Limestone Inlet is 0.25 miles (0.4 km) wide and extends about 2 miles (3.2 km) into the Alaska mainland from the eastern shore of Stephens Passage, between Arthur Peak to the north and Webster Peak to the south, about 84 miles (135 km) northeast of Sitka and 25 miles (40 km) southeast of Juneau, Alaska. The inlet was named in 1869 by Commander Richard W. Meade of the U.S. Navy on the steamer USS Saginaw for an exposed streak of marble on the southern flank of Arthur Peak and the northern shore of the inlet. Stephens Passage was named in 1794 by Captain George Vancouver for Sir Philip Stephens, and it was first charted that same year by Lieutenant Joseph Whidbey. Arthur Peak is a pluton composed of quartz diorite and tonalite that formed during the Cretaceous when magma intruded older volcanic rocks and metamorphosed carbonate rocks of the Permian period. The volcanic rocks are mostly greenstone and the carbonate rocks are marble. In 1910, marble prospects in Southeast Alaska attracted the attention of gold mining companies, and claims were located at Dall Island and at Limestone Inlet. The deposit at Limestone Inlet was probably discovered about 1905 and there was some surface mining prior to 1911. The main work was done on a prospect known as Enterprise located on Arthur Peak at an altitude of 1,370 feet (418 m). The ore body consisted of a quartz vein up to 9 feet (2.7 m) thick. The prospect was developed by a drift tunnel 30 feet (9 m) long and by stripping a ledge along the outcrop for several hundred feet. The ore was transported down the mountain with an aerial tram to a mining camp located on the north shore. By 1914, 200 tons of ore had been processed in a rod mill, and at least 15 ounces (0.4 kg) of gold and a small amount of silver were recovered. Later in 1914, Bartlett L. Thane took over the property and recovered 85 ounces (2.4 kg) of gold from 300 tons of ore that were processed in a stamp mill. In 1989, the Enterprise mine still had an inferred resource of 24,600 tons of ore with an average grade of 0.23 ounce (6.5 g) of gold per ton.
The earliest inhabitants of Southeast Alaska were more than likely maritime people who traveled, hunted, and fished using small wood or skin-covered boats or canoes. About 6,500 to 5,000 years ago, a shift in stone tool technology with the appearance of micro blades in the archaeological record, but the people continued to rely on the sea and shoreline for much of their food. Between 5,000 and 3,000 years ago, micro blades were generally replaced by tools made from slate which was cut and polished to provide very sharp points and edges. At the same time, there are signs of greater reliance on salmon and the use of large fish traps and weirs to catch Pacific salmon near spawning streams. They probably used these new tools to carve dugout canoes, make bentwood boxes, and construct large plank clan houses. By the time the first Europeans arrived on the coast in the 18th century, the Tlingit had an elaborate stone tool kit, including adzes, hammer stones, wedges, awls, scrapers, blades, net sinkers, and arrow and spear points. The Tlingit homeland can be divided into large territories known as ‘kwaans’ meaning ‘people of that place’. Limestone Inlet and this part of Stephens Passage are within the traditional territory of the Tʼaaḵu Ḵwáan or Taku people including the lower reaches of the Taku River in British Columbia and Alaska. Their main village was located up the Taku River in what is now the province of British Columbia. From this main winter village, they dispersed to their family subsistence camps during the spring, summer, and fall. The Taku like many of the Tlingit clans were actively involved in trading between the interior and the coast and held possession of the trade routes along the Taku River. This forced the interior tribes to use them as middlemen instead of allowing trade directly with the white settlers. In the early 1840s, the Hudson’s Bay Company established a trading post called Fort Durham in Taku Harbor about 3 miles (5 km) north-northwest of Limestone Inlet to take advantage of the trade route up and down the Taku River. This caused the Taku people to abandon their traditional winter village and move near the fort. Although Fort Durham was abandoned by 1843 as unprofitable, the Taku stayed in the area of the fort until 1880 when gold was discovered in Juneau. The Taku people then moved to the area around Sheep Creek to work with the miners for wages. In 1903, when the boundary dispute was settled between the United States and the United Kingdom, some of the Taku living along the river moved farther inland into British Columbia and preserved the social system of the coastal Tlingit with its matrilineal moiety system and clans with crests.
Limestone Inlet is the release site of hatchery chum salmon that are reared at the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery in Juneau. The hatchery is operated by Douglas Island Pink & Chum, Inc. which was formed in 1976 by a group of Juneau residents including Ladd Macauley in response to legislation passed in 1974 that authorized the Alaska Department of Fish and Game to issue permits to private non-profit salmon hatcheries for improving the salmon fishery. In 1976, the Kowee Creek Hatchery was established, and in 1980, the Sheep Creek Hatchery was built. In 1989, the Macaulay Salmon Hatchery was added, and in 1996, the company took over the operations of the Snettisham Hatchery. The state permit allows the company to retain a percentage of the catch for cost recovery. The hatcheries incubate, rear, and release chum, Chinook, coho, and sockeye salmon. The chum and sockeye are produced for the commercial fleets, and the Chinook and coho are produced for the Juneau and Haines sport fishing fleets. Chum salmon are the primary source of cost recovery revenue. The salmon are released from 12 sites between Saint James Bay in Lynn Canal and Port Snettisham in Stephens Passage. The Macaulay Salmon Hatchery is currently permitted to produce 135 million chum, 1.5 million coho, 1.25 million Chinook, and 50,000 rainbow trout. In 2022, about 15 million chum salmon were released into Limestone Inlet, and the expected total return is about 100,000 fish. The inlet is a special harvest area that is closed to commercial fishing but can be opened by an emergency order to better utilize returning chum salmon. Read more here and here. Explore more of Limestone Inlet and Stephens Passage here: