from the 2004 SKAGUAY ALASKAN Visitor Guide
OUR NORTHERN HOME.
CIVILIZATION IN ALASKA
Step Back 100 Years New Homes Are Sprouting Up Across Valley - Little Town Is The Envy Of All Who Visit - Clean Water, Bountiful Gardens, Unsurpassed Views
By the Skagway Commercial Club from its booklet published by the Daily Alaskan, circa 1908
Skagway is the natural headquarters for tourists and sightseers. No spot on the Pacific Coast offers a more profitable or interesting place for you to spend either a short or long vacation, on account of the miscellaneous places that may be visited with such little outlay of money and time. The reasonable cost of living is another feature. You will be surprised when you see for yourself.
Here is the Gateway to the Golden Interior, richer than the imagination can paint, greater in majesty and beauty than the far-famed Switzerland, and unsurpassed in loveliness of nature. This little town contains 1,000 people, and is picturesquely located in a valley which is the terminus of the White Pass & Yukon Railway. It is surrounded by lofty mountains, tremendous glaciers, numerous beautiful waterfalls, and such scenery should prove a magnet strong enough to attract men and women from afar.
Above, interior views from Skagway homes.
Let us walk leisurely down the street and we will stare in surprise and wonder at the fine cosmopolitan shops and stores, and the large and well-built hotels, fraternal halls, water works, the electric light and telephone system, the daily newspaper, the government cable which keeps you in constant touch with all the outer world, and the up-to-date railroad shops. Then let us visit the residential streets and see the pretty homes with well-kept lawns and flower gardens, the churches, schools, and the first class hospital, and you will wonder how this little far-away town could improve so rapidly when it did not come into existence until 1898, at which time it was the head-quarters of many eager gold hunters and prospectors bound for the Klondike and other parts of Alaska, from 5,000 to 10,000 in number, housed in tents, old shacks, and similar other structures providing but scanty shelter.
It would take too long to tell about all the individual stores, and the special wares for sale in addition to everyday, up-to-date merchandise; when you have seen and investigated you will concede that Skagway has every facility for becoming the great summer resort of Alaska and the Northwest in fact, one of the greatest in the world.
The temperature in winter seldom falls below zero, as the Japanese current has a moderating effect upon the climate. During the summer months when you would be sweltering with the heat in the great cities of the states, here the south winds from the glaciers cause the atmosphere to be cool and refreshing. Thus there is an ideal climate in Skagway the year around, with less annual rainfall than in any other part of Alaska, the average amounting to only 22.49 inches during the past five years.
As a garden spot Skagway cannot be excelled. Red, white and black currants grow in abundance, making the best kind of jellies. Blueberries, huckleberries, cranberries, and raspberries grow wild. Some of these berries have been cultivated very successfully. Vegetables also grow to a very large size, and it is an excellent country for celery, which is noted for its rich flavor.
During the summer months there are from 18 to 22 hours of daylight, while during the winter months darkness is more prevailing.
A photo of moonlit Skagway Bay taken near Burro Creek at 11:30 p.m. Photos from Skagway, Alaska booklet prepared by the Daily Alaskan for the Skagway Commercial Club.
Think of taking a beautiful picture at midnight, which can be done in Skagway without artificial light during the summer months. Notice the beautiful pictures shown on this page, taken at midnight -- notice the moon rising over the mountain tops.
Such novelties as these help characterize Skagway as the natural headquarters for tourists, and we trust that the few accompanying photos our space permits us to reproduce will convince you that our statements are well-founded.
Barbara Dedman plays with a kitten outside her home behind the Golden North Hotel. Dedmans Photo Shop
Skagways Historic Homes
The first real taste of Alaska winter weather was experienced during the past week. It is fine winter weather for those persons who are properly clothed, but the wind has found every crack and cranny and told people exactly how tightly they built their log cabin or frame shack. The Skaguay News (Vol. 1, No. 6) , Nov. 19, 1897
Compiled by Jeff Brady
Skagway emerged as a tent city of stampeders in the fall of 1897, but by the time winter set in, those who planned to stay and make a living, like the News editor above, sought more permanent dwellings. The hillsides were scoured for lumber to construct not only businesses, but the first log cabins and wood-frame homes.
The Klondike Gold Rush lasted barely a year, but it gave birth to the rails of the White Pass & Yukon Route, which moved past Lake Bennett to Whitehorse on the Yukon River by 1900. Skagways future was set as a strategic port linking the Outside to the main lifeline of the North.
And as the new century dawned, more families moved to town, and the drive to become a first class city became less the jargon of a boom town, and more the desire of townspeople who wanted a comfortable life.
In the first decade of the 20th century, many fine homes were constructed to house those who made money during the gold rush, and those who had year-round employment with the railroad. Many of these homes stand today, and have been lovingly restored and adorned with flower gardens, just as they were a century ago.
