By Adrianne Young
A Discovery of Untold Riches
A prospector’s heart is its own force of nature. A prospector’s heart will propel perfectly sane people up deeply rutted roads garnished with washouts, mud pits, and pee-inspiring cliffs. In search of a remote camp, the prospector’s heart will forge rivers snarling with fresh glacial melt and spend the night in places so dark, floodlights look like penlights against the midnight air. History shows that be it canoe, tram, or unwieldy dog sled, the prospector’s heart takes the hard route — because there is no easy route to far-flung treasure.
So it was for James Henry Holden who, in 1896, found himself in such a remote area of Washington state’s North Cascade range that even today, it is impossible to reach the site by car.
No amateur prospector, the 36-year-old Harry (as his friends called him) had already taken a fortune of ore from a property he developed in Nevada. Not only did he know what he was looking for, he knew that the large mineral outcropping that he breathlessly assayed was going to tender a lot more than the $64,000 he had made from that mine down south in Nevada. Even though Holden knew he stood on a fortune, it is doubtful he knew the extent of what the site would proffer.
According to www.mindat.org, the four total claims that Holden staked contained a “lens shaped orebody with a length downdip of ~2,000’ a thickness of up to 100’. The zoned orebody ranges from a Zn rich footwall to a Cu rich hanging wall indicating the orebody is overturned. Radioactive mineralization occurs in the foot wall of the west end of the mine at the 1,950’ and 2,325’ levels.”
07 - Lindston : Original Howe Sound Mining Company Housing. Bill Phillips Holden Village Archives
While the land was unclaimed, access to it included a steep 11 miles down to a 55-mile-long lake. The nearest town, Chelan, was 16 miles down lake by boat. The nearest city to Chelan, Wenatchee, was 39 miles away. Wenatchee was over 150 miles away from Seattle. The fortune was going to cost a fortune to transport.
Also, weather was an issue. Lake Chelan is tucked up into the tight folds of the Cascades and runs for 55 miles over topography that then stretches into high desert. While full of microclimates, the area sees four distinct seasons that are replete with winter snow, spring mud and winds, and the aching heat of summer and the idyllic fall.
The distance and geography indeed proved too much. Over the rest of James Henry Holden’s life, $100,000 would be invested into the site’s development, the claim would be a mule kick away from sale countless times, and for 40 years, it would remain a distant dream only a prospector could love.
However remote the find, it was not anonymous. Holden’s 1918 obituary credits him for discovering the largest body of copper ore in Washington state — 20 years after his initial discovery.
Ten years after Holden’s death, the mine was sold to the Howe Sound Mining Company. It took another 10 years, a host of setbacks such as low copper prices, wildfire, and near financial disaster, for the Howe Sound Mining Company to at last begin production in 1938. Production was immediate and in that first year of operation, the mine processed 2,000 short tons of copper ore a day.
Holden Mine would eventually, by all accounts, provide a fortune of minerals: 600,000 ounces of gold, 2 million ounces of silver, 40 million pounds of zinc, and 212 million pounds of copper would come out of the mine.
2L Penberthy: Holden Mine Workers Larry Penberthy. Holden Village Archives
The Howe Sound Company immediately created a townsite to support the mine and by 1939, the budding town’s modernity and wealth had provided for a much talked about, state-of-the-art dining and recreation center with four bowling lanes in the basement. At peak production, the mine town supported a school, hotel, and a medical center that served 600 mine workers and their families. It was an astounding campus in the middle of the wilderness, where management lived in company chalets and dormitories were provided for single men.
Just to the west of Holden, workers created a bedroom community of over 100 private family homes. By 1957, when the price of metal had dropped and the mine’s resources were significantly diminished, Holden’s idyllic community was suddenly forced to disband. For decades after, former residents held reunions to reminisce and celebrate a truly historic time at Holden.
A Different Kind of Fortune
The sudden closure and evacuation of Holden Mine made national news. Up in Alaska, a young man named Wes Prieb read a newspaper article about Holden’s closing and something in his heart must have sparked. Instantly, he hit upon an idea to create a youth retreat center at Holden. Though fuzzy on the geographic details, he still sensed treasure and wrote to the Howe Sound Mining Company about purchasing the town. Howe Sound’s prompt response was an asking price of $100,000.
01-Phillips: The original basement bowling alley. Bill Phillips. Holden Village Archives
The price, though out of the question, did not end the conversation for Prieb. The next year, on April 1, he inquired again — this time as a student at the Lutheran Bible Institute in Seattle. Howe Sound reiterated: $100,000.
A couple of years later, the undaunted Prieb wrote to Howe Sound again, this time suggesting that the Lutheran Bible Institute would make good use of Holden. In response, the Howe Sound Mining Company sent Prieb a telegram asking that he telephone the company and to place the call on collect. The company then offered to gift the Holden development to the Lutheran Bible Institute (now Trinity Lutheran College).
When Prieb went to the college officials with Howe Sound’s offer, the administrators were both skeptical and surprised. The young man had not spoken to anyone at the college about this matter before. On faith or curiosity, they made the trek to the North Cascades, and up the deep, glacial-fed waters of Lake Chelan to the once bustling mining town.
The stunning wilderness that surrounded clear, blue Lake Chelan was pitched, untouchably so, and utterly serene save for the comings and goings of eagles, osprey, deer, elk, cougar, and bear. Inset against the thick forests of ponderosa pine, was an impossibly large, multi-building facility full of potential and rife with neglect. It was also obvious that the village required the kind of restoration and maintenance that were out of the tiny college’s financial reach.
Eventually, with the help of Lutheran youth groups and countless volunteer hours, a nonprofit was created for the purpose of holding summer retreats at Holden.
