Juneau had grown quickly in the time since that discovery. Miners were joined by merchants and the inevitable flood of others who follow the discoveries of immense mineral wealth. The town was now a buzz with the activity of mines and commerce.
It was this year that a local meat merchant, Willis Thorp, began to install a water wheel and electric generator on the banks of Gold Creek. His idea was to tap another one of Juneau's abundant resources, water, and use it to supply electricity to the other merchants and residents of the city. After all, fourteen years had passed since Thomas Edison had invented the incandescent light. It was time that Juneau join other towns and cities across America that had tossed aside their candles and lamps.
The first mention of Thorp's enterprise in the press of the period was in the September 9, 1893, issue of the Alaska Journal:
"Juneau is soon to have a system of electric lights; the building on Seward Street above Nelson's Drug Store is being fitted up as a store room and an office..."
Thorp's power plant was indeed operational shortly thereafter, and his thriving new business, Alaska Electric Light and Power Company, began to light up Juneau.
AEL&P's beginnings were quite modest. A water wheel to generate power and a few electric lines whose junction was a drug store storeroom. Growth came quickly, and by the summer of 1894, more lines had been added and street lights appeared on the corner of Second and Franklin Streets.
Thorp, however, soon lost interest in his fledgling enterprise. Other gold strikes were being made elsewhere and he had a new idea: he would drive cattle north to the Yukon. To pursue this idea, he decided he would have to sell AEL&P.
A group of four men stepped forward to purchase the Company and Thorp sold it to them in 1896.
This sale forged the first great link between AEL&P and the gold mines of Juneau. The four men, John Parker Corbus, Adam W. Corbus, Robert Duncan, Jr. and John F. Maloney, were affiliated with the Treadwell mines complex south of Douglas. They were all "old-timers" who had arrived shortly after Joe Juneau and Dick Harris discovered gold in Silver Bow Basin in 1880.
These men were visionaries. They saw electricity being put to use in the Treadwell mines and recognized the enormous potential electricity held for making people's lives easier and more enjoyable. With that could come profits for those who invested in electricity.
John Parker Corbus and his brother, Adam W. Corbus, came to Juneau to work in the office of the Treadwell mine. John arrived in 1886 and his brother, Adam, in 1892. At the time of the purchase, John was assistant superintendent of the mines. Duncan arrived in Juneau sometime prior to 1886, and by 1886 he was the Treadwell mine's superintendent. Maloney came to Juneau in 1885, established a law practice and represented the Treadwell companies in legal matters.
So the four men, plus the Corbus brothers' father, Andrew Taylor Corbus, who later served as the secretary/treasurer of the Treadwell mines for 16 years, took the helm of the company, with Maloney serving as the president of AEL&P and John P. Corbus as treasurer.
The change of ownership was noted in the May 7, 1896 issue of the Alaska News:
"The Corporation founded some years ago by Willis Thorp and known as Alaska Electric Light & Power Company, has changed hands. Messrs. Robert Duncan, Jr., J.P. Corbus, A.W. Corbus and J.F. Maloney purchasing the interests of Mr. Thorp."
Two days later The Searchlight reported that "the new Company will increase the capacity to 2,500 lights and extend service to Douglas." It also mentioned that the manager of AEL&P, W.L. Grant, was taking a trip south to the states "to secure new machinery for the steam plant which will be erected at the power house on Gold Creek."
The Gold Creek facility was seasonal. The new owners decided that to better serve the residents of Juneau, they needed a steam plant to supply a constant supply of electricity in the winter months when the flow of Gold Creek was low.
These and many other improvements were made as the company grew under Maloney's guidance, and the management of Grant.
Sadly, tragedy struck the partnership in 1898. Just two years after the purchase of AEL&P, a barge loaded with cargo foundered in Gastineau Channel right offshore from the Treadwell mines. Duncan, who was superintendent of the mines, led the salvage operation to save as much of the precious cargo as possible. Suddenly he lost his footing and fell into the icy cold waters of the Channel. While he survived the dunking, he became sick shortly thereafter. Duncan's condition worsened and pneumonia set in. Seeking treatment, he left Alaska. Unfortunately, however, he didn't recover.
With the death of Duncan, the partnership was reduced to three, and John P. Corbus advanced from assistant superintendent and became the new superintendent of the Treadwell mines.
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