Earlier this year, we asked about 30 local home owners if they would like to share information about their historic homes with our visitors. About half of them responded, and here is a capsule look at some of the historic homes of Skagway:
Note to Readers. We have listed addresses here, but you are reminded that most are private residences. Unless they state Public Welcome, please observe from the sidewalks and do not go into yards or knock on doors.
Dedman Home (1900), 3rd Avenue behind Golden North Hotel: Barbara Dedman Kalen grew up in this house, which has stayed in the Dedman family for five generations, and is currently occupied by her granddaughter Averill and Tom Harp and family, who operate the photo shop. George Dedman, Barbaras grandfather, moved the hotel from the corner of 2nd and State to its present location in 1908, and the following year four small houses were moved from Alaska Street to 3rd for employee housing and rentals. Her parents Henry and Bessie Dedman used this house as a residence until 1947. These small houses were very ordinary, wrote Barbara, adding that they possibly had been brothels or Indian homes by the river and had pipes exposed for easy repairs if they froze. We heated with coal, she added. All houses in Skagway in the 1930s heated with coal, wood or both. There was no refrigeration. We had a cooler box with a screen on the side of the house. It worked great in the spring and fall. In the summer it didnt work, and in winter everything froze. After the war (WW2) it was nice to get refrigerators and automatic washers, though the automatic dryers didnt come along till after my kids grew up. We hung all our diapers in the kitchen. Barbaras daughter, Betsy lived in the house for many years, and passed it on to her daughter, Averill, who keeps up the fabulous flower garden which is mulched heavily with seaweed.
Tanner-Riewe House (circa 1900), now the Skagway Home Hostel and Gardens (Yard Open to Public), 456 3rd Ave.: Present owners Nancy Schave and Frank Wasmer are just the fifth owners of this home that was built by Adolf Fasel, owner of the Pioneer Hardware Store, sometime before 1901, the year it showed up on the tax rolls. It then was owned by Josiah Tanner, the town marshal who later became a delegate to the Territorial Legislature. The house then passed on to the Sufficools, who ran the local fuel business that is still in operation. It was eventually purchased by local grocers Herbert and Georgina Riewe in 1940, whose family owned it until Wasmer-Schave purchased in 1990. They intended it to be their primary home and a hostel. Major restoration was done, from new plumbing, electrical, and roof to interior refurbishing. They invite visitors to walk through the lawn and garden enjoying whatever is in bloom at the time. The back patio features flowers that are wind sensitive, especially dahlias, fuschia, geraniums, and roses. I enjoy sharing my gardens, flowers, etc., Nancy wrote.
Keller Home (1903), 550 3rd Ave.: Present owners Jean and Boyd Worley say their two-story home was built from full dimensional, rough-cut lumber and looks like two houses put together, although the outside has never been altered. It originally belonged to Jack Keller, who operated a drug store. Modern owners included Charles and Rex Hermens, John and Lorna McDermott, and the Worleys, who acquired the home in 1977 when they came to work at the U.S. border station. Hermens did some restoration work in the late 1960s, and the Worleys have put in a new kitchen and plan to modernize more rooms. An interesting feature in the yard is a chicken wire and cement structure with a fireplace of smooth river rocks. Shirley Keller Byars on a visit to her old home, remembered hauling the rocks to build her moms barbecue grill, and said the men chuckled about the women building it but probably bought the plaque which says, M.A. Keller, 1938.
Dennis Homes (1900), 4th & Alaska: Marion Dennis Twitchell wrote the following about her familys home: My grandfather, Bert Dennis (my grandfathers name at the time had been changed to an English name, his Tlingit name being, Aan Kadaxtséen Deigoosh, which translates in English as, Strength from the Land) bought the house from Mrs. William Mills, of Petersburg in April of 1934. He purchased the property for $100, which at the time extended all the way back to the Skagway River and included the house south of it. We were told that the house was built during the gold rush days as part of a row of houses that were, at the time the Red Light District. Both of the houses were identical and consisted of two rooms. My grandfather over the years added the additions to the house where he lived in with his family. We dont have any information on whom or exactly when the houses were built, pictures of the original structures or how many were constructed in the row. It passed on to Marions late father Si and mother Dorothy Dennis, who still lives there. Marion is environmental planner for the Skagway Traditional Council.
A child in the Blanchard Garden with the Grimm House in the background. Skagway Museum
Blanchard Gardens Home (1898), 555 6th Ave.: Owner Betty Herpst keeps up the old Blanchard place, site of Skagways finest garden in the 1920s and 1930s, operated by Will and Ann Blanchard. It is prominently featured in the book, Garden City of Alaska, and the yard still looks pretty nice. The old home survived a fire in 1965, and the interior was remodeled by the Soldins and Lees. Betty, who is retired, acquired the home in 1976.
