OKANOGAN A volunteer crew of community members – from historians and retired individuals to business owners and students – cleaned years of graffiti and grime off the abandoned concentrating mill known as the China Wall.
Okanogan resident Ken Duke decided last fall that the graffiti had to go. He secured permission from owners of the property on which the former Arlington Mill sits, then set to work drumming up donations and a work crew.
Last week, the group sandblasted graffiti off the massive granite stones and trimmed most of the brush obscuring the wall from Loup Loup Canyon Road west of town.
“We had an amazing day,” Duke said.
The project took about four and a half hours and used three bags of sand, even though Duke was prepared to use 30.
Doug Woodrow and Barry George operated the sandblaster. Key Club students from Okanogan and Omak high schools helped, as did members of the North Central ATV Club.
“Their club does a lot of volunteer projects by cleaning and brushing trails, and cleaning campgrounds,” Duke said of the ATV group.
Key Club members, advised by Dennis O’Connor and Stephen Smith, “were amazing” as they cleared brush, Duke said.
Everyone worked together to clean up “the fallen debris, logs, brush and graffiti that were obscuring this immense historical site,” Woodrow said.
The sandblaster “made short work of the countless yards of ugly graffiti that has darkened the beautiful stone walls of the millhouse foundation for years,” he said. “The students hauled snags, deadfalls and brush of the three levels of the huge foundation and piled them off to the north side.”
Okanogan-Omak Rotary Club members provided a lunch of hot dogs, salads, chips and beverages, and Hometown Pizza of Omak contributed five large pizzas.
Frank Thompson of 24/7 Property Maintenance loaned the sand blaster and an air compressor, Oxarc contributed safety gear and Rawson’s Department store gave gloves. A porta-potty came from Mrs. Pumpco, attorney Bess Derting provided liability release forms and LifeLine Ambulance EMT Bob Garrison stood by in case first aid was needed.
Craig Randall gave 20 bags of sand, Mike Duke of Lees and Duke offered use of an angle grinder, Monte Andrews of Ag Tech assisted with equipment and cleaning products and Brad Olson of the Tire Factory contributed bottled water. Okanogan Kiwanis Club made a monetary contribution.
Ken Duke said the next phase is to install signs telling visitors about the mill’s history, reminding them it is on private property and asking people to keep the site clean.
The wall is all that remains of the Arlington Mill. Jonathan Bourne Jr. purchased the mill in 1888 and started working on the mill with the intent of concentrating ores from the Arlington Mine, which he owned, and other mills in the Ruby Hill area.
Over the years, brush and trees had grown up on and around the granite wall, and spray paint-wielding vandals have covered the stones with writing.
“It’s such an ugly, ugly site” now, even though for years local residents have enjoyed it, Duke said last fall.
James Franz, who lives in Seattle, owns the property.
Duke has set up a “China Wall Project” account at NCNB 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.”
Historian Bruce A. Wilson wrote in 1979 that 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.
The mill’s 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.
Although the wall became linked with the Chinese over the years, there’s no evidence that Chinese workers were involved with its construction, Wilson wrote, adding 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.