Category Archives: Roadhouses

Woodchopper Roadhouse

North elevation from northwest - Woodchopper Roadhouse, Yukon River [Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress)]

North elevation from northwest – Woodchopper Roadhouse, Yukon River [Historic American Buildings Survey (Library of Congress)]

The Circle Mining District records a list of 320 individuals whose names appear connected to claims on Coal Creek, Woodchopper Creek and their various tributaries. Coal claims were the first claims staked in the drainages. Steamboats plying the Yukon River between St. Michael on the Bering Sea and Dawson City and Whitehorse in the Yukon Territory relied on firewood cut during the winter by individuals working as woodchoppers. Steamboats traveling upriver would burn upwards of a cord of wood each hour, and the transportation companies saw coal as a potential alternative to wood, provided it could be located in sufficient deposits, mined and transported to the riverbank.

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 1.45.54 PMThe first placer gold mining claim was filed on Coal Creek in mid-November 1901, by one Daniel T. Noonan, of Delamar, Nevada. Noonan located his 20-acre claim on the right limit of Coal Creek on August 23, 1901. The same day, Daniel M. Callahan also located a 20 acre mining claim in the vicinity of Noonan’s claim. Over the next 48 years there were 565 claims filed on Coal and Woodchopper Creeks. According to the 2003 publication, The World Turned Upside Down: A History of Mining on Coal Creek and Woodchopper Creek, Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve, Alaska, by historian Douglas Beckstead (U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service), “During 1905, L.M. Prindle, of the USGS, reported that Coal Creek, Woodchopper Creek, Washington Creek and Fourth of July Creek produced at least $15,000. According to several unsubstantiated reports, the figure had a potential to rise as high as $30,000. Alfred H. Brooks, also of the USGS, reported the same year that the majority of this production came from Woodchopper Creek.”

fig5-1Woodchopper Creek was known by its name in 1898, probably derived from the woodchopping which occurred in the area to provide fuel for the 75 to 100 steamboats plying the nearby Yukon River at that time. The steamship companies contracted with woodchoppers to have the wood ready, and various woodyards were established along the Yukon River. On one upriver trip in 1905, a steamer stopped three times between Circle and Eagle to take on a total of 54 cords of wood. The cordwood piled on the bank in a 1926 photograph of Woodchopper Roadhouse indicated that Woodchopper was a regular stop on the steamboats’ route.

South elevation - Woodchopper Roadhouse [HABS, LoC]

South elevation – Woodchopper Roadhouse [HABS, LoC]

Woodchopper Roadhouse, built ca. 1910, was the oldest and largest log structure on the Yukon between Eagle and Circle. Located halfway between the two towns, on the left bank of the Yukon, approximately one mile upriver from Woodchopper Creek and 55 miles upriver from Circle, the roadhouse housed winter travelers and served as a wood stop for steamboats in the summer. In addition, the roadhouse functioned as post office and town center for the mining community on Woodchopper Creek from the early 20th century until the 1930s. No exact date can be attached to this structure, but it is thought that this building was built at about the time the mining on Woodchopper Creek began to thrive.

Northeast elevation - Woodchopper Roadhouse [HABS, LoC]

Northeast elevation – Woodchopper Roadhouse [HABS, LoC]

The two-story building is constructed of round logs, saddlenotched. The second floor was partitioned into four rooms. The interior walls and ceiling were covered with a canvas or linen material, and the board floor was covered with linoleum, which has been destroyed by flooding. Moss chinking between the logs was covered with cement sometime after construction. Outbuildings appearing in a 1926 photograph include a gable-roofed shed west of the roadhouse, a cabin west of the shed which appeared to be for residential use, dog barns west of the cabin, and a shed northeast of the roadhouse which had lapjointed corners.

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 2.01.29 PMIn the 1917-18 Polk’s Directory, Valentine Smith, a miner, was listed as running a roadhouse on Woodchopper Creek, which was probably this building. This is the last mention of him in any records, and it is assumed he left the area around that time.

Born in Germany in 1861, Valentine Smith immigrated to the U.S. in 1883, first staking a gold claim on Colorado Creek, a tributary of Coal Creek, in 1905. He later staked more claims in association with Frank Slaven and others, and in 1910 he staked his first claim on Woodchopper Creek. It is not known exactly when he began running the roadhouse, but on July 20, 1915, Art Reynolds, on a trip upriver from Circle, “stopt at Mr. Smith’s awhile. He gave us a salmon. Came about four miles above his place, camped for night.”

In 1919 Valentine Smith turned the running of the roadhouse over to Fred Brentlinger, also a miner, who, with his wife Flora, owned a number of lots in Circle, including the Tanana Hotel and Restaurant that they operated in 1911-12. They continued to become increasingly involved in the business community in Circle with Fred Brentlinger serving as a notary public. Between 1919 and 1929 the Brentlingers left Circle and ran the Woodchopper Roadhouse while staking claims on Caribou, Coal, and Woodchopper Creeks.

“U.S. mail leaving Woodchopper Creek, Alaska. January (?), 1912. Beiderman, driver.”

When Fred Brentlinger passed away in 1930, Jack Welch and his wife Kate purchased the Woodchopper Roadhouse from Flora Brentlinger. She went to Manley Hot Springs where, along with C.M. “Tex” Browning, she purchased the Manley Hot Springs farm from Frank Manley. They retained the farm until 1950 when Bob Byers, operator of Byers Airways, bought it from them.

Miner George McGregor wrote to his former partner, Frank Rossbach, in July, 1933: “A fellow by name of Jack Welch and his wife runs the roadhouse now, or at least she runs it, she is certainly the boss. Welch himself is a pretty good fellow. But different with her. She also has the post office.”

It is unclear how long the Welchs had lived in the North Country, as no record was ever located for when they arrived. Jack held the winter mail contract between Woodchopper and Eagle, and he would run his dogteam through the roughest weather to see that the mail got through. But Jack lost the mail contract sometime around the late 1930s, as airplanes were replacing dog teams for carrying mail. Undaunted, the Welchs stayed on at the roadhouse.

