Monthly Archives: May 2015

Tonsina Roadhouse

View of Tonsina Roadhouse, a group of log buildings in a clearing, a sign hanging over the smaller log building reads, in part: "Fred and Jake Tonsina Road House" and a horse stands next to the building. A canvas tent is visible in the background and a dog stands near building at right. [Frederick John, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage UAA-hmc-0379-series2-v2-63a]

View of Tonsina Roadhouse, a group of log buildings in a clearing, a sign hanging over the smaller log building reads, in part: “Fred and Jake Tonsina Road House” and a horse stands next to the building. A canvas tent is visible in the background and a dog stands near building at right. [Frederick John, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage UAA-hmc-0379-series2-v2-63a]

The Tonsina Roadhouse was built around 1900 by Jim Donaldson, and for the first few years it carried his name, the Donaldson Roadhouse. It was located at the junction of the Government trail from Valdez, built by Capt. William R. Abercrombie’s men in 1899, with the Nizina Indian Trail, which accessed the rich Kennicott copper country to the east of the broad Copper River. Utilizing only hand tools, Abercrombie’s soldiers built a 93-mile packhorse trail from the coastal community of Valdez to the Tonsina River, and then built a bridge across the river. The Army Signal Corps constructed a telegraph station at the site in 1902, and a post office was established in 1903. It was discontinued in 1916, re-established in 1930, and discontinued again in 1933.

In 1902 Jake Nafstad and Fred A. Martin added onto the main roadhouse building, added a second livestock barn, and changed the name to the Tonsina Roadhouse. It would later be changed again, to the Upper Tonsina Roadhouse, and it could provide accommodations for up to 60 guests.

Tonsina Roadhouse, 1903

Tonsina Roadhouse, 1903

Historian and author Kenneth L. Marsh shared a few early travelers’ comments in his book about the early days the of the Richardson Highway, The Trail (Sluice Box Productions, 2008). In 1904 one noted “At supper (Tonsina Roadhouse) we had fresh red radishes, lettuce and turnips out of the only garden in Alaska we saw. They were fine.” Two years later another traveled reported “….the one bright spot beyond the Copper River valley was the night we spent at the Tonsina Roadhouse. We had bunks with blankets on them; we had good meals and everything (except the travelers) was clean… Prices were $2 per meal and the same for a bunk.”

Tonsina Lodge, 1920's

Tonsina Lodge, 1920’s

A 1931 travelogue brochure has been uploaded to Murray Lundberg’s expansive ExploreNorth website for travel and history fans, and it includes an interesting entry for what was by then known as the Tonsina Lodge, at mile 80: “Here you may be assured of an excellent meal, or night’s lodging, and should you have the time, good trout fishing is found in the stream by the roadside.”

A footnote: There’s an interesting entry at the Wikipedia page for Tonsina: “The centerpiece of Tonsina valley is the Tonsina River Lodge. This roadhouse alongside the Richardson Highway consists of a bar, restaurant, gas station, convenience and liquor store, laundromat and showers. There is also a camping area, RV park and motel. A main attraction of the roadhouse is the historic hotel. The Tonsina River Lodge is a rambling, shambling, gravel-covered spread, with weatherbeaten buildings. The historic hotel is an orange, three story Army barracks with a red tin roof. It once was a brothel. The lodge is at the end of an airplane runway. The lodge sits in the foothills of several towering, snow-capped mountain ranges, next to a stream.”

This seems in conflict with the current TripAdvisor and Yelp reviews for the Tonsina River Lodge, which give the roadhouse four and five stars and consistently good reports on service and accommodations.

Tonsina River Lodge

Tonsina River Lodge, 2015

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Yost’s Roadhouse

Young Margaret Murie

Young Margaret Murie, who would become an ecologist, environmentalist, author, and recipient of the Presidential Medal of Freedom, the highest civilian honor awarded in the US.

In her classic memoir Two in the Far North (Knopf, 1962), about finding love and adventure in Alaska with the great naturalist Olaus Murie, Margaret Murie tells of traveling via dog team and horse-drawn wagon in 1918, over the trail which would become the Richardson Highway. The future author, ecologist, and environmentalist, who would be called ‘the Grandmother of the Conservation Movement’ by both the Sierra Club and the Wilderness Society, was only fifteen years old, but she was making the trip from her home in Fairbanks to Cordova, where she would meet her father and her brother. At one point she is riding in the sled of a dog driver named French John, and after dinner and a few hours of sleep at the Black Rapids roadhouse, he awakens her to continue the journey south.

“I was tucked into a big wolfskin robe in John’s basket sled sometime around midnight. For now the snow even high in the mountains was thawing and we must still travel at night. But not silently, for John poured forth one story after another of the North, of his dogs, even while he struggled to keep the sled on the thawing, sliding trail which led up and around and ever up, with the high peaks glistening above us.

A dogteam on the Fairbanks-Valdez trail.

A dogteam on the Fairbanks-Valdez trail.

Sometimes John talked to his seven beautiful Huskies in French, and I almost drowsed, snug in the furs, in spite of the bouncing and sliding of the sled on the soft trail. Once I roused suddenly with John’s face close to mine; he was crouching under the side of the sled, his shoulder under the rim of the basket, his voice exhorting the dogs. He was fairly holding the sled by main strength from turning over and rolling down the mountainside, for here the way led across a steep mountain face and the trail had thawed away. ‘Jus’ sit still, don’ be scare. We soon get to Yosts now; dis place here de worse one. Ah! Dere’s de bell!’

Yost's Roadhouse, 1916

Yost’s Roadhouse, 1916

“Bell? I sat up. We had come onto a level pass, and out in the middle hung a large bell in a framework of heavy timbers. A few yards away there was a black hole in the snow, and above the hole, smoke.

“‘Funny places in dis world, eh?’ said John. ‘You know, snow still very deep up here, roadhouse mostly covered. Dis is top of Alaska Range–summit. And dat bell, she is save much people since early days. Wind, she blow like son of gun here in winter–roadhouse always cover in snow. Bell, she only ting to tell us where Yost’s is, see? Wind so strong she ring bell. Whoa, Blackie–don’ you know roadhouse when you right dere?'”

This first-person exchange is echoed in an article written in 2002 for the Los Angeles Times, titled Finding Gold Rush Tales and Roadhouse Comfort on the Richardson Highway. Writer Michael Parrish opens his article with some chilling history: “At least a dozen people died in the winter of 1913 along the old Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, lost in churning blizzards as they struggled to find Yost’s Roadhouse. The two-story log lodge in the central Alaska Range was often so buried in snow that only its stovepipe poked above the drifts. Yost’s was 200 yards back from the trail, making it even harder to find in a storm.”

Yost's Roadhouse. The tall pole hold the bell which would guide lost travelers to the roadhouse.

Yost’s Roadhouse. The tall pole on the left holds the bell which would guide lost travelers to the roadhouse.

He shares the story of the bell which would help lost travelers find safety and comfort: “The summer after that deadly season, a Lt. Dougherty of the U.S. Army Signal Corps installed a wire fence across the winter trail to steer blizzard-blind trekkers toward the front door, and a 150-pound bell mounted near the roadhouse would clang whenever the wind blew. Those innovations are said to have saved many lives.”

Author Ken Marsh’s epic 406-page history of the Richardson Highway, The Trail (Sluice Box Productions, 2008) shares more about Yost’s Roadhouse. Apparently built in 1905 at the confluence of McCallum Creek and Phelan Creek, on the north side of Isabel Pass, it was a small one-story log building operated by a Mrs. McCallum during the summer and winter of 1905-06. Known at that time as McCallum’s Roadhouse, it was, according to Marsh, “at a pivotal spot… as well as a treacherous area during the winter.” Marsh continues: “Charlie Yost took over McCallum’s in the winter of 1906-07 and enlarged it with a two-story log building next to the old structure. The name was changed to Yost’s Roadhouse, and Charlie was said to have dispensed a basic menu of hot cakes and beans to travelers at two dollars a meal.”

1908 advertisement. "No Better Accommodations for Ladies or Gentlemen on the Trail. Everything Obtainable in the Market is Served at our Tables. Can Accommodate 40 Head of Horses and Have Good Dog House."

1908 ad: “No Better Accommodations for Ladies or Gentlemen on the Trail. Everything Obtainable in the Market is Served at our Tables. Can Accommodate 40 Head of Horses and Have Good Dog House.”

Ken Marsh shared an excerpt from Hallock C. Bundy’s 1910 guide to the Valdez-Fairbanks trail: “The roadhouse at Yost’s is built right on the bank of the Delta River, at one of the most exposed portions of the winter trail, but at the place where it is most needed. At night the big light that is hung outside the door can be seen for a long distance by the travelers coming from Fairbanks and is a welcome beacon in stormy weather.”

A flood of the Delta River in March, 1916 overran the roadhouse. The Alaska Road Commission reportedly used the site as a camp for their men and equipment while working on improvements to the Richardson Highway during the 1920’s and ’30’s, but nothing remains at the site today.

Anderson’s Roadhouse

Pass Creek Roadhouse, Rainy Pass. Photo by Irving McKinney Reed, 1920. [UAF-1968-21-217]

Pass Creek Roadhouse, Rainy Pass. Photo by Irving McKenny Reed, 1920. [UAF-1968-21-217]

Researching roadhouses can be confusing at times, particularly when the same roadhouse is identified by reliable resources as having more than one name. Such is the case with Anderson’s Roadhouse in Rainy Pass, which is identified as the Pass Creek Roadhouse in this 1920 photo by Irving McKenny Reed. Mr. Reed was traveling the Iditarod Trail via dogteam in the winter of 1920 in the company of George Glass and his 17-year-old son, Ophir. In a magazine article about their expedition, written by Mr. Reed for the October, 1965 issue of Alaska Sportsman, he described the roadhouse: “…a long ramshackle log building facing south with a big cache on pilings behind.”

Anderson's Roadhouse, Rainy Pass 1914

Anderson’s Roadhouse, Rainy Pass 1914

Compare that photograph with this earlier one, taken from a slightly different angle, titled “Anderson’s Roadhouse log cabin near creek on approach to Rainy Pass, Alaska, August 1914.” Note the construction and placement of the buildings and the cache behind them. The file for this photograph at the University of Washington explains the origin: “Photograph from album created in circa 1914 by James Lennox McPherson, a civil engineer, that documents the activities of the Kuskokwim Reconnaissance survey party (known as Party No. 11 of the Alaska Railroad Commission expedition). The A.E.C. had assigned McPherson to research the feasibility of building a branch railroad from Anchorage west to the mining districts on the Kuskokwim and Iditarod Rivers.”

Outline of the Anderson's Roadhouse site features, from the Society for Historic Archeology newsletter

Outline of the Anderson’s Roadhouse site features, from the Society for Historic Archeology newsletter

An article in the Winter, 2012 issue of the newsletter for The Society for Historical Archeology explains how new research has uncovered details about the Anderson Roadhouse, citing the 1914 photograph above: “Recent historical research has brought to light archived collections of engineering survey photographs from 1914 and maps associated with a proposed railroad route along portions of the (Iditarod) Trail, which would have opened southwest Alaska to year-round transportation and supplies. One of the archived photos, found at the University of Washington, contributed to the field identification of the Anderson’s Roadhouse site due to the topography visible behind the building that was not evident in other historic photographs. Based on the 1914 photograph, the roadhouse consisted of a log structure with two main volumes and a lean-to addition built onto the south wall. A large cache made of logs and elevated on four posts is visible behind the house. Historic narratives indicated that the site included a ‘kennel’ for 100 dogs, and that the abandoned roadhouse burned to the ground in 1936 during a hunting expedition.”

The file note for Mr. Reed’s 1920 wintertime photo states: “The roadhouse was owned by the Anderson brothers at the time.” So did the name of the roadhouse change at some point between 1914 and 1920? Apparently not, as it was still referred to as Anderson’s Roadhouse in this 1922 Alaska Road Commission report:

Alaska Road Commission Annual Report 1922

Alaska Road Commission Annual Report 1922

For more information:

Article in the Winter, 2012 Society for Historic Archeology newsletter

Anderson Roadhouse, University of Washington digital collection

Pass Creek Roadhouse, 1920, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Irving McKenny Reed at Alaska Mining Hall of Fame

Haly’s Roadhouse

Haly's Roadhouse, built sometime between 1900 and 1916; Jim Haly is one of the men in foreground.

Haly’s Roadhouse, built sometime between 1900 and 1916; Jim Haly, one of the men in foreground. owned and operated the roadhouse from 1901 to 1918.

