Category Archives: Parks Highway

Sizeland’s Roadhouse

Photo caption: "Sizeland's Roadhouse, 6/20/'22." Bottom left corner of this photo is torn off along with some writing. This photo is a side view of Sizeland's property shown in UAF-1969-89-108 and UAF-1969-89-109. Cabin closest to the camera has a sawhorse in front of the door. A cache with a painted door is located to the left of the cabin; a flat-roofed building sits to the left of the cache. [UAF-1969-89-110]

Photo caption: “Sizeland’s Roadhouse, 6/20/’22.” Bottom left corner of this photo is torn off along with some writing. This photo is a side view of Sizeland’s property shown in UAF-1969-89-108 and UAF-1969-89-109. Cabin closest to the camera has a sawhorse in front of the door. A cache with a painted door is located to the left of the cabin; a flat-roofed building sits to the left of the cache. [UAF-1969-89-110]

I haven’t had much luck finding information about the roadhouse known as Sizeland’s, which was somewhere near Nenana; the only real information I have found is from three fascinating photographs at the VILDA archives, but if my connection of the dots is correct, it’s a chilling story with a sad ending. Like all of the other roadhouse tales, I’m still researching Sizeland’s, but here’s what I have so far:

The 1923-24 edition of Polk’s Gazetteer and Directory includes an interesting description of the village of Nenana:

NENANA. Pop 1000. Situated on the left limit of the Yukon River near its confluence with the Nenana. 60 m sw of Fairbanks, banking point. With the advent of the U S Government railroad this place has grown from a trading post of a few people to one of the progressive cities of the North. Being the first point in Central Alaska where the Government railroad reaches navigable water, immense docks, which were constructed by the Alaskan Engineering Commission, line the waterfront. Has Presbyterian and Catholic churches and Episcopal church and school. A weekly newspaper, The Nenana News, is published. The opening up and developing of the Nenana coal fields, which lie but a short distance south, means a great deal to this town, as well as the whole Tanana district. The Mount Mc-Kinley National Park lies 75 m sw of Nenana, which is the outfitting point for touring parties into this great natural park. Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System. Am Ry Express.

Photo caption: "Sizeland's Roadhouse, Nenana - Fairbanks [Trail? Train?], 6/20/21 [6/20/22]" Surrounding photographs in this collection are dated in year, 1922, so 1921 may be incorrect. This photo shows a man standing with his hands on his hips by the doorway of a cabin facing two other men sitting down. There's a chair to the right of the doorway. Two smaller cabins are located to the left. A dirt path leading up to the larger cabin has been worn away through a dense patch of brush. [UAF-1969-89-108]

Photo caption: “Sizeland’s Roadhouse, Nenana – Fairbanks [Trail? Train?], 6/20/21 [6/20/22]” Surrounding photographs in this collection are dated in year, 1922, so 1921 may be incorrect. This photo shows a man standing with his hands on his hips by the doorway of a cabin facing two other men sitting down. There’s a chair to the right of the doorway. Two smaller cabins are located to the left. A dirt path leading up to the larger cabin has been worn away through a dense patch of brush. [UAF-1969-89-108]

In the directory section there are listings of trappers, miners, longshoremen, fishermen, dozens of Alaska Railroad officials and workmen, and, oddly, a name identified as the “city scavenger.” What is not included, oddly enough, is any listing for the name of Sizeland, or Sizeland’s Roadhouse. Since the photos of the roadhouse are from 1922, this glaring omission a year later struck me as rather odd.

A search for Sizeland and Nenana turns up some interesting and potentially related records.The 1930 Census Record for Nenana, in the Fourth Judicial District, Alaska, United States, includes the following: “James Sizeland lived in Fourth Judicial District County, Alaska in 1930. He was the head of the household, 54 years old, and identified as white. James was born in England around 1876, and both of his parents were born in England as well. In 1930, James was not married. He immigrated to the United States in 1909.”