Woodchopper Roadhouse [HABS, LoC]

Woodchopper Roadhouse [HABS, LoC]

One spring a huge ice dam piled up in Woodchopper Canyon, five miles below Coal Creek. Miners Ernest Patty and Jim McDonald were spending the night in a cabin located at the mouth of Coal Creek, and in his book, North Country Challenge, Patty described the breakup: “At about three o’clock in the morning, loud crashing sounds woke us up and we jumped out of bed. The river had gone wild with the crushing force of the breakup. Normally the Yukon, at this point, is less than a quarter-mile wide. While we slept, the water level had risen fifteen feet. Rushing, swirling ice cakes were flooding the lowland on the opposite bank, crushing the forest of spruce and birch like a giant bulldozer. Before long ice cakes were being rafted up Coal Creek and dumped near our cabin.
“Then at the same moment we both turned and look at each other. The rapid rise of the river could only come from a gigantic ice dam in Woodchopper Canyon, some five miles downstream. Jack Welsh and his wife lived in that canyon. Their cabin must be flooded and probably it had been swept away. There is no way of knowing if they had been warned in time to reach the nearest hill, half a mile from their cabin. No outside help could possibly get to them now.”

Satellite image showing the site of Woodchopper Roadhouse.

Satellite image showing the site of Woodchopper Roadhouse in relation to the Yukon River.

The entire tragic tale of Jack and Kate Welch is told in chapter two of The World Turned Upside Down, and author Douglas Beckstead continues the story: “As it turned out, the howling of their dogs awakened the Welchs. They found ice water covering the floor of the roadhouse. Jack ran outside and cut the dogs loose allowing them to reach higher ground on their own. Some made it. Some did not. Jack returned with his boat intending to take his wife and make a run for higher ground himself At that point, the bottom floor of the roadhouse was under water and the second floor already awash. As huge cakes of ice slammed against the outside walls, Welch tied the boat to a second story window deciding that it would be better to stay with the cabin until the very last moment because the ice could crush his boat. Jack used a pole in an attempt to deflect ice cakes from hitting the cabin.

“As they waited, the water and ice continued to rise higher and higher until it finally stopped and slowly began to drop. This meant the ice dam was beginning to break. Now the ice cakes were coming with increased frequency and force. In the end, both the roadhouse and the Welchs survived. Years later, Ernest Patty noted that ‘perhaps it would have been more merciful if they had been swept away.’”

Beckstead explains why: “The terror these two elderly people experienced left deep scars. Neither fully recovered from this night of rising floodwaters and crashing ice. Consequently, Mrs. Welch became bedridden. As time passed, people began to comment that Jack was ‘getting strange.’”
Due to the terrors experienced that awful night, and perhaps exacerbated by his penchant for drinking to excess, Jack Welch began suffering from nightmares, and one night he awoke trembling, in a cold sweat, believing that the German Army was marching down the frozen Yukon River, coming for him. He decided that he was losing his mind and would be better off dead, and so attempted suicide with his .22 rifle, but only managed to wound himself. Although crippled with rheumatism, Kate hobbled two miles over the winter trail through the snow to seek help from their nearest neighbor, George McGregor.

Beckstead continues the story: “McGregor hitched up his dogs, placing Mrs. Welch in the sled they returned to help Jack. After giving him first aid, McGregor loaded Jack into the sled making a run up Woodchopper Creek to the mining camp where the winter watchman sent a radio message to Fairbanks. Several hours later a plane arrived and took Jack to the hospital in Fairbanks. Within a month Jack was up and around again. Nevertheless, the shock was too much for Mrs. Welch. She lingered on for a short time after Jack left the hospital until her tired, old heart finally gave out.”
Kate’s death further unhinged Jack’s mind. Unable to accept that she was gone, he returned to the Woodchopper Roadhouse, expecting to find her waiting for him. When she wasn’t there Jack became distraught, and his concerned friends and neighbors radioed the U.S. Marshal’s office in Fairbanks requesting that they come and take him back to the hospital.

Screen Shot 2015-09-13 at 2.26.25 PMBut it wasn’t to be. Before the authorities could arrive Jack disappeared down the Yukon River in his boat. Some time later reports filtered back from villages along the lower Yukon of a mysterious elderly white man drifting down the river in a small boat, unresponsive to attempts at communication. Eventually reports came back from some Natives hunting on the Yukon delta of a man standing in a boat, shielding his eyes against the harsh western sun while looking out to sea. Jack and his boat floated out into the Bering Sea and were never seen again.

After the Welches were gone the roadhouse was abandoned to the elements. The history of the roadhouse continues in outdoorsman Dan O’Neill’s book, A Land Gone Lonesome: An Inland Voyage Along the Yukon River (Basic Books, 2008): “The Woodchopper Roadhouse was salvageable when Melody Webb surveyed it for the Park Service in 1976. As the largest structure in the preserve to still have its roof on, she recommended it be restored ‘if a lodge is ever needed for the Park. A National Register would give added protection.’ But by 2003, the roadhouse lay ‘in ruins, the roof caved and the upper story fallen in,’ according to a Park Service pamphlet.”

Black Rapids Roadhouse

Black Rapids RHOf the more than thirty roadhouse which operated on the Valdez Trail, later the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, the Black Rapids Roadhouse was one of the first to open. The nomination form for the National Park Service National Register of Historic Places, filed in December, 2000, notes the period of significance for this roadhouse as 1904 to 1923. The form includes a lengthy narrative description of the complex site and notes the uncertainty of the roadhouse’s beginings: “One source says Peter Findler opened the roadhouse in 1902, but it seems more likely that Joe Hansen and his two sons built the roadhouse in 1904.”