Grimm House (1898), NW corner 6th Ave. & Alaska (or Holly and Ivy on original street maps): Present owner Donna Snyder, who operates the local health food store, says the best known early owner of her home was Herman Grimm, a merchant who immigrated from Denmark and operated the Seattle Saloon, an ice house and possibly the Pack Train at one time. Features of the home include a widows walk, hipped roof, bay windows, gable roof dormers, and barge boards over the porch. Past additions to the rear and a rock fireplace have been removed, and the house was raised and a basement added by the previous owners, the Dolands, in 2001. Snyder acquired the home in January 2002 and is busy restoring the fir and oak flooring and the interior to the historic integrity of the early 1900s. She plans to have a basement artists studio to rent for pottery and glass works. Property records show that the property sold for $150 in 1898, and one hundred times that in 2002.
Guthrie-Nye-Roehr House (1897-1900), N. side of 7th between Main and Alaska: Present owners Jim and Charlotte Jewell say the middle of their home was originally a log cabin built in the fall/winter of 1897, probably before the town was surveyed as it is not square and straddles the property line. It was supposedly lost in a card game to Lee Guthrie, owner of the Board of Trade Saloon. He added on to the home and had a small casino in the front parlor. Desiring a bigger place, he built the White House (see below) and sold it to Charlie Nye of the power company. Restoration began with a new foundation and roof in the early 1980s by Bob Ward, who also opened up the parlor. The Jewells purchased the home in the 1990s and have restored the kitchen, baths and bedrooms. A colorful paint scheme was added recently to the one-story home with the multi-gable roof, tower, bay windows, porch, and sun room. Jim is a local contractor and Charlotte operates a commercial garden and is active in the local garden club.
A dog team and its wheeled cart pose on Seventh Ave. in front of the Guthrie-Nye House (foreground) and the Case-Mulvihill House (background), circa 1927. The driver is 15-year-old Bill Farwell, and the dogs are Jeff, Mutt, Goofy, Sparkie, and Whitey. The dogs came from the Yukon and Farwell charged 50 cents a ride. Jewell Collection, Skagway Museum
Case-Mulvihill House (1904), NW corner 7th Ave. & Alaska: Present owners William J. and Dorothy Brady say their two-story, modified Queen Anne style home was built in 1904 by a Swedish carpenter named Lindahl for gold rush photographer William H. Case and his wife Harriet. They had three children who lived in the home, which has three upstairs bedrooms and a nursery. After Case moved his business to Juneau in 1908, he sold the home to William J. and Nellie Mulvihill. They owned the home for 40 years. Mul was mayor of the city for a record 16 consecutive terms, but his day job was chief dispatcher of the railroad. To keep track of the trains, he had a telegraph key installed in the front parlors bay window. The house was vacant much of the 1950s and 60s and in the 1970s housed a number of the towns first hippies in the summers. Restoration work began in the 1970s-1980s by owner Gordon Reno and then Steve Hites and Glenda Choate. New wiring was installed and sheetrock was added to keep the wind out. A furnace replaced the old cookstove that had been converted to a roaring oil burner. Newspaper publisher Brady purchased the home in 1989 and expanded the kitchen and added a partial basement on the north side of the house in 1992-93, along with changing the paint scheme from mustard to historic beige with white and green trim. Sadly, the old two-holer shed out back had to be torn down and replaced with a replica garage in 2000. After completing some needed foundation work, he and gardener/artist Dorothy hope to replace windows, winterize the sun porch, and return the historic picket fence and gingerbread. In the meantime, enjoy the flowers.
Mickey Mulvihill House (1900), SW corner 7th & Main: Just down the block is Mulvihills son Mickeys home, now owned by grandson Carl, a local customs officer, who rents it out during the summers. The kitchen was remodeled in 1943, and more recently the shed was restored.
McBrien-Pribbernow House (1897-1908), SE corner 8th & Main: Owners Alvin and Lorene Gordons home with the large porch and gazebo was owned by Mrs. Elizabeth McBrien when it was moved to this location in 1916. She owned the phone company. It has had a series of owners and was remodeled in the mid-1970s. Old windows were removed, large picture windows installed, and the porch was enclosed and included in the house to enlarge a front room. Since the Gordons acquired the home in 1997, after retiring from the fuel business, they have put all the old stuff back: smaller wood-frame windows, an open porch, and a widows walk.