Jim Haly’s Roadhouse in Fort Yukon was a popular gathering place for residents of the region and for anyone traveling through the Fort Yukon area. Jim Haly was known for keeping a huge kettle of rabbit stew going at all times, and according to Above the Arctic Circle: The Alaska Journals of James A. Carroll, 1911-1922: “During the winter months Jim Haly used to buy rabbits by the hundreds. He had rabbits stacked up like cordwood in his cache. He never took a chance of running out of stock for his famous soup.”

Jim Haly and his wife

Jim Haly and his wife

James A. Carroll, who lived in the Fort Yukon area for over fifty years, wrote a series of journals which were first published in 1957 under the title The First Ten Years in Alaska: Memoirs of a Fort Yukon Trapper, 1911-1922. They were reprinted in 2005 as Above the Arctic Circle, and Carroll wrote: “Jim Haly was a kind old French Canadian. He had married a native woman many years before. He came to Fort Yukon in 1901 and operated the same roadhouse until 1918. “Jim never turned anybody down for a meal or a bunk to sleep on. If you had no money you could stay at the Haly House as long as you wanted to. This generosity kept him more or less broke all the time. Jim’s credit was always good at the local stores and he always managed to pay his bills. Jim Haly and his wife had come into Alaska via the MacKenzie River over the Rat River portage, then down the Porcupine River to Fort Yukon.”

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The photo on the left shows the overland party from the schooner Polar Bear at Jim Haly’s roadhouse in November,1913. The Polar Bear had been chartered to collect natural history specimens, but later also became a whaling cruise because of the high demand for baleen at the time. When the ship was caught by pack ice and forced to overwinter on the exposed coast of northern Alaska, four of the men left the ice-bound ship and traveled south with dog teams, following the Kongakut River. They crossed the uncharted Brooks Range, stopped at Haly’s Roadhouse on Nov. 19th, mushed on to Circle and rode on horse-drawn sledges to Fairbanks, then south to Cordova and home to Seattle in time for Christmas. Captain Louis Lane returned to the north the following spring and met the Polar Bear at Herschell Island; the tough little schooner had come through the winter safely under the skilled handling of her crew.

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In his 1937 book Icy Hell, William E. Hudson, a professional photographer with the expedition and one of the four men who made the overland trek, wrote about their arrival at Fort Yukon: “I spotted the sign that carried the magic words! ‘Haly’s Road House.’ No sign ever gave me such a thrill. We pulled up in front of this most northern hostelry and stopped. A pack of loose dogs arrived on the run and challenged our faithful trail mates to a battle. We took a hand and stopped the fight. We quickly found the road-house kennels and soon had our dogs safely locked up.”

Will E. Hudson, author of 'Icy Hell,' in Unalaska, 1913

Will E. Hudson, author of ‘Icy Hell,’ in Unalaska, 1913

Will Hudson wrote glowingly of Haly’s roadhouse, with good descriptions of the building: “The memory of the first supper at Jim Haly’s Roadhouse will linger with me always. Jim did himself proud on that supper. Haly’s Roadhouse was an institution in that isolated territory around Fort Yukon. It was a typical log cabin such as are built for both public and private use in the Arctic northland. Built of spruce logs, closely fitted and chinked, it was a type of building that was easy to keep warm in that cold region. “Jim’s establishment was about twenty feet wide and at least a hundred feet long. Every time he had felt the need of more room he simply built on a straight line annexe. The front section was about thirty feet long and was used as a combination living-room with about a dozen bunks built two high along the sides. A drying rack was built around the stove so socks and damp clothing could be properly dried while the owner was ‘pounding his ear’ in one of the bunks. Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 6.49.25 PM“Beyond this room was the dining room. Still further back was the kitchen, and even beyond that was Jim’s own living quarters and store rooms for his ample stocks of staple foods. His place had to be stocked for the season. There was no such thing as calling up Jones or Smith, the grocer, every time you wanted a few hams or a case of canned goods. His stock had to come in once a year, from the outside, during the shore season of navigation on ‘Old Man Yukon.’ While his food supplies were shipped in at a heavy expense, Jim’s prices were reasonable and his food surprisingly good.” Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 6.49.46 PMHudson went on to describe the owner of the roadhouse as well: “While resting here I had an opportunity to learn many interesting things concerning the interior from our genial host, Jim Haly. In addition to being a marvel of a frontier cook, he was a mine of information about the northland Indians and traders. Jim was born in Scotland. He came to America as a small boy and journeyed up the Mississippi River in a steamboat, finally arriving in the Yukon in 1875. Jim’s real world was the valley of the Yukon and the Porcupine. He was a big man in that world and a credit to himself. The beds at Jim’s place were just as alluring as the food. They were clean and we were in a passable condition ourselves after scrubbing off the first layer of dirt.” Screen Shot 2015-05-23 at 7.00.37 PM