Orr Stage Company wagon on the Chitina-Fairbanks road, 1906

Orr Stage Company on the Chitina-Fairbanks road, 1906

The history, as described by the nominating form, is fascinating. “The Orr Stage Company was one of the first businesses to carry passengers and freight over the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail. Rapids Roadhouse was described as a crucial stop for the company’s stages. At the roadhouse, southbound travelers changed from four- and six-horse stages to double-ender sleds pulled by single horses to go over Isabel Pass to Paxson. At some time the roadhouse was said to be a Northern Commericial Company (NCC) store. Later, hunters frequently stayed at the roadhouse. It was described in an early travel guide to the highway as ‘the hunter’s paradise , , ,”

Original main building

Original main Black Rapids Roadhouse building

“The original building has two stories and measures 19 by 25 feet. It is constructed with unpeeled spruce logs. The roof appears to have been covered with sod originally. It is now covered with metal. The roof rests on spruce pole rafters supported by three purlins and ridgepoles on each of the sides of the gable roof. There is a low door opening centered in the facade and a small window opening in the gable of the facade. The shed-roofed arctic entry visible in a 1920 photograph no longer exists. Remains of a stovepipe indicate a stove once was in the center of the lodge. A narrow staircase leads up to the second story at the southwest corner. The second story is divided into two rooms.

“Most of the additions are of unpeeled white spruce logs chinked with moss. Some logs were squared with an axe. Most have saddle corner construction. The additions have, or had, low to medium gable-sod roofs, some covered with corrugated metal roofing. Window and door trims are of hand sawn lumber, hand planed on the exposed sides. Window sashes are hand made and double glazed.

1982 National Park Service photo by Jet Lowe

1982 National Park Service photo by Jet Lowe

“On the north side of the original building is an 82-foot-long series of connected, single-story buildings. The first, about 15 feet long, was probably a kitchen. Its fenestration includes a six pane window measuring 24″ x 24″ in front, a six pane window measuring 33″ x 26″ in the rear, and a small doorway measuring 26″ x 51″ in the southeast corner.”

The description continues in this descriptive vein for paragraph after paragraph, detailing the original lodge, the additions, and the garage, workshop, and storage areas. The current description circa 2000 noted the original building was still standing: “The roof has been braced. Its second floor sags and the staircase is unsound. Much of the wood floor is gone. Some walls are covered with layers of painted canvas and some of the canvas is still intact. The southwest corner has subsided two to three feet and the west wall has buckled. The dirt floor has sunk two to three feet in the center. Logs on the north and east walls appear sound; most on the south wall are deteriorated.”

The report noted that the additions and outbuildings were in various stages of disrepair and added, “the present owners plan to stabilize the parts of the roadhouse standing in 1920. They plan to remove the 1950s addition. Although deteriorated, the building still conveys the sense of a typical roadside business in Alaska in the early 1900s.”

FrankGlaserIn his book Alaska’s Wolf Man: The 1915-55 Wilderness Adventures of Frank Glaser (Pictorial Histories Publishing Co., 1998), based on interviews with Frank Glaser done forty years earlier, author Jim Rearden describes the area around the Black Rapids Roadhouse in Glaser’s own words: “From Miller Roadhouse to Black Rapids Glacier Roadhouse I became very excited. This was the kind of country I had dreamed about. With binoculars I spotted white sheep skirting the high mountain crags. A yellow-backed brown-legged grizzly swaggered across a snow field high above timberline. Fresh caribou tracks pocked bars of the nearby Delta River.

“Black Rapids Roadhouse lies opposite 29-mile-long hugely crevassed Black Rapids Glacier; the roaring glacial Delta River separates them. Victor Columbo,  Frenchman everyone called ‘Victor Columbus,’ owned the roadhouse, but he spent most of his time hunting and trapping.

“I remained at Rapids, as this roadhouse is commonly called, for five days, hiking into the mountains and peering through binoculars at distant caribou and at white sheep high on the greening peaks. I saw several more grizzlies, and checked out tracks of foxes, lynx, and other furbearers on sandy stretches of the river bar. This spectacular country, with its on-end sky-scraping rocky peaks tempted me to settle there immediately, but I went on, for I was determined to see Fairbanks, now only 145 miles distant; I could always return to Rapids.”

The intrepid pioneer Fannie Quigley visiting Rapids Roadhouse

Fannie Quigley of Denali Park at Rapids Roadhouse

Frank Glaser did return to the Black Rapids Roadhouse in the fall of 1916 and built a log cabin at Darling Creek, just below the roadhouse. After a stint as an ambulance driver at Fort Dodge, Iowa during the First World War, he once again returned to the Black Rapids area in 1919, and finding the roadhouse for sale, purchased it. With traffic on the Valdez Trail greatly slowed due to the nearly-completed Alaska Railroad garnering increasing freight and passenger business between the coast and Fairbanks, Glaser hired mangers to run his roadhouse while he continued hunting and trapping.

Over the years the roadhouse had a number of owners and operators including Hugh and Lloyd Beckel (1912), Henry Colombon (1916), Russell Robinson (1918), Frank Glaser (1922), Charles Nevilius (1925), Grace Lowe and Evelyn Mahan (1930s), H. E. Revell (1930s), J.B. Coble (1946), Edith Acres (1947), Bert and Mary Hansen (1958-1974), Jerry and Wanda McMillian (1974-at least to the mid-1980s), Earl Tourgeau, and Annie and Michael Hopper.

Looking across the Delta River at Black Rapids Glacier

Looking across the Delta River at Black Rapids Glacier

For three months in 1937 the Black Rapids Glacier made national news by advancing across the valley at the rate of a mile a month, winning the nickname the “galloping glacier.” Otto William Geist, pioneer Alaskan archeologist, paleontologist and naturalist, made the only accurate observations of the Black Rapids Glacier’s 1937 advance, and in an article for the Fairbanks Daily News Miner Geist wrote, “Early in April, four of us, outfitted with heavy survey instruments as well as barometers, cameras, thermometers, bedding, food, and a tent, were landed by plane on the glare ice of the river two miles above the face of the glacier. The next day Harry Revell brought our equipment to the foot of the glacier with his dogs and we pitched our tent less than 300 feet from the face of the glacier. The vast river of ice that stretched for a mile and a half across the valley, twenty-five mile sor more back, and 400 to 500 feet high, seemed to be a living, sinister mass. It rumbled and crashed and shook the earth until we could easily imagine we were in front line trenches. Even the dogs barked at it. While we were there, the glacier’s advance was a little over 25 feet per day. Since it began to move nearly a year ago, it has covered a distance of approximately four miles.”

