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The History of Latouche, Alaska

by Murray Lundberg


    The community of Latouche no longer exists, but it was located on Latouche Island, a small island (12 miles long, 3 wide) at the western entrance to Prince William Sound, at 60° 00'N., 147° 55' W.

    In 1784, Gerasim Izmailov led Captain James Cook to Prince William Sound, and the first charts of the island known to Izmailov as Ostrov Khlikakhlik were drawn. It was Captain George Vancouver who, in 1794, gave the island its current name (it has also at various times been called Foot Island and Isla San Antonia.

    A series of copper prospects were staked on Latouche Island in the late 1890s, and the Beatson copper mine, in the northwest section of the island, started shipping ore in 1904. In 1915, with war needs greatly boosting demand (and prices), the mine was taken over by the Kennecott Corporation. At its peak period in 1917-1918, there were about 300 people working at the Beatson and almost 4,000 people on the island, most in the town of Latouche close to the Beatson mine. Expanded operations required a steady supply of coal, and to supply that need, the Alaska Railroad built spurs into coal mines such as the Janios & Athens operation near Houston.

    Most of the copper mines in Alaska closed soon after the end of World War I due to falling prices. The Beatson mine lasted much longer, but with copper prices nearing 5 cents a pound, it closed on November 29, 1930. During its lifetime, the mine had produced a total of 182,600,000 pounds of copper - there were 23 other copper mines in the region, but the total production of all 23 combined was only 26,067,000 pounds.

    The earthquake that hit Alaska on March 27, 1964, caused massive changes to the state's landscape. Latouche Island was raised an average of 9 feet and moved about 60 feet to the southeast, resulting in discoveries such as stumps from a forest that was submerged below sea level and buried in prehistoric times.

    The largest landholder on Latouche Island today is the Chugach Alaska Corporation, established in 1971 under the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA). At the former copper mine site, the tailings remain, but most of the derelict buildings were demolished in the late 1970s and the property has been subdivided for recreational lots. The Horseshoe Bay State Marine Park is located southwest of the old town of Latouche and three miles northeast of the new town of Chenega Bay.

Books about Latouche:

* Memories of Latouche, by Decema Kimball Andresen (Anchorage: Publication Consultants, 1997). Paperback, 38 pages.

* Copper deposits of the Latouche and Knight Island districts, Prince William Sound, by B. L. Johnson (U.S. Geological Survey Bulletin 622, 1918, pages 193-220).

    The postcard below was published by Schaller's Alaska Shop in Seward in about 1910. The caption is: "Latouche, Alaska. Situated on the southern end of Prince William Sound, between Valdez and Seward. Here is found one of the largest operating copper mines in the world."

The copper mine at Latouche, Alaska