Fort Yukon is located on the north bank of the Yukon River at its junction with the Porcupine River, about 145 miles northeast of Fairbanks. It is located eight miles north of the Arctic Circle, at the confluence of the Yukon and Porcupine Rivers, in the middle of the region known as the Yukon Flats. The highest temperature ever recorded in Alaska occurred in Fort Yukon on June 27, 1915, when it reached 100 °F, and until 1971, Ft. Yukon also held the all-time lowest temperature record at -78 °F.

Haly's Roadhouse at Fort Yukon, around 1905

Haly’s Roadhouse at Fort Yukon, around 1905

Alexander Hunter Murray founded a Hudson’s Bay Co. trading post near the present site of Fort Yukon in 1847 as a Canadian outpost in Russian Territory. It became an important trade center for Gwich’in Indians of the Yukon Flats and River valleys. From 1846 through 1869, the Hudson Bay Co., a British trading firm, operated a trading post near the present site of Fort Yukon. A mission school was established in 1862. In 1869, two years after the purchase of Alaska from Russia, it was determined that Fort Yukon was on American soil.

Large ice floes on the riverbank at Fort Yukon with Haly's Roadhouse and Hudson Stuck Memorial Hospital in the background (1925).

Large ice floes on the riverbank at Fort Yukon with Haly’s Roadhouse and Hudson Stuck Memorial Hospital in the background (1925).

The Alaska Commercial Co. then took over operation of the Fort Yukon Trading Post. In 1897, the gold rush boosted both river traffic and the white population of Fort Yukon, while disease lowered the population of Gwich’in Athabascans. By 1898, a post office was established. The area became a major Yukon settlement, buoyed by the fur trade, the whaling boom on the Arctic coast and the Klondike gold rush, and provided some economic opportunity for area Natives. But epidemics of diseases introduced by incoming whites plagued Fort Yukon Indians from the 1860s through the 1920s.

Hudson Stuck, ca. 1914

Hudson Stuck, ca. 1914

The community became headquarters for the pioneer missionary and Archdeacon of the Yukon Hudson Stuck, who, along with Walter Harper and Harry Karstens, made the first ascent of Mt. McKinley in 1913. Each winter Hudson Stuck traveled between 1,500 and 2,000 miles by dogsled to visit the missions and villages. In 1908, he acquired a shallow riverboat called The Pelican, which he used on the Yukon River and its tributaries to visit the Athabascan summer camps, where they fished and hunted. He reported that in twelve seasons’ cruises, ranging from i,800 to 5,200 miles each summer, he traveled a total of up to 30,000 miles along the rivers of Alaska. Hudson Stuck died of pneumonia at Fort Yukon in 1920, and was buried in the native cemetery there according to his wishes.

For more information:

Above the Arctic Circle: The Alaska Journals of James A. Carroll, 1911-1922

Icy Hell, by William E. Gordon

Library of Congress

Kantishna Roadhouse

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“Horse-drawn sled loaded with freight and passengers stands in front of Eureka Road House.”

The Eureka Roadhouse, shown in the photo to the left, is titled: “Horse-drawn sled loaded with freight and passengers stands in front of Eureka Road House.”

This unusual photograph of a six-horse team is from the Alaska State Library’s William R. Norton Collection of Photographs [ASL-PCA-226 Identifier ASL-P226-776], and the location is given as Kantishna, Denali National Park and Preserve, McKinley Park Region, Interior Alaska.

Kantishna

Kantishna, 1922

The community of Kantishna was founded as a gold mining camp in 1905, and like many such camps, was originally called by the popular goldrush name “Eureka.” On the north side of Mt. McKinley, with an elevation of 1,696 feet, Kantishna was in the Kantishna Hills at the junction of Eureka Creek and Moose Creek, three miles north and west of scenic Wonder Lake. Several such camps sprouted with the discovery of gold in the area in 1904, but the settlement which would become known as Kantishna was located closest to the gold-producing creeks. As the nearby gold camps were abandoned, those who stayed in the area migrated to Kantishna, and a post office by that name was established in 1905, officially changing the name of the community.