The old roadhouse and the new Black Rapids Lodge

The old roadhouse and the new Black Rapids Lodge

The 27-mile long glacier has since retreated, but the moraine can still be seen from Richardson Highway pullout. After 10 years of construction Michael and Annie Hopper opened a new 7,300 square foot timber framed, handmade lodge in 2009, on the bluff overlooking the Black Rapids Glacier and Delta River, and began the restoration of the the 100 year old Black Rapids roadhouse located on the road below the lodge. A year-by-year report on the progress of the roadhouse restoration is available at the lodge’s website.

Deadhorse Roadhouse

Dead Horse RH circa 1922In his 2003 book Lavish Silence (Trapper Creek Museum/Sluice Box Productions), about the now-vanished railroad community of Curry, author Kenneth L. Marsh explained that the name of this roadhouse was based on a railroad construction camp beside the Susitna River at mile 248 of the Alaska Railroad: “This, of course, meant it was 248 miles north of Seward, the starting point of the railroad. It also put this camp 22 miles north of the recently reserved townsite of Talkeetna and approximately halfway to Fairbanks. Deadhorse Hill was the name first given the remote camp. It is said that the name was given early on in 1916 when a team of horses fell to their death from the top of a nearby steep hill after being frightened upon seeing a bear.”

Officials in front of the Talkeetna District Headquarters at Deadhorse Hill, August, 1918 [AEC Collection]

Officials in front of the Talkeetna District Headquarters at Deadhorse Hill, August, 1918 [AEC Collection]

The Alaska Engineering Commission constructed a good-sized community at Deadhorse Hill, comprised of several buildings and the Talkeetna District Headquarters for the railroad construction project. In the 1919-1920 Alaska Railroad Record (Vol. IV. No. 14, page 106) it was noted by Col. Frederick Mears, Chairman and Chief Engineer, “…a great deal of work will be required in repairing the old grade constructed in 1917 and 1918 along this 24-mile section as some of it has gone to pieces very badly at several points owing to its abandonment when work was shut down.

“Deadhorse Hill Camp … will be the headquarters for the construction forces during the early spring and summer operations. This is one of the old camps remaining from the early period of construction operations, and it is well laid out and well built from cottonwood lumber sawed at the site.”

Mears Memorial Bridge, completed in 1923, crossing the Tanana River at Nenana [LoC photo taken shortly after completion in 1923]

Mears Memorial Bridge over the Tanana River at Nenana [LoC photo taken shortly after completion in 1923]

Deadhorse Hill became a prominent staging point for supplies and equipment on the northern half of the railroad construction project, which included three important bridges. The first one crossed the upper Susitna River; the second spanned the deep-walled Hurricane Gulch; and the third was at Nenana, where a long trestle approach led to the crossing of the Tanana River. At 700 feet long, the Tanana River bridge was the longest truss span in the United States and its territories, and the bridge still ranks as the longest span of any kind in Alaska and the third-longest simple truss bridge in North America. In July, 1923 President Warren G. Harding drove the ceremonial Golden Spike at the north end of this bridge.

Alaska Nellie Neal with her trophies at Deadhorse Roadhouse

Alaska Nellie Neal with her big game trophies

Because Deadhorse Hill was such a key location, a large roadhouse was built at the site in 1917 to accommodate the construction workers, officials, and occasional visitors. Management of the new roadhouse was given to a woman who was already a much-loved figure on the Alaska Railroad, an intrepid big game hunter and sled dog musher who, for three years, had held the contract for the Grandview Roadhouse at mile 45, at the southern end of the tracks near Seward. Nellie Neal’s gift for storytelling and entertaining her guests, along with her notable skill with a rifle (which assured plenty of meat on the tables), and her selfless bravery in rescuing a lost mail driver with her dog team had elevated her to near-legendary status along the railroad.

Wiry and independent, Nellie took on running the Deadhorse Roadhouse with all the pluck and dedication she’d shown at Grandview, cooking meals on two large ranges for the dining room which seated 125 hungry workers at a time, and filling 60 lunch-buckets each night for the construction crews to take on their jobs the following day. In Lavish Silence Kenneth Marsh described the roadhouse accommodations: “…spring-less wooden bunks, straw mattresses and oil-drum wood-burning stove, all in one large room at the top of a flight of rickety stairs, held together by a warped wooden shell (which, at times, put up an uneven fight against the elements).”

President and Mrs. Harding, 1923

President and Mrs. Harding in Alaska, 1923

In July, 1923, President Harding, his wife, and Secretary of State Herbert Hoover stayed at the Deadhorse Roadhouse on their way to the Golden Spike-driving ceremony at Nenana. The next morning Nellie served heaping plates of sourdough pancakes in her warm kitchen, commenting, “Presidents of the United States like to be comfortable when they eat, just like anyone else!”

With the completion of the railroad came significant changes to the little community, largely in the form of a luxury resort hotel built across the tracks from the roadhouse by the Alaskan Engineering Commission. In 1922 the name of the community was changed to Curry, to honor Congressman Charles F. Curry of California, chairman of the Committee on Territories, who was a strong supporter of the Alaska Railroad.

"At Curry, Alaska, 6/23/'22." [Angier family papers, UAF-1969-89-117]

“At Curry, Alaska, 6/23/’22.” [Angier family papers, UAF-1969-89-117]

Kenneth Marsh included an article from the December 2, 1922 issue of The Pathfinder of Alaska, newsletter of the Pioneers of Alaska, which described the impending demise of the Deadhorse Roadhouse: “The famous old roadhouse located at Mile 248 on the Government Railroad is now singing its Swan Song and will soon cease to function as a hostelry. The camp’s name has also been changed to Curry–named in honor of Senator Curry, Alaska’s friend.