Spinning Gold in a Ghost Town
In 1961, just over 40 young Lutheran volunteers paid their way to the village and worked to clean up the graffiti and shore up the buildings. The Forerunners, as they called themselves, created a code of conduct and set Holden Village’s standards of shared worship, meals, and work — values that are honored to this day.
Some of the town’s structures, built without the limitations of building code, were more challenging to salvage but many buildings have returned to life as the center of the community.
Over the decades, due to both its remoteness and maintenance requirements, Holden Village has become a year-round retreat center. Its culture of sharing spirit, food, and work expanded to include sharing knowledge, research, and information. The original dining hall is still the center of activity and acts as a gathering place where people can meet to play board games and ping pong. Pool tables, musical instruments, and an abundance of conversation ensure that even the most blustery winter days are brilliant with life. Even the basement bowling lanes still offer a cool respite from the sweltering summer sun.
Today, the miners’ private homes (built without permission on forest service property) have been razed. Hikers can still find the foundations of some of the houses on the steep hill that overlooks Holden Village. Once called Honeymoon Heights, these were the love nests young miners and their brides built to create a new life with a touch more seclusion. Their presence touches on the precious personal history of the people who first imbued the spirit of Holden Village.
Holden from the water: @lakechelanigans Instagram
Turning the Inaccessible into Treasure
Most modern visitors arrive by Lady of the Lake — the year-round ferry that brings foot passengers from Fields Point Landing in Chelan to the dock in Lucerne — the little lakeside community below Holden Village. Holden Village buses meet guests at the dock and transport them up a steep, 12-switchback gravel road. Once they’ve arrived at the village, the buses are greeted by welcome applause by residents, volunteers and guests alike.
Holden Village is also popular with diehard summer hikers in the know. Just about 11 miles from the Pacific Crest Trail, Holden provides a bit of improbable civilization along the challenging 2,500-mile trail, offering welcome amenities like hot food and ice cream.
Only registered guests are allowed to enter the village structures. Those who book a room in advance are able to explore the historic buildings and pop into the art studios. Visiting faculty from around the world come to Holden Village to teach theology, music, ecology, and art. The village offers guests many opportunities to volunteer and participate in the culture of the community and provide a wealth of hands-on classes and lectures and concerts. Guests are also provided with day-hike supplies that include a fishing pole and tackle.
Holden Village continues to thrive on the dedication of volunteers, depending on more than 1,000 volunteers annually to support its year around efforts. Volunteers stay from two weeks to one year and continue the mission of community service for the benefit of spirit. People of all ages and faiths are welcome to live a moment in the sway of the still-wild North Cascades.
Summer 2022 will mark the 60th anniversary of Holden Village’s summer programming. The 2022 program will include visual and performing arts, guest musicians, lectures on the sciences, theology, inclusion and racial justice, diversity, as well as global and domestic political topics.
Holden Village has survived wildfires, economic downturns, superfund cleanup, travel trends, and social change in part because it is beyond the reach of nearly all modes of transportation. Change can’t happen quickly in such a remote location. Unlikely is it that the village’s namesake, James Henry Holden, ever could have imagined that so much life would thrive on the far-flung claim he never took a profit from. Even Wes Prieb, who saw vitality in the abandoned mining town, would be surprised that over 6,000 people a year visit and retreat in the village.
Yet Holden Village is a place that exists and continues to thrive because of the same fearlessness, adventure, and drive that coursed through its namesake’s heart.
Holden Village is ensconced in the wild and remote Glacier Peak Wilderness. The vast majority of Holden Village’s visitors arrive by boat, taking one of the three boats run by the Lake Chelan Boat Company.
In the peak of summer, foot passengers can take the Lady of the Lake, Lady Express or Lady Liberty. Departure and arrival times vary depending on season and weather, but expect to be underway for at least three hours before arriving at the Lucerne boat dock with an early afternoon return time. For sail times, reservations, and more information, go to www.ladyofthelake.com.
Holden Village at night: Bobbi Jo Cyr. Curiously Creative
If you’d like to stay in Holden Village as a volunteer, read more about the organization’s programs and opportunities at http://www.holdenvillage.org.
Call the Holden Village Bed & Breakfast at (509) 687-9695 for availability and rates.
To get to and from Holden from the Lucerne boat dock, reserve shuttle space in advance by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org. Round-trip bus fare is $15 per person.
Committed hikers on the Pacific Crest Trail can follow the wayfaring signs down the 11-mile trail to Holden Village. There are a limited number of open field camping spots in the Holden Ballpark Campground run by the U.S. Forest Service. Campsites are first-come, first served. Note that, while there are no fees to camp, the amenities are limited to one Wallowa toilet and potable water is not made available. Contact the Chelan Ranger District for more information, (509) 682-4900
Toasting the Legends of the Mine on Lake Chelan
In the late 1930s, the professional women who had served the construction workers at Grand Coulee Dam moved into the vacant Edgemont Hotel on the shores of Lake Chelan. Located just a few miles by water from Lucerne, the hotel became a brothel, serving the miners at the booming Holden Mine.
The easiest and fastest way from Holden to the brothel was to descend the steep 11 miles down to the shore, and then go up the lake by rowboat.
The operation was not in existence for long before the building spontaneously burned down. However, lore has it that one enterprising local, who lived in a town across the lake, started a successful rowboat taxi service to the brothel.
The legend of this hardy, entrepreneur is celebrated by a local, award-winning winery named Hard Row to Hoe, which serves fun, story, and delicious wine across the lake on the North shore of Lake Chelan.
Always a good time, Hard Row to Hoe serve wine such as The Coquette – a Cinsault, Good in Bed sparkling wine, and Shameless Hussy Rosé. They even provide a row boat and boas for photo ops!
Adrianne Young is a writer from Washington State