Johnny Buscia and Bill Julian, two of the last area miners, at the Kantishna Roadhouse

Johnny Buscia and Bill Julian, two of the last miners living in the area, at the Kantishna Roadhouse

The Kantishna stampede was the result of relatively simultaneous gold discoveries by Joe Dalton on Eureka Creek and Joe Quigley on Glacier Creek. News of these discoveries in June of 1905 brought thousands of prospectors into the area. Towns such as Diamond, Glacier City, and Roosevelt were quickly established as supply points along the northern river routes used by the stampeders to reach the gold fields of the Kantishna Hills, and in very short order most of the creeks in the Kantishna Hills were staked their entire length. In 1909, a land recording office was established, with local miner Bill Lloyd serving as the first commissioner of Kantishna. In 1919 U.S. Geological Survey geologist Stephen R. Capps reported “since 1906 the population of the Kantishna district had remained nearly stationary, ranging from 30 to 50.”

Screen Shot 2015-05-11 at 10.05.44 AMIn 1919-20, C. Herbert Wilson became Kantishna’s commissioner, and he  constructed the two-story log building which would become the Kantishna roadhouse as a residence for his family. Over the years, the large structure became a focal point of the community, serving as the post office, commissioner’s office, a community gathering spot and a place for travelers to spend the night. The historic Kantishna Roadhouse still stands on its original site, while nearby is the modern facility and popular tourist destination of the same name.

For more information:

Kantishna Gold!

Snapshots from the Past: A Roadside History of Denali National Park and Preserve, by Jane Bryant (NPS, US Dept. of the Interior, 2011)

Kantishna Hills Pioneers, 30 minute documentary, free to watch online

Kantishna—Mushers, Miners, Mountaineers, The Pioneer Story Behind Mount McKinley National Park, by Tom Walker (Pictorial Histories Publishing, 2006)

Kantishna at Wikipedia

Fannie Quigley, longtime Kantishna resident

 

 

Anna Ruhl’s Deering Roadhouse

Anna Ruhl's Roadhouse

Anna Ruhl’s Deering Roadhouse

The handwritten caption on the front of this photo by early Alaskan photographer Frank H. Nowell, showing three women, five men and three dogs, reads, “Anna Ruhl’s Road House – Deering, Alaska, September 25th 03.” There are two signs on the gable end of the building (to the viewer’s right): one reads ‘Restaurant,’ the other says ‘Bunk Room.’

The village of Deering, located on a sandy spit on the Seward Peninsula where the Inmachuk River flows into Kotzebue Sound, 57 miles southwest of Kotzebue, was established in 1901 as a supply station for interior gold mining near the historic Malemiut Eskimo village of Inmachukmiut. According to Donald J. Orth‘s Dictionary of Alaska Place Names, a post office was located here in 1901 and the name came from the schooner Abbie M. Deering, which was present in the area around 1900.

Illustration from Capt. Winchester's book.

Capt. Winchester’s sketch of the Schooner Abbie M. Deering from his book: “Leaving Lynn, Nov. 10, 1897”

A first-hand account, written by Captain James D. Winchester and published in 1900, relates the story of the wooden schooner Abbie M. Deering, built in 1883, which was bought by a company of twenty men who wanted to sail to the Alaskan gold fields during the Klondike Gold Rush. They left Massachusetts in November 1897, with Winchester, a merchant marine and the only seafaring man among them, at the helm. Capt. Winchester taught his crew to sail en route, and they sailed around the tip of South America, passed through the Straits of Magellan, and arrived at San Francisco five months later. They sold the ship, which was nicknamed ‘Diver,’ according to Capt. Winchester, “for the vigorous way in which she dove into a sea, giving many of us a good wetting in spite of every precaution.”

Records kept by the U.S. Department of the Interior show the schooner did eventually make it to Alaska, and some reports say the community of Deering was settled by its crew. There are apparently no records of Anna Ruhl’s roadhouse at Deering, and an extensive search turned up only the photograph above.