Curry Hotel

The modern and elegant Curry Hotel

“The Alaskan Engineering Commission now has a large railroad hotel nearing completion, which will be modern in every detail. Electricity, steam heat, hot and cold water systems are being installed, telephones, baths, laundry, big dining room and other conveniences all under the same roof as the depot, will ensure comfort to all guests.

“Old timers, however, will always think of the place as Deadhorse and in the same flash of memory will recall the days when Nellie Neal, the proprietor and domineering spirit of the place, reigned supreme.”

 

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.

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

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.

Pioneer Roadhouse

Dogteam in front of the Pioneer Roadhouse, 1916

The Pioneer Roadhouse, “A load of gold, Knik,1916”

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…”

The Pioneer Roadhouse, also known as the Farewell Mountain Roadhouse

The Pioneer Roadhouse, also known as the Farewell Mountain Roadhouse; click the photo for information

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 Pioneer Hotel, which began as the Pioneer Roadhouse, at Knik, 1916

The Pioneer Hotel, which began as the Pioneer Roadhouse, at Knik, 1916

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.

Screen Shot 2015-05-01 at 9.33.05 PMFrank 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.”

The Knik Commercial Club in front of the Pioneer Roadhouse, 1912

The Knik Commercial Club members gathered in front of Frank Cannon’s Pioneer Roadhouse in Knik, 1912

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.”

Pioneer Roadhouse, 16 miles north of Rohn Roadhouse

Pioneer Roadhouse, 16 miles north of Rohn Roadhouse

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.

Rika’s Landing Roadhouse

1280px-Rika's_RoadhouseThe Richardson Highway, originally designed as the Valdez-to-Eagle pack trail and built in 1898 by the U.S. Army, provided an “all-American” route to the goldfields of the Klondike in Canada. The Army kept the trail open after the rush for gold ended, as it was the only direct route between Fort Liscum in Valdez and Fort Egbert in Eagle. In 1902 a westerly branch of the trail, the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail, became one of the most important access routes to the Interior during the Fairbanks gold rush. The Tanana was one of the major rivers to be crossed on the Valdez-Eagle trail, and a ferry was established just upriver of the Tanana’s confluence with the Delta River, at a location then called Bates Landing, now known as Big Delta.

1280px-Rika's_Landing_Roadhouse_-_front_-_DSCN0519In 1904 a roadhouse and trading post was built at Bates Landing on 80 acres owned by a prospector named Ben Bennett. The following spring Judge James Wickersham wrote a description in his diary, dated March 4, 1905: “The trading post is on the bank of the Tanana, about 1/4 mile above the mouth of the Delta River. Nothing here except the log trading-post–building 20 x 22 foot with a tent behind–side room 16 x 30 foot and doghouse and horse shed–Indian camp near on river bank.”

1280px-Rika's_Landing_Roadhouse_-_front_-_DSCN0514A year later Bennett sold his land and the roadhouse to Daniel McCarty, and it became known as McCarty’s. By 1907 the McCarty Trading Post and Roadhouse had been transferred to another prospector, Alonzo Maxey, who had built a competing establishment he called Bradley’s Roadhouse. Around 1909, John Hajdukovich, who had come to Alaska from Yugoslavia in 1903, purchased the property from Maxey and built a newer, larger roadhouse, using logs which had been floated down the Tanana River. The new roadhouse was three stories high and could serve forty guests at a time.

Rika's Landing Roadhouse, 1975

Rika’s Landing Roadhouse, 1975

Hajdukovich was also a gold prospector, a freighter, and a hunting guide, and these pursuits led him to become an advocate for the Athabaskan natives of the area, on whose behalf he was instrumental in founding the Tetlin Indian Reserve in 1930, revoked upon passage of the Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act in 1971. He was appointed U.S. Game Commissioner for the region, and around 1917 he hired Rika Wallen to manage operations at his roadhouse, which at the time was still known as McCarty’s.

Rika Wallen

Rika Wallen

Erika ‘Rika’ Wallen was born in Sweden and immigrated to the United States with her sister in 1891 to join a brother in Minnesota. After their brother died in an accident, the sisters moved to San Francisco, and Rika worked as a cook for the Hills Brothers coffee family. In 1916 Rika Wallen traveled to Valdez, reportedly because she thought Alaska would be like Sweden. She worked as a cook at the Kennecott copper mine and eventually made her way to the roadhouse at Big Delta. According to the Big Delta State Historical Park, “In 1923 she bought it from Hajdukovich for ‘$10.00 and other considerations,’ presumably in lieu of wages. The roadhouse was named ‘Rika’s’ following local custom. Rika operated the roadhouse through the 1940’s, although in later years guests were by invitation only.”

Rika Wallen lived at and ran the roadhouse until the late 1940s, raising poultry and livestock and growing fruits and vegetables which let her serve customers fresh meat, produce, eggs and milk. She passed away in 1969 and is buried on the grounds of what is now a state park. In the late 1970s the roadhouse was lovingly restored and furnished in the style of the 1920s and ’30s with antiques and artifacts donated by residents around Big Delta. The Rika’s Landing Roadhouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and serves as the centerpiece of the Big Delta State Historical Park.

parallel_coverParallel Destinies, a book by Delta Junction author Judy Ferguson, tells the story of John Hajdukovich and Rika Wallen, and the history of the upper Tanana River area.

For more information:

Big Delta State Historical Park

Rika’s Roadhouse PDF 4-page brochure

Ray Bonnell’s Sketches of Alaska

A selection of color photos, interior and exterior

Judy Ferguson’s Parallel Destinies

Rika’s Landing Roadhouse at Wikipedia

Rika’s Roadhouse Facebook page

Cape Nome Roadhouse

Cape Nome RH

Cape Nome Roadhouse, 1976

Jutting into Norton Sound 15 miles east of Nome lies the headland Cape Nome, which extends inland for about four miles and rises 675 feet from sea level. In 1901, British Admiral and hydrographer Sir William Wharton wrote: “The name Cape Nome, which is off the entrance to Norton bay, first appears on our charts from an original of Kellett in 1849. I suppose the town gets its name from the same source, but what that is we have nothing to show.”

are-you-going-to-cape-nome-1900When large gold deposits were discovered in 1898 the Cape Nome Mining District was formed and the Nome Gold Rush was on. Hopeful miners flocked to the area in the spring of 1899, producing the largest gold rush in Alaska, and the third largest in North America, after the 1849 California Gold Rush and the stampede to the Klondike in 1898. Over a million dollars in gold was taken from the beaches of Nome in 1899, and by 1900 a roadhouse had been built at Cape Nome, constructed with logs hauled by horses from the wooded Council area, some 80 miles to the east.

