The Chronicle • Sept. 22, 2013 •
Community • 3
Historic site gets some attention “Like remnants of a medieval fortress, the great stone walls rise from the heavily wooded slopes of Ruby Hill. Mottled sunlight plays across battlements three feet thick, the huge blocks of granite tightly fitted, the corners perfectly squared. “In the distant past, master stonemasons have worked here. Below the massive structure, at once the most enduring and mysterious of Okanogan County’s relics, Loup Loup Creek swirls gently through brush and meadow. “Any sensitive person visiting these ruins for the first time will be touched with awe.” — Bruce A. Wilson, Okanogan County Heritage, fall 1979
Early mining mill scarred by years of graffiti and neglect By Dee Camp The Chronicle OKANOGAN – A local man is spearheading an effort to clean years of graffiti from the China Wall, the popular name for a failed silver reduction mill tucked into a hillside off Loup Loup Canyon Road west of town. The wall, which sits on private property, is all that remains of the Arlington Mill. Over the years, brush and trees have grown on and around the granite wall, and spray paint-wielding vandals have covered the stones with writing. Lifelong resident Ken Duke decided all that graffiti has to go. “It’s such an ugly, ugly site” now, even though Duke for years local residents have enjoyed it, he said. Jonathan Bourne Jr. purchased the mill in 1888 and started working on the mill with Bourne the intent of concentrating ores from the Arlington Mine, which he owned, and other mills in the Ruby Hill area. At first, Duke wanted to use a non-toxic paint remover and have local teen service club members help with the scrubbing. But when he tested the cleaner earlier this month, it wouldn’t touch the paint. He’s now planning to sandblast the rock. Duke said he has been in contact with property owners Lisa and James Franz, who lives in Seattle. Lisa Franz said they’ve owned the property since 1997 and had hoped to do some cleanup themselves, but “it’s more than two people could do.” She said they put out a garbage can for bottles and cans, but found it filled to the brim with miscellaneous garbage. The two “are kind of excited” about the impending cleanup. Duke also has contacted Okanogan High School Principal Bob Shacklett and Omak High School Principal David Kirk about having members of the schools’ Kiwanis-sponsored Key Clubs help. Okanogan Key Club Adviser Dennis O’Connor, who also leads seniors in a community service project, said he’s interested in the project. “This will be something that the Key Club will look at participating in,” Kirk said. Getting a limited number of students involved might spark peer pressure to help deter further vandalism, Duke said. He’s also enlisted Okanogan teacher and fellow history buff Doug Woodrow to help. Woodrow has a sandblaster and also has agreed to make small, descriptive signs for the site. “The graffiti is pretty bad,” said Woodrow, who visited the site last week with Duke. “Unfortunately, I saw some familiar names.” Along with sandblasting the graffiti, the two plan to remove brush and fallen trees, and pick up trash. “With that much fuel accumulating, the damage potential to the walls would be greater when, not if, a fire occurs,” Woodrow said.
“ No other type of structure could have justified such an investment in Okanogan County’s earlier years. Author Bruce A. Wilson
” Duke said that while the site isn’t public, many people like to visit. He’d like to see it stay clean. He also plans strict rules for those involved with the cleanup, both for safety’s sake and to respect Franz’s property. No ATVs will be allowed as part of the work party’s transportation. Duke has set up a “China Wall Project” account at North Cascades National Bank to help with project costs. Once the China Wall cleanup is done, he said he’d like to move on and clean up the Ruby town site, which is on Salmon Creek and across Arlington Ridge from the wall, and other historic sites. Plans also call for Woodrow to document the China Wall cleanup on video and then make DVDs for Okanogan, Omak and other area schools “to show how bad it is to put graffiti on historical sites,” Duke said. The China Wall has been “part of Okanogan County history for so long and everybody’s been ignoring it,” he said. Back in 1888, Bourne paid $45,000 cash for the mine and spent another $130,000 on the mill, or leeching plant, and related work, according to the 1904 book “An Illustrated History of Stevens, Ferry, Okanogan and Chelan Counties.” But, after sinking all that money into the mill’s construction, “it was discovered that no water could be obtained on the site selected, although there was an abundance on the creek 200 feet below,” the book said. “Work was suspended, and of the ore which had accumulated, the best was concentrated at the Washington Reduction Co.’s mill.” The late Bruce A. Wilson — historian, former Chronicle publisher and state senator —
Graffiti covers the carefully fitted granite stones of the abandoned Arlington Mill, now known as the China Wall. wrote in the fall 1979 issue of the Okanogan County Heritage that “no other type of structure could have justified such an investment in Okanogan County’s earlier years.” Wilson wrote in the Okanogan County Historical Society’s magazine that a dry stamp mill might have been planned, but water still would have been needed for other phases of the concentrating process. Loup Loup Creek still didn’t provide enough water. Apparently plans called for bringing in water from another source, but that source wasn’t identified. “The walls and the rest of the Arlington Mill were constructed by the only sort of work force one might have expected to assemble in the raw, rugged Okanogan country of 1889 – miners, farmers, carpenters, masons of one sort or another, common laborers, and drifters,” Wilson wrote. The head mason was Chris Starzman, who homesteaded the North Star area north of Brewster. John Bawlf, for whom nearby Bawlf Road is named, also worked on the mill. The wooden superstructure, at least partially completed when Bourne gave up the project, was torn down and whatever equipment had been delivered to the site was removed. “Aside from a few mammoth timbers, only the granite walls are left, victims of miscalculation and of the collapse of the silver mining boom in 1893,” Wilson wrote. Through the years, the walls have become “shrouded in mystery and peppered with speculation,” he continued. Some people thought the walls might be the remains of an old mission. Others thought they resembled a Mayan ruin or were part of a previously undiscovered Civil War prison. The walls became linked with China, although there’s no evidence that Chinese workers were involved with its construction. Wilson wrote that some people thought the walls resembled the Great Wall of China. Stone for the wall came from a nearby quarry. The road past the mill site once was part of the main route between Twisp and the county seat at Conconully.
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Okanogan • 422-4881 Dee Camp/The Chronicle
The China Wall, in its pre-graffiti days, dwarfs visitors in 1980.
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