In his 1919 book Adventures in Alaska, Samuel Hall Young, a Presbyterian clergyman who had accompanied John Muir when he discovered Glacier Bay, wrote about a trip by dog team from Iditarod to Seward, and he briefly mentioned staying at a roadhouse in Knik: “Four hundred miles from our starting point we put up at the ‘Pioneer Roadhouse’ in the little town of Knik at the head of Cook’s Inlet. This was one of half a dozen small towns around Knik Arm and Turn-Again Arm, two prongs of Cook’s Inlet. These towns had been in existence for fifteen or twenty years, with gold miners and their families living there…”
In his 1974 book, Alaska’s Historic Roadhouses, author Michael E. Smith wrote the following about the Pioneer Roadhouse: “Also known as the Farewell Mountain Roadhouse in 1949. In 1917 it was operated by French Joe. Source: Unpublished manuscript by Charles Lee Cadwallader.”
This entry is shared at Coleen Mielke’s research pages, Matanuska-Susitna Valley: Researching Our South Central Alaska Roots, in a link to the transcribed text from pages 40-49 of Smith’s book. Mielke included Cadawaller in her Matanuska Valley Pioneer Directory, noting that he came to Alaska in 1917 and walked from Knik to Iditarod, where he worked as an accountant for two years before walking back to Knik. He later became a Valley businessman, building the Wasilla Bar and the Fishhook Inn. Nevertheless, his description of the Pioneer Roadhouse being at Farewell Mountain does not correspond with S. Hall Young’s clear description of it being at Knik, nor with the handwritten notation on the first photo above.
So were there two establishments on the Iditarod Trail named the Pioneer Roadhouse? Yes. The second photo is the Pioneer Roadhouse near Farewell Mountain, on the west side of the Alaska Range, 62 trail miles south of McGrath.
The Knik Pioneer Roadhouse, which later became the Pioneer Hotel, was built by Frank B. Cannon, one of the first residents of the town of Knik, who was reportedly living there in 1911. A dog barn was adjacent to the roadhouse, which sat directly across the trail from the pool hall, one of two original buildings still standing at the site. In the photo guide to the Tron Anderson Collection at the Anchorage Museum there are notations for business cards for the Pioneer Roadhouse and the Pioneer Hotel, both in the Frank B. Cannon section of the collection.
Frank B. Cannon served as a member of the Territorial House of Representatives from 1917 to 1918. In a 1920 book about Alaskan Judge James Wickersham there’s a description of Cannon as presented when he was running for the position, and it illuminates his qualifications for being a roadhouse owner: “Frank B. Cannon is one of the old-timers of Alaska and is well and favorably known throughout a large portion of the Territory. He is now engaged in running a hotel and road house near Knik, Alaska, at which hostelry the Alaska prospector or traveler is always welcome whether he has the money to pay for his accommodation or not.”
Frank B. Cannon died in 1923 and is buried in the Anchorage Cemetery. An obituary in the Anchorage Daily Times for March 18, 1923 describes the man: “In the passing of “Uncle Frank” Cannon, Alaska loses one of its most beloved men, one who was actuated in his many noble acts by spirit of altruism that has built monuments in the hearts of all who knew him. Volumes might be written on his philanthropies, his aid to stranded prospectors and his hospitality while conducting a stopping place at Knik; where the wayfarer was never turned away and where the men who search the hills could always gather and sit around the big box stove and partake of frugal fare and depart to await the time when they were able to pay, and if not, never to be troubled to square the account. In departing, Mr. Cannon left behind him something more precious than gold—true traditions of the land he loved and served in minor and exalted positions of trust.”
The second – although it was most likely built first – Pioneer Roadhouse was built on the west side of the South Fork of the. Kuskokwim River about one mile southeast of the present-day Farewell Lake. Lodge. This is the roadhouse which was also known as French Joe’s, or the Farewell Mountain Roadhouse, and it was comprised of several buildings, including a dog barn.
The 1986 Iditarod National Historic Trail Comprehensive Management Plan identified the Pioneer Roadhouse as a Level One Site, recommending “Consider, with owner concurrence, as part of a thematic Iditarod Trail nomination to the National Register of Historic Places. Perform historic and archeological research on the site to include testing, mapping, photo documentation and historic archival research as a prerequisite for site work.” The results of that recommendation can be seen online, in the Iditarod Quad Files McGrath C2.