Cape Nome Roadhouse, circa 1901

Cape Nome Roadhouse, circa 1901

Cape Nome RH 1976

Cape Nome Roadhouse, 1976

Described as “sturdy, squat and convenient,” the first roadhouse was soon added onto, enlarged and reconfigured to become a building which could only be described as incongruous, resembling a New England-style saltbox, which took its name from its resemblance to a wooden lidded box in which salt was once kept. The defining characteristics of a saltbox are two stories in front and a single story behind, resulting in a long sloping roofline. They were often created when a single-story lean-to was added to an existing building.

The Cape Nome Roadhouse is listed on the National Register of Historic Places, and documentation from 1976 notes: “In side profile this is a modified New England “salt box” design, except for the functional practicalities. For here, unlike a true salt box, the front and side elevation features (doors and prominent windows) are reversed. It is doubtful if the design was premeditated. The largest expanse of roof section, sloping from two stories to one, was probably a concession to heavy roof snow, drifting snow and prevailing winds rather than to any aesthetic consideration. The appearance is uncommon for Arctic Alaska at any time––but was even more so in the early part of this century. As an Alaska roadhouse, Cape Nome is definitely unique, atypical.”

Cape Nome Roadhouse, 1976

Cape Nome Roadhouse, 1976

In his Trail Notes for the Iditarod Trail Sled Dog Race, Don Bowers wrote sobering words about the Cape Nome area: “This can be one of the most dangerous stretches on the race when the wind blows or a storm hits. Mushers have nearly died within what would normally be a few hours’ easy running to Nome. In reasonable weather, this is a pleasant five- to eight-hour run; in the worst conditions, it can be impassable.”

The National Register of Historic Places survey describes the interior of the roadhouse: “Initially the interior was barracks-like; to provide a maximum of sleeping accommodations in two large, unpartitioned rooms which ultilized most of the space; plus a smaller dining room and kitchen. Eventually more partitioning was added. Other slight modifications were made when the use changed to merchandising rather than provision of room and board; and more recently as essentially a family residence.”

jj6317For many years the Cape Nome Roadhouse was an important stopover for travelers on the Nome-to-Fairbanks Trail and later the Iditarod Trail. With the construction of the Nome-Council Wagon Road and the coming of commercial aviation the roadhouse was no longer in demand for meals and lodging, and by 1918 it had become an orphanage for the Nome Methodist Church. It was utilized as an FAA communications station during WWII and into the 1950’s, and at the time of the National Register of Historic Places survey it was a live-in grocery store.

Today the Cape Nome Roadhouse is owned by the Hahn family of Nome. There are some lovely color photos, in which it is referred to as the Old Point Nome Roadhouse, at the online ship log of the sailing yacht Tyhina, including photos of the view to sea and the fireplace inside the roadhouse.

In 1900 a report by a USGS party which included Alfred H. Brooks and Walter C. Mendenhall included a large topographic map of the Cape Nome region.

In 1900 a report by a US Geological Survey party which included Alfred H. Brooks and Walter C. Mendenhall featured a large topographic map of the Seward Peninsula; shown here is the bottom half, which includes the Cape Nome region.

For more information:

Cape Nome Roadhouse National Register of Historic Places papers

A dozen excellent photos of the roadhouse, July, 1980

Cape Nome at Wikipedia

Cape Nome Roadhouse at Wikipedia

Grandview Roadhouse

Grandview roadhouse, Mile 45 Alaska Railroad, circa 1915

Grandview roadhouse, circa 1915 [ASL]

Nellie Neal Lawing, familiar to Alaskans as the peerless “Alaska Nellie, arrived in Seward on July 3, 1915, just as construction of the Alaska Railroad was getting underway, Nellie wrote in her autobiography, Alaska Nellie, that she set out to seek a contract “to run the eating houses on the southern end of the Alaska Railroad,” and she described her effort: “On my first time out on an Alaskan trail, I had walked one hundred fifty miles and as usual was alone. This accomplishment, in itself, might have satisfied some, but I was out here in this great new country to contribute something to others, and I felt this means could best be served by becoming the ‘Fred Harvey’ of the government railroad in Alaska.”

Nellie Neal Lawing and a friend on the porch at the Grandview Roadhouse, circa 1915 (?)

Nellie Neal Lawing and a friend on the porch at the Grandview Roadhouse, circa 1915 [ASL]

Likely due in part to her plucky approach, she was awarded a lucrative government contract to run a roadhouse at mile 44.9, a scenic location she promptly named: “Grandview seemed the most appropriate name to me for Mile 45. Being without paint with which to paint a sign, I found an old blue coat, which I washed and pressed, cut letters for the sign from it and sewed them to a strip of while oilcloth. This pennant was tacked to the front porch in front of the house. Mile 45 was now Grandview.”

Nellie was the first woman to be awarded such a contract. Her agreement with the Alaska Engineering Commission was to provide food and lodging for the government employees; her skill with a rifle filled out the menu, and her gifted storytelling kept her guests highly entertained. According to the terms of her contract, Nellie could purchase supplies from the government commissary, her freight would be delivered at no charge, and she would be paid fifty cents per meal and one dollar per night for lodging. The government employees on the railroad paid her with vouchers, which she turned in monthly for payment.

Nellie described the accommodations at Grandview in her book, Alaska Nellie: “The house was small but comfortable. A large room with thirteen bunks, used as sleeping quarters for the men, was just above the dining room. A small room above the kitchen served as my quarters. To the rear of the building a stream of clear, cold water flowed down from the mountain and was piped into the kitchen. Nature was surely in a lavish mood when she created the beauty of the surroundings of this place. The timber-clad mountains, the flower-dotted valley, the irresistible charm of the continuous stretches of mountains and valleys was something in which to revel.”

