Tag Archives: Iditarod Trail

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

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.

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

The Alaska Road Commission

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

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

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

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

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

Skwentna Crossing Shelter Cabin

Skwentna Crossing Shelter Cabin, circa 1930

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

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




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.