Could this be the same Sizeland the roadhouse is named after? The dates align properly, and the name is unusual enough that mere coincidence is unlikely.There’s a short mention of James Sizeland in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on January 10, 1930: “James Sizeland, who has a homestead between Fairbanks and Nenana, arrived here on yesterday’s train.”

Photo caption: "Sizeland + horses, 6/20/'22." Bottom left corner of this photo is torn off along with some writing. This photo shows a man on the left side of a fence with his right arm extended, hand upright, feeding two horses fenced in on the other side. Behind the horses are a cache with a painted door, and a flat-roofed log building. [UAF-1969-89-109]

Photo caption: “Sizeland + horses, 6/20/’22.” Bottom left corner of this photo is torn off along with some writing. This photo shows a man on the left side of a fence with his right arm extended, hand upright, feeding two horses fenced in on the other side. Behind the horses are a cache with a painted door, and a flat-roofed log building. [UAF-1969-89-109]

If this is the same person, his fate seems to have been an unhappy one. In the archives of the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner there is a brief comment in the April 7, 1932 issue which notes: “With Oscar Luckman in his custody, Deputy TJ. S. Marshal Pat O’Connor left for Seward on today’s train. Luckman, who was adjudged insane yesterday, will be taken to Morningside Sanitarium. At Nenana Deputy H.I. Miler was to board the train with James Sizeland, who also has been committed to the sanitarium. At Seward Luckman and Sizeland will be turned over to Marshal Lynn Smith.”

A 1955 Department of the Interior report still listed James Sizeland as a patient at the infamous Morningside Sanitarium in Portland, Oregon. He would have been 79 years old. A further search, of the hospital’s patient records, shows he passed away the following year.

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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

 

 

Talkeetna Roadhouse

Photo by Albert Marquez/Planet Earth Adventures

Photo by Albert Marquez/Planet Earth Adventures

According to local historian Roberta Sheldon in an interview for Talkeetna radio station KTNA, the Talkeetna Roadhouse was built sometime around 1916-17 by brothers Frank and Ed Lee, from Michigan, who were freighting supplies to the mines in the Peters Hills, Cache Creek, and Dutch Hills areas west of the Susitna River, in the southernmost foothills of Mt. McKinley.

photo by Helen Hegener/Northern Light Media

Photo by Helen Hegener/Northern Light Media

The 1985 book Knik, Matanuska, Susitna: A Visual History of the Valleys, published by the Matanuska-Susitna Borough, states the building was constructed in 1917 by Frank Lee “as a two-story log home, and later expanded with several frame additions.” The book records the physical properties of the Talkeetna Roadhouse building:
Type of construction: Log with corner boards and vertical board and batten.

Description: Rectangular two-story log with gable ends, medium gable roof, 1-story closed frame verandah across front end with shed roof, multi-paned rectangular windows, rectangular door, 1-story frame wing on side, shed roof.

Date of construction: 1917, built as a residence, in use as a roadhouse since 1944.
Belle McDonald

Belle McDonald

Talkeetna’s first businesswoman, Isabella “Belle” Grindrod Lee McDonald, arrived in Talkeetna in 1917 and married Ed Lee, Frank’s brother, a year later. With her brother-in-law Frank Lee as her head freighter, Belle developed the Talkeetna Trading Post, a freighting service, stable, blacksmith shop, and the beginnings of a roadhouse, located half a mile west of the present-day Talkeetna Roadhouse, at the edge of the river. After Ed died in 1928, Frank and Belle continued the freighting business together, and at some point the precursor of the current roadhouse came into service.

In her 1974 book, Talkeetna Cronies, Nola H. Campbell, who owned and operated the Fairview Inn for a time with her husband John, wrote of Belle McDonald’s Talkeetna Trading Post, the forerunner of the Talkeetna Roadhouse: “Belle’s place was like home to many tired, weary and hungry men who came in from the hills. The walls were covered with hanging fur pelts of many kinds:mink, marten, weasel, lynx and wolf. Gold scales, beaver skins, blankets and kits were stacked in the corners, and traps and gear was piled around.”