Nellie relates the story in her book

Nellie relates the story in her book

One harrowing event Nellie’s life occurred in the dark cold of winter. She maintained a dog team which she used for trapping along the corridor which would later become the Seward Highway. Once during a blizzard the local contract mail carrier, Henry Collman, didn’t arrive when he was expected, so Nellie hitched up her dog team and set out to find him. She located the mail carrier badly frozen in an area which had claimed several lives. Nellie took the young man back to her roadhouse to warm up, and then set off to finish delivering his mail sacks and pouches, which she later learned contained valuable goods, to the waiting train. For her courageous efforts the town of Seward declared her a hero and awarded her a gold nugget necklace, with a diamond set in its large pendant nugget. Nellie treasured her necklace to the end of her days.

Nellie tells another dog team story in her autobiography, Alaska Nellie: “One cold winter day in December when the daylight was only a matter of minutes and the lamps were burning low, two U.S. marshals, Marshals Cavanaugh and Irwin, together with Jack Haley and Bob Griffiths, arrived at the roadhouse. The heavy wooden boxes they were removing from their sleds had been brought from the Iditarod mining district. They contained $750,000 in gold bullion. “‘Where do you want to put this, Nellie?’ called the men, carrying their precious burden.

Alaska Nellie Book Cover“‘Right here under the dining room table is as good a place as any,’ I answered. And it was as simple as that. There it stayed until the men carried it back to the sleds, next day. They were able to go to sleep, for it was as safe right there in my dining room as it would have been in the United States Mint. No one would dare to touch it.”

Alaska Nellie became known far and wide, and the foreword to a 2010 reprinting of her autobiographical book, “Alaska Nellie,” by Patricia A. Heim, sums up her legendary status and shares more about the Grandview Roadhouse:

“Nellie Neal Lawing was one of Alaska’s most charismatic, admired and famous pioneers. She was the first woman ever hired by the U.S. Government in Alaska in 1916. She was contracted to feed the hungry crews on the long awaited Alaska railroad connecting Seward to Anchorage. The conditions were harsh and supplies were limited. She delivered many of her meals by dogsled, fighting off moose attacks and hazards of the trail, often during below-zero blizzards. She always brought with her a great tale to tell of her adventures along the trail, how she had wrestled grizzlies, fought off wolves and moose, and caught the worlds largest salmon for their dinner, always in the old sourdough tradition. The workers listened and laughed with every bite. Nellie was an excellent cook, big game hunter, river guide, trail blazer, gold miner, and a great story-teller! It wasn’t long before Nellie became legendary and was known far and wide as the female ‘Davy Crockett’ of Alaska, her wilderness adventures and stories of survival on the trail spread like wildfire. Letters addressed simply ‘Nellie, Alaska’ were always delivered.”

Nellie at her Kenai Lake cabin at Lawing, circa 1941

Nellie at her Kenai Lake cabin at Lawing, circa 1941

Nellie later operated a roadhouse near the Susitna River, at a railroad camp known as Curry, and then, in 1923, she bought her final home, a roadhouse on Kenai Lake. The railroad stop along the blue-green waters was renamed Lawing when Nellie Neal married Bill Lawing, and together they built the roadhouse into a popular tourist stop on the Alaska Railroad. Vegetables from Nellie’s garden were served with fresh fish from the lake or with game from the nearby hills, and Nellie’s stories, often embellished with her rollicking tall tales, kept her audiences delighted. Celebrities, politicians, tourists and even locals came to enjoy the purely Alaskan hospitality at the Lawings’ roadhouse on Kenai Lake.

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:

Blix Roadhouse

 Blix's Road House, with Mount Wrangle in the background, Copper Center, ca. 1910

Blix’s Road House, with Mount Wrangle in the background, Copper Center, ca. 1910

Copper Center, near the confluence of the Copper and Klutina Rivers, about 65 miles northeast of Valdez, was founded in 1896 when Ringwald Blix, born in Norway in 1872, and his wife Frances, born in Missouri the same year, built the Blix Roadhouse, one of Alaska’s earliest, for an estimated $15,000. Featuring spring beds and a modern bath, the roadhouse was very highly regarded for its outstanding services and became a favorite among travelers.

Blix Roadhouse, date unknown

Blix Roadhouse, date unknown

The community of Copper Center was further established as a mining camp during the winter of 1898-99 when about 300 prospectors settled in to wait for spring. Seeking an all-American route to Dawson City and the Klondike gold fields, they’d crossed the Valdez Glacier, descended the Klutina Glacier to Klutina Lake, then made their way down the treacherous Klutina River to the new settlement. Of the estimated 3,000 persons who attempted traversing this route, only about 300 actually arrived at the Copper River.

With the establishment of a post office and a telegraph station by the U.S. Army Signal Corps around 1901, and being on the Fairbanks-Valdez trail, Copper Center became the principal settlement and supply center in the Nelchina-Upper Susitna Region, which serviced the rich Valdez Creek mines west of Paxson. In 1903 Copper Center was designated a government agricultural experiment station, but the station was closed in 1909, citing “…transportation of supplies very expensive, insufficient rainfall during the growing season, early frosts due to the proximity of high mountains, and the desire to develop the Fairbanks station where a larger population was already established.” (1910 Report on the Agricultural Experiment Stations, U.S. Government Printing Office)

In 1932 the original Blix roadhouse burned, but it was soon replaced by the Copper Center Lodge, which was featured on the National Register of Historic Places until it was destroyed by a fire in May, 2012.

Sketches of Roadhouses

Screen Shot 2015-04-20 at 6.52.39 PMRay Bonnell, author of Interior Sketches: Ramblings Around Interior Historic Sites, has sketched and written about several old Alaskan roadhouses, including the Richardson Roadhouse, the Black Rapids Roadhouse, and the Gakona Lodge/Doyle’s Roadhouse.

