisfactory to Ball's partners.

In the fall of 1903, Fox, Ball, F. C. Harper, Congressman Humphery, and Professor Humphery, the latter two of New York, made the voyage to Alaska to inspect the property. The men agreed that it certainly appeared to be a promising marble deposit, and Fox received written acceptance.

Fox staked 20 more claims in the names of R. L. Fox,

N. Fox, Robert Ball, Nettie Ball, A. A. Hammitt, C. B. Hammitt, William Deppe, and F. C. Harper. A company, the Great American Marble Company, incorporated, purchased all the claims, and issued its first stock in April 1904.

According to the contract, Fox's first payment on the property came due in July, but the month passed without any money changing hands. When Fox asked for his payment, Ball refused to pay, and so Fox filed suit to recover his holdings.

Little or no work took place on the marble claims and many speculated that the Great American Marble Company had been incorporated solely as a stock promotion and never seriously intended to quarry marble. The Ketchikan newspaper, always eager to protect the public from stock frauds, editorialized early in 1905 that the company "smacks much more of a stock job than a legitimate development. "20

Whatever its intent, internal strife racked the company.

Ball, the president, lost his controlling interest when he pledged the majority of his stock to raise $1,000. At the end of Ball's term of office, officers elected F. C. Harper as president over Ball's protest.

Ball insisted he had been wronged in the stock forfeiture by Allen Weir, a newspaper editor, and prominent politician, who had been Washington state's first secretary of state. The ball went to court claiming the stock forfeiture was illegal, but the judge dismissed the case after a hearing.

Meanwhile, with all the legal entanglements, no one did anything at the claims to count toward the required 1904 assessment work. Ball, to protect his investment, went north to Marble Island to do the assessment work. The other faction, not to be outmaneuvered, sent Deppe to Alaska with instructions to either jump the claims on 1 January or to run Ball off.

Later the Ketchikan newspaper editorialized:


. . . it seems to us it is pushing the greed for dollars and cents to the extreme when a man is hounded to his last stopping place in the lonely silences of this far away country, in order to wrest from him what appears to be the legitimate control of a company which he has played the master's part in organizing.21


Deppe and Ball were already enemies and no good could come of their meeting in such an isolated spot. Deppe had once made an assault on Ball in Ball's Seattle office and later had followed him around Seattle threatening his life. On one occasion, Deppe had sworn out a warrant for Ball's arrest, but a judge had thrown the case out of court.

These two bitter enemies arrived on Marble Island in late December 1904. Ball and Lesley Maxwell, the first to arrive, set up camp in one of Fox's cabins. A few days later Deppe and four other men arrived on the chartered launch, Teddy.

Once ashore, Deppe boldly tried the door to Ball's cabin, but found it locked. After being denied admittance,

he attempted to force the door with his shoulder. Considerable discussion and abusive language ensued, and Ball finally agreed to give Deppe the key to the second cabin. Deppe and his men were fully armed, but they assured the captain of the Teddy there would be no shooting. So the launch left the two groups on the isolated island, miles from law and order.

The next day Ball gave Deppe and his party until 3 January at 9 a.m. to leave, an ultimatum delivered after the only means of transportation for five men had left. That night several men were passing the time in Ball's cabin. There seemed to be no animosity except between Ball and Deppe. Ball had a .45-70 Winchester rifle on the bunk beside him when a knock came on the door. Ball ordered one of the men to open the door. Confusion reigned and later, no one could explain exactly what happened, except all the men saw Deppe fall dead from a bullet in his left side. They had no doubt that Ball had shot him.

One of the men used a small sailboat to reach Wrangell where he reported the events to the Deputy U. S. Marshal. Together they returned to the island, and the deputy marshal arrested Ball and took him to jail in Juneau.

Robert Ball came to trial in Ketchikan in April 1905.

The local newspaper reported that the number and importance of the witnesses and the array of attorneys on both sides aroused great interest in the community. Throughout the trial the people packed the courtroom "almost to suffocation," and the social functions of the town were suspended on its account.

Ball had three lawyers on his defense: J. B. Shorrett, of Seattle; Ketchikan's mayor George Irving; and Melville C. Brown, former U.S. District Judge for the First District. This was Brown's first case since stepping down from the bench. John J. Boyce, the district attorney for the First Judicial District, and his assistants, T. R. Lyons and W. A . Barnhill, represented the prosecution.