 
Photo taken between 1969 and 1979. Christine McClain papers, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage.

Photo taken between 1969 and 1979. Christine McClain papers, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage.

In the 2013 book Talkeetna, by the Talkeetna Historical Society, the description continues with a reference to the “two meals a day” standard which would later make the Talkeetna Roadhouse a venerable institution: “Belle served two hardy meals a day, only deviating for freighters coming in late off the trail. She raised chickens and grew vegetables to supplement the wild game, fish, and fresh-baked bread she served at the roadhouse.”

Belle McDonald’s “two meals a day” tradition continued in earnest when Carroll and Verna Close bought the roadhouse in 1951. Verna had come to Alaska in 1936 from Washington state, and Carroll from Oregon five years later. They met and were married in Anchorage in 1946, and for almost 30 years, from 1951 to 1978, they were the proprietors and hosts of the Talkeetna Roadhouse. Ray Bonnell, author of Sketches of Alaska, wrote an article about the Talkeetna Roadhouse and noted the additions referenced in the Mat-Su Borough book: “The roadhouse was purchased in 1951 by Carroll and Verna Close, who promptly built a 26-foot by 48-foot wood-frame shed-roofed addition on the roadhouse’s east side to serve as a kitchen. They also enclosed the roadhouse’s front porch and sheathed the porch and addition with ship-lap siding. Some time later the Closes moved an old Civil Aeronautics Administration building, tacking it onto the back of the roadhouse.”
Photo by Albert Marquez/Planet Earth Adventures

Photo by Albert Marquez/Planet Earth Adventures

As was tradition at Alaskan roadhouses, dinners were served family style at a long table, with heaping platters and bowls of food passed around between strangers who served themselves. The Closes ran a tight ship: Eggs were always scrambled, only vanilla ice cream was available, and the only breakfast meat available was thinly sliced ham. No exceptions. Reservations were necessary for dinner, and punctual arrival was expected; Carroll was known to lock the front door once guests were seated and late arrivals could eat elsewhere.

LifeIn his classic book, Life at the Talkeetna Roadhouse, Ron Garrett, who worked for the Closes, provides a delightful glimpse into the era, circa 1975: “A special day, generally once a week, was when Carroll baked bread. To see him come into the kitchen wearing a white T-shirt and put on the white apron was the first announcement that it was baking day. Verna would ask how much he was going to make and he almost always said 21 loaves. I never understood the significance of 21 or if that was the number of bread pans they had but it seems as if every time he baked it was 21 loaves. Carroll did the entire operation while Verna would prepare the bread pans. Many times I watched as Carroll worked with the dough, Verna occasionally looking and perhaps making some comments, but Carroll always being in control. I wish I had a picture of him standing there almost completely covered with flour, his arms white, and a cigarette hanging out of his mouth. The aroma of the bread baking in the Roadhouse was wonderful. This was plain bread, very good and tasty, without any of the gimmicks or specialties of the present yuppie bakeries.”

The Closes retired in 1978, and the Roadhouse went through good times and bad until 1996, when it was purchased by current owner Trisha Costello. Trisha brought with her an appreciation for the history and tradition of Alaskan roadhouses, and she worked hard to create an establishment which combined the best of the old with new upgrades and memorable hospitality. Dinners are still served family style, still with generous portions made from scratch, and the Talkeetna Roadhouse is still a gathering place for local friends and travelers passing through.
 
 Update April 27: KTUU Channel 2 in Anchorage launched their special feature Road Trippin’ Alaska with a visit to the Talkeetna Roadhouse:

The Alaska Road Commission

Screen Shot 2015-03-31 at 9.47.57 PMUntil the gold strikes of the late nineteenth century the Interior of Alaska was only accessible by a network of trails established by the native people of Alaska, which Russian, and later American, traders and prospectors used as well. In the 1870s and 1880s, increasing settlement and prospecting spurred the improvement of these early trails, and many sought an overland route between a year-round port in southern Alaska and the goldfields which were closer to the Yukon River in the north. The US Army began surveying, determined the best route would be north from Valdez, and started construction of a pack trail from Valdez to Eagle in 1898 which would become known as the Trans-Alaska Military Road. The first year, 93 miles of pack horse trail were constructed, and while the trail was only five feet wide in places, it made overland travel to Interior Alaska much easier.