He wrote about the old roadside buildings at his blog, Sketches of Alaska, in 2011: “Roadhouses were an essential Alaska institution during the early historical period. Situated about 25 miles apart along main trails (and later roads), they provided shelter and food for travelers, and often served as community centers for the surrounding area. As trails and roads improved or were re-routed, some roadhouses fell into disuse. With the introduction of automobiles people could travel further without stopping for the night, and more roadhouses were abandoned or converted to other uses.”

Interior+Sjetches+cove+rfor+blogRay Bonnell’s detailed black-and-white pen-and-ink drawings capture the beauty and the history of the old roadhouses in a way photographs cannot, giving them a timeless quality which invites learning more about these historic reminders of how traveling was done in the past, when a good dogteam or one’s own feet might provide the means of transport. For over 30 years Ray has traveled the highways and backroads of Alaska, capturing the images with his camera and his artistic talents. Since 2010 he has written a column about the historic sites of Interior Alaska for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, and he is currently working on a second book, titled Interior Sketches II, which collects his writings and artwork.

photo-original-1In a later post, dated 2013, Ray wrote about the disappearance of the old roadhouses along the Richardson Highway, a reality which is being repeated on roads and highways and trails all across the state: “We drove the Richardson highway as far south as Sourdough this past week, and I was saddened by the state of most of the small commercial lodges and gas stations along the way. There is nothing left of the Richardson Roadhouse now except an old log garage. The Summit Lake lodge burned down years ago and has never been replaced. Paxson Lodge is in deteriorating condition—the gas pumps aren’t working and only the café is open. Meiers Lake gas station and café are closed. Sourdough Roadhouse is still open, but the owner told me that this summer will probably be their last. If they can’t sell the roadhouse—well, who knows.”

What Ray Bonnell writes underscores the reason I’m writing this book about the old roadhouses: Too many are being lost to time, fires, or just closing because they are no longer needed in today’s faster-paced world. I am indebted to Ray’s beautiful artwork and his informative and insightful writing for helping to preserve some of the history of the old roadhouses while we can.

Documenting the Roadhouses

Haly's Roadhouse, Ft. Yukon, 1900

         Haly’s Roadhouse, Ft. Yukon, 1900

The first challenge in writing a book about the old roadhouses is just finding out which roadhouses existed and where they were. That’s not as difficult as one might at first imagine, because the histories of the trails, the roads they became, and the highways which followed have in most cases been well-documented. Perhaps the best example is the Iditarod Trail, for which documentation is extensive, and quite a lot of it is available online at the Bureau of Land Management Alaska website. In addition to a historic overview of the trail, the site presents old newspaper articles about the trail, information about the modes of travel such as dogteams, riverboats and airplanes, and a chronology of the trail from pre-European contact through the designation of the Iditarod Trail as a National Historic Trail in 1978. The roadhouses of the Iditarod Trail appear in a 1974 publication by the Office of Statewide Cultural Programs, Division of Parks, Department of Natural Resources, and is made available online by Coleen Mielke at this site.

Rika's Landing Roadhouse brochure

Rika’s Landing Roadhouse brochure

Some of the old roadhouses have become historic sites, such as Rika’s Landing Roadhouse, also known as the McCarty Roadhouse, located at a historically important crossing of the Tanana River, near mile 274.5 of the Richardson Highway. The roadhouse, a centerpiece of Big Delta State Historical Park, was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976. A similarly restored historic roadhouse can be found in Delta Junction at the Sullivan Roadhouse, and many others, such as the Talkeetna Roadhouse, the Manley Roadhouse, and the Meier’s Lake Roadhouse in Paxson, are still functioning businesses, and their histories have also been saved.

Old maps, books, interviews, photograph collections and other sources can all be utilized to help locate and identify the roadhouses, and bringing them all together will be the goal of this new book.

Roadhouse Registers

wpeF7The Alaska and Polar Regions Collections at the University of Alaska, Fairbanks, includes photocopies of guest registers from two roadhouses which were located in Knik, on Knik Arm near Anchorage, on the northeastern tip of Cook Inlet.

Pioneer Roadhouse, Knik, 1916

Pioneer Roadhouse, Knik, 1916

The register for the Pioneer Roadhouse covers the time period from December 16, 1910 through December 28, 1913, when the proprietor was F. B. Cannon. At the end of the register are entries for November 1 through December 4, May 8, and September of unknown years, as well as February, 1930 and January through February, 1931. The register for the Knik Roadhouse covers the period from April 1, 1909 through October 5, 1918. The proprietors were Mrs. J. C. Murray (April through November, 1909 and again after August 14, 1911) and Mr. and Mrs. J. B. Smith (December 29, 1909 through June, 1911).

Manley Roadhouse circa 1908. Charles Spicer Collection, 2003-007-08, Archives, University of Alaska Fairbanks

Manley Roadhouse circa 1908. Charles Spicer Collection, 2003-007-08, Archives, University of Alaska Fairbanks

The Manley-Hot Springs Resort Records consist of photocopies of six ledgers dating from 1907 to 1911, relating to Frank Manley’s Hot Springs Resort at Manley Hot Springs. These include one daily log of occurrences at the resort (February to June, 1909); one ledger (1906) and one time book (1907-1908, 1911) relating to Manley’s other business enterprises in the Manley Hot Springs region; and a small book of accounts outstanding (1901-1902) that may relate to Manley’s affairs elsewhere in Alaska. The resort ledgers include a hotel register for 1907-1908, three double-entry account books (1907-1911), a mess account (1907-1909), and a trial balance for 1910-1911. In addition to providing insights into the resort’s expenses, income, and operations and Frank Manley’s involvement in local mining, the various ledgers list many individuals whose names are not found in such common reference works as Polk’s Alaska-Yukon Gazetteer and Business Directory.

Also in the collections are registers and accounting records from the Ferry Roadhouse (1928-1959) located at Ferry, Alaska, approximately 39 miles south of Nenana; and the Kobe Roadhouse (1927-1949; also known as the Rex Roadhouse, at Rex, Alaska, approximately 48 miles south of Nenana.