Ball's defense argued that he feared for his life because of Deppe's past threats and that when Deppe made a motion toward his gun, Ball fired in self-defense. However, damaging information came out during the trial. Robert Ball was really Charles R. Mains, a Battle Creek, Michigan, attorney who had been disbarred after he was accused of involvement in several shady schemes. He also had been accused of employing a man to murder an important witness, but a jury acquitted him on that charge.

From Battle Creek, Mains had gone to San Francisco, became involved in wildcat schemes using the mails, and for this, he went to jail for six months. He next appeared in Seattle as Robert Ball.

After three days the jury found Robert Ball, alias Charles R. Mains, guilty of manslaughter. Although the jury recommended extreme mercy, Ball received a sentence of 12 years of imprisonment at McNeill Island near Tacoma, Washington.

As soon as the trial ended, Robert Fox went to Marble Island. Just in case he did not recover his claims in court, he relocated them, then spent the remainder of 1905 taking

Camp buildings at Tokeen with waste marble used as fill (I.). (Author's collection) out cores with a hand-operated core driller.

The stockholders of the Great American Marble Company believed they had a legitimate claim to many of the Marble Island deposits, and they reorganized as the Alaska Pacific Marble Company with Weir in control.

During this period of organizational problems, the Vermont Marble Company began to investigate Alaskan marble deposits. The company representative, George C. Robinson, reported favorably on the Marble Island claims, but the company hesitated to become involved since the title to the land was still in question. Fox still had a suit against the Great American Marble Company to recover the claims.

Nothing seemed to take place at the Marble Island deposits until 1907 when a crew began quarrying blocks to show the varieties of marble available and to determine where to place quarrying machinery. Apparently, Fox allowed the Great American Marble Company to do this development work on the claims.

A year later, in June 1908, the Vermont Marble Company sent G. H. Davis to Alaska to option the Marble Island property from Fox. The transfer of papers did not take place because of the unsettled suit.

Immediately, the company began exploration work. Camp equipment arrived in July with P.F Mullin, a Vermont man, as foreman of a crew which varied from 9 to 14 men. Men converted the two Fox cabins into a bunkhouse and cookhouse and built a new l2-man bunkhouse.

A program of trenching and core drilling began in order to map out the extent of the deposits on the ten claims. The deposit consisted largely of coarse, light-colored, raw blue marble, although deposits of black, white, and green marble were also found. The green light-veined, clouded marble took a high polish, much like Italian marble.

When Fox's lawsuit was settled in his favor in October 1908, it cleared title to the property. About the same time, G. H. Davis, who had optioned the property in June, arrived for another look. He examined the 60-foot test hole, the cores, and the area that had been stripped. He found the cores so promising and so much good-looking surface exposed by stripping that he immediately wired for machinery so development work could start in earnest.

While awaiting the arrival of the equipment, Mullin and his l2-man crew cleared and stripped the site in preparation for actual quarrying. Trees and stumps had to be removed by derricks. Approximately three feet of decayed wood and overburden covering the marble had to be shoveled by hand.

The quarrying machinery that arrived 3 February 1909, was placed on scows and towed to the cove to the north of the proposed quarry, unloaded, and hauled up the hill. Channeling began immediately, and in April the key blocks were taken out. These blocks, like most of the subsequent ones, measured four by four by six (or ten) feet and weighed between seven and a half and eleven tons.

The company used the same quarrying methods as those used in well-known quarries in the Eastern states and as described in the history of Calder. The equipment at the main quarry consisted of seven Sullivan single-channeling machines and four gadders for undercutting. All of these machines operated by steam power generated by a 125- horsepower boiler. Gasoline-powered water pumps had to be run constantly to keep the quarry dry.

Once a block broke loose, a 25-ton derrick lifted it onto a flatcar, which ran by gravity down a narrow-gauge track to the beach. Another 25-ton stiff-legged derrick, powered by a small steam engine, unloaded the cars and stacked the blocks on the shore until they could be loaded aboard ships or barges at the face of the 150-foot wharf. A steel cable attached to a steam-powered winch drew the cars back to the quarry.


The first shipment of marble, consisting of 26 blocks weighing 101 tons, left Marble Island on 18 July 1909 on the steamer Tampico for San Francisco. Once sawed and polished, the finished product excited the Vermont Marble Company so much that it took the option and initiated proceedings to patent the claims.

At this time, the mining camp began to expand. A post office opened in June with one of the foremen, John Levine, as postmaster, using the name, Tokeen, an Indian name for a nearby bay. Later the same name came to be used to designate the light-colored variety of marble produced from Marble Island. Today, the name is used for a tiny settlement that once had a cold storage plant and is located some 15 miles from the quarries. The quarries are now known as Old Tokeen.