Alaska Road Commission crew in front of the Camp Comfort Roadhouse, on the Valdez-Eagle trail, ca. 1913. [Photograph: Phinney S. Hunt]

ARC crew in front of the Camp Comfort Roadhouse, on the Valdez-Eagle trail, ca. 1913. [Photograph: Phinney S. Hunt]

The Alaska Road Commission, also known as the ARC, was created in 1905 as a board of the U.S. War Department, responsible for the construction and improvement of Alaskan roads. By 1907 the commission had upgraded 200 miles of existing trails, cleared 285 miles of new trail, flagged 247 miles of winter trails on the Seward Peninsula, and built 40 miles of improved road. A significant project was the construction of a spur trail from Gulkana on the Valdez-Eagle route to the mining camp of Fairbanks, a route which would become known as the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, and which would eventually morph into the Richardson Highway.

In 1932 the Alaska Road Commission was transferred to the Department of the Interior; in 1956 it was absorbed by the Bureau of Public Roads, then a division of the Commerce Department, which later evolved into the Federal Highway Administration. With statehood in 1959 the State of Alaska assumed road building and maintenance responsibility, but contracted to the ARC for the work until 1960, when the state ended the agreement with the Bureau of Public Roads, and the ARC was transferred to the state, becoming the Alaska State Highway Department.

Skwentna Crossing Shelter Cabin

Skwentna Crossing Shelter Cabin, circa 1930

The Alaska Road Commission annual reports are a wealth of history and information about the roadhouses which were often along routes constructed, improved, and maintained by the ARC. Detailing the work done and the expenses incurred, the reports also provide insights which may have otherwise been lost to time, such as this notation about the Skwentna Crossing Shelter Cabin on the Iditarod Trail, one of dozens of such shelter cabins constructed by the ARC over the years: “Located at Mile 218 on the Seward-Iditarod-Nome Trail, the Skwentna Crossing Shelter Cabin replaced Joe McElroy and Jack Rimmer’s roadhouse which was destroyed by fire ca. 1925. The Alaska Road Commission had this standard size (12′ x 14′) log structure built around 1930.”

By 1932 the ARC had built 32 shelter cabins to protect travelers along the territory’s roads and trails. A good example is the Brushkana Creek Cabin on the trail between Cantwell and Valdez Creek, at the headwaters of the Susitna River, where gold was discovered in 1903. Artist and historian Ray Bonnell described the cabin in a 2013 feature article for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner: “The trip from Cantwell to Valdez Creek took three days, and the ARC, which assumed maintenance of the trail in the 1920s, built three shelter cabins, located 20 miles, 30 miles, and 43 miles from Cantwell. Each cabin was built of logs and had the same dimensions (about 14 by 16 feet). A slightly larger log barn to shelter dogs and horses was erected next to each cabin. The 30-mile, or Brushkana Creek Cabin, is the only remaining ARC shelter cabin along the route.”

 

 

 

Books

retail-book-life

Life at the Talkeetna Roadhouse: A Look at Life and Humor at an Alaskan Roadhouse, by Ronald C. Garrett

66 page paperback published by Alien Publishing, 1st edition 1998

A great book sharing many humorous stories of people and events in Talkeetna in the 1970’s. Wry anecdotes about the Talkeetna Roadhouse and its idiosyncratic but beloved owners, Carroll and Verna Close. Also includes others– like climber Ray Genet. –Bearfoot Alaska Travel Guides

retail-book-recipes2Alaska Roadhouse Recipes: Memorable Recipes from Roadhouses, Lodges, Bed and Breakfasts, Cafes, Restaurants and Campgrounds Along the Highways and Byways of Alaska and Canada, by Kris Graef (Editor)