On August 26th, 1903, the town’s namesake, the Abbie M. Deering, departed Nome with a cargo of thirty tons of cigar case and mats, bound for Seattle and way ports. On September 4th, the schooner met heavy currents and an early morning fog, and drifted onto a reef on a small island on the northwest side of Akutan Pass, in the Aleutian Islands. The crew worked for thirty-eight hours trying to pull the vessel off of the reef. The schooner’s master assisted the crew of the U S Revenue Cutter Manning, upon their arrival, in the removal of the thirty one passengers and eight crewmen. The mate was left in charge of the wreck, and all the passengers and crew, except a few who remained in Dutch Harbor, went on to Seattle. The ship and its cargo was reported a total loss. Rudyard Kipling’s 1897 novel Captains Courageous mentions the Abbie M. Deering by name.

Slana Roadhouse

1280px-Slana_Roadhouse,_Slana_AlaskaThe 40-mile long Nabesna Road is a spur of the Glenn Highway’s Tok Cut-Off, leaving the highway almost midway between Chistochina and Mentasta and providing access to the northern reaches of Wrangell St. Elias National Park and Preserve. Originally constructed in 1933 to provide access to the Nabesna Gold Mine in the northeastern corner of the broad Copper River Valley, the road passes one of the oldest existing roadhouse sites in the state.

The original Slana Roadhouse was built in 1912 by a freighter, miner, mail carrier and fur trader, Lawrence DeWitt, to serve travelers on the trail to Chisana, the site of the last great gold rush in Alaska. The first small log roadhouse no longer exists, but the second, larger roadhouse, built in1928, is still owned by DeWitt’s descendents.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 9.59.20 PMWhen gold was discovered along the Chisana River in the spring of 1913, one of the routes to the area was an 80-mile trail which left  the Valdez-Eagle Trail at the mouth of the Slana River and traveled southeast to Chisana. The gold ran out and Chisana dwindled within a few years, but the Nabesna Gold Mine opened 50 miles southeast of Slana in the 1920’s. The mine employed 60 to 70 men, and most of their food, tools and equipment arrived by way of Slana, encouraging DeWitt to build a second, much larger roadhouse.

Born around 1890, Lawrence DeWitt made his way to Alaska around 1910 and settled in with the Ahtna Athabascan tribe of Chief Nikolai, marrying his daughter Belle. DeWitt got the contract to carry mail between Slana and Nabesna, by pack horse in summer and dog team in winter, and he staked a homestead claim where the Slana River ran into the great Copper River, several miles east of the Valdez-Eagle Trail.

Screen Shot 2015-05-04 at 9.58.42 PMIn 1926 the Alaska Road Commission began improving the Eagle-to-Valdez Trail from Gulkana to Slana, and two years later Lawrence Dewitt hired Charlie Smelzer to construct a large spruce log roadhouse, 32 by 45 feet and two-and-a-half stories high. The National Register of Historic Places notes the foundation was rock with vertical wood posts at the corners. The structure’s first two floors are built of three-sided logs nailed into the wood posts, and vertical board siding covers the gable ends of the attic. All of the logs and dimensional lumber used in the roadhouse, including the 10′ 1″ x 6″ flooring planks, were cut on DeWitt’s homestead. He received patent to the land in 1932, and the small community of Slana grew up around his roadhouse. DeWitt provided meals and lodging for travelers, and he supplied horses when needed, keeping a stable of 24 horses and a kennel of 35 sled dogs.

The National Register of Historic Places file, written in October, 2004, describes the interior of the roadhouse. “The first floor has an open room, 19 by 44 feet, that served as a combination sitting and dining room. Wood stoves, including the cook stove, heated the building. The kitchen is at the rear. A hand pump supplied water to the kitchen and to a washroom. Four rooms open off the open room. One room has a stairway to the second floor. A room adjacent to it served as the post office. There is a rear exit centered in the back wall and a small shed roof porch. The second floor is divided into eight rooms, four on each side of a six foot wide hall. Each room has a door and a window. The attic is undivided. Toilets are out back.”

The notes go on to describe other structures which were historically associated with the roadhouse, including a 10 x 15 foot log garage, a 12 by 15 foot log storehouse, a cache, a dogyard with several log doghouses, and a fishwheel anchored to the bank of the Slana River.

Lawrence DeWitt disappeared during the winter of 1937, and was assumed to have drowned in either the Slana or Copper River. After his death, his wife leased the roadhouse to a series of individuals, but in 1953 the Slana-Tok section of the Glenn Highway was realigned and moved a mile to the north, bypassing the Slana Roadhouse entirely. The roadhouse and outlying structures have been used as a private residence by the DeWitt family since that time.