The main buildings of the marble company's camp went up during 1909 and 1910. Strung along the beach just above the high-tide line, these unpainted wooden structures did not incorporate any of the local marble. A machine shop and blacksmith shop were constructed. The boardinghouse incorporated a reading room, dry room, kitchen, sleeping quarters for 34 men, and a dining room for 75 men. The company added other bunkhouses over the years as the number of employees increased. An office building also contained sleeping rooms on the second floor. The superintendent and the foreman lived in small dwellings.


Many of the buildings, but particularly the boardinghouse, were threatened by extreme high tides combined with high winds. To correct this, waste marble chunks - irregular in shape, marred by impurities, fractured, or otherwise unsalable - were trammed to the wharf and used to build a bulkhead to protect the buildings from the wave action.

With the camp operational, the company began to develop other quarries on the island. Three new ones opened in 1910, and over the years, eight quarries produced marble. A quarry for green marble that started in 1911 had to be abandoned because the blocks were not as satisfactory as the cores had indicated. The crews moved the quarrying equipment from the black quarry when the blocks became full of imperfections.

Usually, these imperfections were caused by discoloration that extended for a foot or more on either side of a fracture. Only perfect blocks were shipped to company finishing plants in San Francisco and Tacoma. Freight costs were too high to permit the shipment of anything else. The amount of marble that proved to be sound varied from year to year. In 1909, it was only 32 percent; in 1911 it rose to 50.6 percent. In 1913, 65 percent of the marble quarried could be shipped, a remarkable record for soundness. However, this did not last and in 1914 only 26 percent proved usable. This large variation continued throughout the life of the quarries.

The years 1912 to 1915 were among the most productive at Tokeen. During those four years, the company shipped 4,361 blocks to finishing plants. There they were sawn, polished, and worked up into panels for wainscotting, ceiling and floor tiles, moldings, fixtures, rails, balustrades, and other forms of interior decoration. Some of the blocks were sawn into slabs that would be matched to form nearly symmetrical patterns.

Many of the early buildings on the West Coast made ornamental use of the Tokeen marble. The USGS listed 75 commercial buildings throughout the Northwest and as far East as Boston which used Tokeen marble. Among major buildings listed were courthouses in Seattle and Walla Walla, Washington; the Dalles, Oregon; as well as city and county buildings in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania. 


Among bank, buildings were the Bank of California in Seattle, the Capitol National Bank in Los Angeles, and the National City Bank in Salt Lake City. Post offices using the Alaskan marble were at Bellingham and North Yakima, Washington; San Diego, California; and Moscow and Lewiston, Idaho.

Hospitals included the U.S. General Hospital at the Presidio in San Francisco and the Pearl Harbor Naval Hospital in Hawaii. Community mausoleums in Modesto, Santa Rosa, and Inglewood, California, also featured Tokeen marble.

Other buildings included the Littman-Wolfe Building and the Oregon Journal Building in Portland, Oregon; the Odd Fellows and Sharon Estate buildings in San Francisco; the Southern Pacific passenger station in Los Angeles; the capitol in Boise, Idaho; and the Orpheum Theater in Boston. 

Alaskans did not use much of the marble because it had to be shipped from the quarries to Tacoma and then back again. Only three large buildings are known to incorporate it. The Miners and Merchants Bank, located in Ketchikan's Commercial Building, utilized Tokeen marble until the bank was remodeled and the marble replaced. In Juneau, the Federal and Territorial Building, now the State Capitol, built-in 1930, features four big exterior columns of Tokeen marble, plus marble wainscotting and trim inside. Some of this interior decoration can still be seen, although in parts of the building it has been replaced. The Fairbanks Federal Building also incorporated marble from Tokeen. 

Another state capitol using a great deal of Tokeen marble is in Olympia, Washington. The Vermont Marble Company quarried marble for the structure in 1926. These columns were 4 by 4 by 26 feet and more than 75 percent of the marble quarried had to be discarded because of flaws. 


Between 50 and 100 men worked at Tokeen at various times in the years from 1915 to 1926, but the workforce averaged 70 men. Among the workers in 1926 was Lans Wickland, a young lad from Iowa. His uncle, Fritz Wickland, one of the sub-foremen, had encouraged his nephew to join him in Alaska.