228 page paperback published by Morris Communications Corp. January 1999

From the editors of The Milepost, Alaska Roadhouse Recipes features recipes from roadhouses, lodges, bed and breakfasts, cafes, restaurants and campgrounds along the! highway and byways of Alaska and Canada. The almost 200 recipes include breakfasts, appetizers, breads, main dishes, desserts, soups, salads, side dishes, sauces, syrups, preserves and beverages. Several tried and true sourdough starter recipes are included, along with recipes for sourdough pancakes, muffins and cakes. From Deep-Fried Fiddleheads in Beer Batter as an appetizer, to Copper River King Salmon Chili as a main course, and Alaska Rhubarb Pie for dessert, cooks will relish these special recipes from the North. Photos and captions profile the personalities and places that contributed to Alaska Roadhouse Recipes.
retail-book-recipes

New Roadhouse Recipes

224 pages, published by by Morris Communication Corp. 2004

 

 

UnknownThe Trail: The Story of the Historic Valdez-Fairbanks Trail that Opened Alaska’s Vast Interior by Kenneth L. Marsh

406 page 8″x10″ paperback, published by the Trapper Creek Museum, 2008

From the back cover: The discovery of gold spawned the need for a primitive trail, some 360 miles long, through a completely northern wilderness. This great trail would lead into the very heart of Alaska. It would be built under extreme conditions and would be traveled under these same conditions by tough, hardy people. As “The Trail” continued to be improved, it became the catalyst for helping to develop the great Interior of Alaska, by connecting Valdez on the coast to Fairbanks in the Tanana Valley. The story of “The Trail” is much more than one of just the historical opening of a new territory and the economic development of a region by a trail. It is really an adventure story of a time and way of life that will never be seen again; a time when Alaska was untamed, and people with a goal or a dream came from a warmer, gentler latitude to traverse its wild, harsh expanse, and survive while doing so. Furthermore, it is a story of the roadhouses, telegraph lines, and the people who built and ran them along “The Trail”. It was these folks who made it possible for the overwhelmed travelers, who ventured either on foot or in open horse-drawn sleds, at 50 degrees below zero, not only to survive, but also to find a little comfort while doing so. “The Trail” would eventually become the Richardson Highway of today. There will never be a time filled with more adventures and stories than those found along “The Trail”. A few of these adventures, and the historical facts surrounding them, are chronicled in this book. Hundreds of historical photographs, and maps and tables.

1944 Alaska Highways

An excerpt from Recreational Resources of the Alaska Highway and Other Roads in Alaska, published December, 1944 by the U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service

Sourdough Roadhouse

Sourdough Roadhouse

The Alaska roadhouse is an institution which must be encountered familiarly to be appreciated. There the term does not connote in the least the type of use or misuse which has come to be associated with it in the States. Alaska roadhouses are functional necessities to travel through country populated sparsely or not at all. They are inns or taverns in the honest, Colonial sense, providing food and shelter for the traveler today as they did for his predecessor a generation ago, but now supplying oil and gasoline for the motor car instead of the hay and grain required by its equine forerunner. More, they often serve as trading posts for tributary populations, whether Native or white, sources of supply for pack trains, prospectors, and trappers, the first link in the chain of processes through which the raw pelt becomes milady’s stole. They are post offices as well as general stores, often linking enough functions to become real communities in themselves.

Tiekel Roadhouse

Tiekel Roadhouse

The earlier roadhouses were apt to be sprawling, one-storied, log-buildings, with sod roofs perhaps strangely fitted together. Later came structures of two or even three stories, some of squared logs, others of frame construction, sometimes incongruous with their wilderness settings. In planning for the accommodation of recreational travelers, it would seem a fitting tribute to the part which these buildings have played in the development of Alaska, to adopt the better principles which they have exemplified, with such modern adaptations as would add to the comfort of the visitor without sacrificing atmosphere and precedent.

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