In Spring, 2018, the Hiram College Music Department will premiere Associate Professor of Music Dawn Sonntag’s new opera about the Coal Creek gold mining community near the intersection of the Yukon and Charley Rivers in remote east-central Alaska during the 1930’s. The opera will be based on historical characters who lived and worked in the mine.
While Alaska might seem like a distant and remote location to many Northeast Ohioans, one of the first miners to discover gold at Coal Creek, Frank Slaven, was born in 1869 in Canton, Ohio. He travelled to Alaska in 1909 and remained there for most of his adult life. In the early 1930’s, Slaven built a roadhouse on the Yukon near Coal Creek. It became a hub for travelers making their way along the Yukon and for laborers at Coal Creek who were hauling equipment and gold to and from the camp. Helping Slaven run his roadhouse, which is now a National Park Service public access house, was Mary E. Bissell, a young woman from Connecticut who was 25 years younger than Slaven. Reputed to be a contract bride who had refused to marry the man to whom she was betrothed, Mary Bissell worked as the bookkeeper for Slaven’s Roadhouse and shared a room with Slaven, who called her his “niece” in his obituary.
History of the Coal Creek gold mine and Slaven’s Roadhouse, with historical photos: http://www.npshistory.com/publications/yuch/beckstead/index.htm
Effects of the Alaskan gold rush on American Indians: http://yukonalaska.com/klondike/indians.htm