Wickland, long afterward, remembered that the men worked nine hours a day, six days a week.  As a blacksmith's helper, Wickland received $3 a day, plus boat fare from and back to Seattle if he stayed the nine-month season. The company fed the men, furnished beds but no bedding, supplied hot water and soap to wash clothes, and provided a drying room.

In addition to the quarry workers, blacksmith and helper, and a machinist, there were a first and second cook, dishwasher, and two helpers for the dining room. The cooks baked bread, pies, cookies, and the food supplies came in on the company boat or on the steamers that transported marble to Tacoma.

In 1926, as in most years, there were only two women in camp: the wives of the superintendent and the general foreman. The company did not encourage families because of the lack of housing.

Unlike many mining camps, Tokeen had no doctor nor hospital facilities. The nearest towns with doctors were Ketchikan and Wrangell, both a day's journey by boat. Occasionally a man died, in one instance from a ruptured appendix, before he could reach medical attention.

The camp at Tokeen remained a company town during its entire existence, and no private enterprise, such as a saloon, was encouraged or undertaken. During the few idle hours, the men played cards - occasionally five-card stud - or read books and periodicals from a well-stocked reading room. Generally, someone in the crew played a musical instrument. Wickland remembered in 1926 Malcolm Moberg, the blacksmith, played a "wicked violin." Occasionally, the men would tip back their chairs and join in songs.

Another form of recreation made the Ketchikan press.

"The new golf course is popular with employees and works on increasing the number of holes is in progress." One of the workmen had arrived at Tokeen with a lone golf club and a ball and had buried a tin can in the ground beside the bunkhouse to practice putting.

On Sundays, when the men did not work, they could use small skiffs to visit nearby canneries and villages or to fish for halibut, salmon, or trout. Occasionally, a Presbyterian minister from Craig held services.

Many of the employees were new to Alaska and the wilderness, and this sometimes created problems. In 1923, the crew from the mailboat Prince of Wales spent considerable time helping to search for seven Tokeen employees. The men, recent arrivals, had gone for a Sunday afternoon walk in the woods. Unaccustomed to the dense under a bush, they became turned around and could not find their way back to camp. Late the following night they were located, cold and hungry, on the beach some distance from camp.

The men worked at Tokeen for nine months of the year. Vermont Marble Company learned very early that quarrying could only be carried on for that period of time, although during some mild winters the overburden could be stripped. In 1910 it took a month for E. L. Norton, superintendent, and his 14-man crew to travel from West Rutland, Vermont, to Tokeen. There, on 4 March, they found snow nearly eight feet deep in the tramway cuts and in the quarries.

During the winter months, the water pipes from the reservoir frequently froze overnight and on weekends, cutting off the water supply to the boilers. In 1913, crews buried the pipes but evidently not deeply enough because freezing continued to be a problem.

The Tokeen marble quarries operated through 1926. Because the demand for building stone had diminished, the camp remained closed for the 1927 season.

It is not possible to determine the value of the marble quarried at Tokeen during the preceding years. The value of all Alaskan marble from 1901 to 1919 exceeded $1,830,000. How much of that consisted of Calder marble is unknown. The value of the marble taken out, specifically from the Tokeen quarry from 1919 to 1925, was $797,214.

The Tokeen quarries opened one last time in 1932 when construction of the Fairbanks Federal Building called for Alaskan marble. That summer 150 men worked at Tokeen. Two-thirds of the marble taken out went to the finishing plant and crews stacked the remainder on the ground for future shipments, which never took place. Years later one block was removed to Anchorage, where it stands today as a sculpture in front of the Old City Hall. 

The quarries remained closed in 1933, and company officials reported that the production had been halted to sell the product on hand before quarrying more marble. 25 The company kept the property in working condition for several years, but eventually it salvaged or sold most of the machinery. Eventually, it sold the patented land to Puget Sound Pulp and Timber Corporation, which later merged with Georgia Pacific Corporation.  

All of the buildings at the old camp have fallen into ruin, but a few rotten timbers can be found among the blocks of marble which are stacked askew two or three blocks high. Eight quarries, ranging in depth from 10 to 60 feet, are filled with water, and tangles of elderberry and salmonberry bushes have grown to their edges. Little else remains on the site of Alaska's largest and last marble quarry. 


Taken from

"Fortunes From the Earth: An History of the Base and Industrial Minerals of Southeast Alaska"

Written by"Patricia Roppel" Copyright 1987

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1 comment

thanks for the history

Thomas Leigh-Kendall

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