Copper Center is located at the confluence of the Klutina and Copper Rivers, 100 miles north of Valdez. Valdez and Copper Center were both founded in 1898 during the gold rush. The promise of gold drew prospectors north from the Lower 48 States to Alaska that year and about 4,000 prospectors traveled through Valdez on their way to the Copper River Valley, where they thought they would find gold.
In the late winter and early spring of 1898, the prospectors crossed the Valdez and Klutina Glaciers. Then, they built boats and tried to navigate the Klutina River. Those that made the trip successfully reached the confluence of the Klutina and Copper Rivers in the early summer of 1898. Some lost their gear along the river. Others were in poor physical condition after the arduous journey. Some, however, had fared well.
At the confluence of these rivers, this mixed lot of prospectors found a busy little city of rough log cabins and tents. This was Copper Center! Along with the log cabins, Copper Center boasted a black smith shop, smoke houses, a hotel, store, and post office.
Prospectors used Copper Center as a base from which to explore the surrounding country in search of gold. They would go out for several weeks at a time to pan for gold flecks and nuggets, then return to their cabins at Copper Center to re-supply. There were social events in Copper Center that first summer, including an elaborate fourth of July celebration. Life and work were difficult in the Copper Valley that summer, and many of the prospectors gave up and went home in the fall.
Only about 300 prospectors wintered over in Copper Center. A number of prospectors developed scurvy because they did not eat proper diets. Many subsisted on bacon and beans. Some of the prospectors had the foresight to bring lime juice or supplement their diet with wild berries and spruce needle tea to ward off scurvy. Scurvy reached epidemic proportions in Copper Center that winter, necessitating heroic rescues, emergency deliveries of food from Valdez, and specialized medical care.
Prospectors that made it through the first winter and continued to work the rivers for gold were industrious, hardy, and dedicated. They continued to provide shelter and company in their cabins to those explorers, surveyors, and prospectors who would follow them.
Information for this historic moment came from Valdez Gold Rush Trails by Jim and Nancy Lethcoe.