Alaska's First Pipeline
Named for James Davidson, a surveyor and engineer who mapped out its route, the Davidson Ditch was a 90-mile water conduit from multiple river drainages south of the Yukon River that terminated at the gold fields just north of the city of Fairbanks. It was part ditch and part steel pipe sections riveted together ranging in diameter from 46 to 56 inches. Pipe sections were supported by timber piling created from wood harvested at the site of the ditch. At its terminus was a pump house in Fairbanks built in 1933 that distributed the water to local hydraulic mining operations. Today, that building is a restaurant that proudly reflects is origins.
Built to supply water to gold mining dredges in the Interior, the ditch was the first large-scale pipeline construction project in Alaska. The first crews began clearing the right-of-way for the ditch in April 1926. Roughly paralleling the Steese Highway, ditch workers also acted as road crews because the Territory of Alaska did not maintain the roadway before June 1 of each year. A handful of work camps were established along the route to house workers. The construction project concluded May 18, 1928, when the first water flowed into the pipeline. It was used on and off until it was abandoned in 1967 due to economic conditions and historic flooding in the Fairbanks area. Lessons learned in its construction were applied to the building of the Trans-Alaska Pipeline System some 50 years later. Though abandoned, part of the pipeline is preserved because it transversed the White Mountains National Recreation Area. It can still be viewed from an observation point at 57.3 mile on the Steese Highway.
The Davidson Ditch was finished ahead of scheduled but over budget. In total, the project cost $1,773,841 to build, about $100,000 more than its anticipated price of $1,662,894.
Bernie Karl, a member of Pioneers of Alaska Men's Igloo No. 4, donated a 10-foot section of the historic pipeline for display. In October of 2018, with the help of K & K Recycling and CMI Inc., the section was moved to the Mining Valley at Pioneer Park. It was placed next to the Bucyrus steam shovel that also worked on the ditch.
A section of the historic Davidson Ditch pipeline now resides in the Mining Valley section of Pioneer Park. Photo courtesy of Jim Plaquet.
—Story contributed by Jim Plaquet, past president of Men's Igloo No. 4.
A steam shovel, possibly the Bucyrus located in the Mining Valley at Pioneer Park, works to build the Davidson Ditch. Photo © 2018 Pioneer Museum, Pioneer Park.
Crews working did the work of highway maintenance workers in addition to the work required for building the ditch. Photo © 2018 Pioneer Museum, Pioneer Park.
Water flows through the ditch allowing miners to sluice their gold finds. Photo © 2018 Pioneer Museum, Pioneer Park.
Where to Find the Display
The display is located inside Pioneer Park in the Mining Valley section:
2300 Airport Way
Fairbanks, Alaska 99701