The White House, when it was owned by the Britts, had beautiful flower gardens, and the Tronruds continue the tradition today. H.C. Barley Collection,Yukon Archives
The White House (1902), now a Bed and Breakfast, SE corner of 8th & Main. Owners Jan and John Tronrud, who operate the At the White House Bed and Breakfast, have restored Lee Guthries second and larger home, which straddles three lots compared to the one lot on 7th Ave. Guthrie was the owner of the Board of Trade and one of Skagways first City Council members. When the White House was built, the Daily Alaskan described the home, constructed by E.J. Liddicot, as Guthries Palatial Mansion. It received two additions prior to World War Two. Succeeding owners included the Suffecols and Britts, who had wonderful flower gardens (see photo). Nova and Wanda Warner operated the home for years as a boarding house and hotel until 1978 when a fire almost destroyed it. In 1990 John and Jan, along with Johns late brother , Ralph, and Lori Tronrud, bought the White House and began an extensive remodel that included rebuilding the entire second floor. Restoration was completed with the opening of the home as a B&B in 1997. The family antiques and much of the original woodwork give the rooms and common areas a warm and inviting feeling, says a welcome letter to guests, who are invited from around the world to enjoy a little bit of Skagways rich history.
Burfield House (1902-07), now Alaskan Sojourn Guest House-Hostel, NW corner, 8th & Main: Owners Gary and Janilyn say their home with the huge sun porch is hard to date, but it belonged to William and Virgina Burfield (long-time magistrate) for many years. Originally a cottage, according to the National Park Service, it was given a three-sided addition by Mr. Burfield in 1938, and the roof was lifted for a second story to add three bedrooms and a bath in 1947. The Hegers, local contractors, acquired the home from the Nore family in 1999. They gutted the upstairs, opened up walls in the dining room and kitchen, and refinished the old fir floors in the original cottage portion of the house. During the upstairs restoration, they discovered that the bathroom was never finished but when we pulled up loose floorboards the water pipes were already in place which made the project much easier. The Hegers believe the Burfields probably got the house cheap because the east side of the house had been scorched by a fire. When we opened up the walls on the east porch, we found the old charred siding, Janilyn wrote.
The old Episcopal Rectory. Spurrier Collection
Episcopal Church Rectory (1901), 412 8th Ave.: Present owners Dennis and Dirce Spurrier have a picture of their home when it sat behind the old Episcopal Church. It later was home to the Frank Feero family. Dirce acquired the home in 1966 and it does double duty as a fabric shop. An addition and garage were added in 1973. The police car frequently seen outside belongs to her husband, the local chief.
Peoples-Eville House (1900), SW corner of 8th & Broadway: Present owners Leslie and Curt Dodds research found that the first structure on the property was owned by E.R. Peoples, a local undertaker, furniture store, and theater owner. But it is known primarily as the Eville house for the couple who lived there from 1917-1967. The original home was just 24 x 24, one story with a hip roof that was uncovered during recent ceiling work. Robert Eville, who worked at the railroad shops, apparently expanded the house in 1919 and 1933, because those are the dates of newspapers and fliers found in the walls. Mr. Eville died in 1937, but his wife Ina lived there another 30 years. The story goes that Mavis Soldin went over for a visit to buy a serving dish and came back with a house. It passed on to her daughter Inez, and later was sold to a minister, and then to teachers Larry Gullingsrud and Leslie Wilkenson in 1990. Restoration included leveling the house, replacing some floor and roof joists, new windows, insulation, wiring, sheetrock, new siding, a kitchen remodel and bath additions. Besides the old papers, the Dodds found a wooden cigar box under the second story floor boards that contained mysterious love notes. Leslie is an avid gardener and Curt is an official with the railroad. This house has been very good to me and my family, Leslie said. I felt connected to this home the first night I spent in it. Although I have said Id never do this again remodel an old home I am so pleased I had the opportunity to restore this one. Hopefully she will be here 100 years from now!
Left, yellow forsythia from Leslie Dodds garden grow below the restored windows of the Peoples-Eville House. Right, red dahlias lead to a bridge to Kurt Kosters restored Pullen Creek House. Dimitra Lavrakas, from the new book Garden City of Alaska.
Pullen Creek House (1897-1898), 285 8th Ave.: Present owner Kurt Kosters, a local carpenter, believes his cute house along Pullen Creek descended from a long line of Rapuzzis, a family that dates back to the gold rush. It had at least two additions in 1898, and the main house is pretty much original. Kosters purchased the home from Floyd Matthews in 1980 and added a bay window and two apartments after moving it from 2nd Ave. to its present location. It also has received a repair job with new wiring, plumbing and dry wall.
Moore House with moose cart. JB Moore collection/UAF/NPS
Moore House (1897-1904), 5th & Spring (Open to Public): The National Park Service restored Ben Moores home to its 1904 appearance during a 1995-1997 restoration. It sits next to the restored 1887 cabin built by Moore and his father William, who homesteaded the valley and were the first white settlers. The cabin was detached from the home in 1900, and Ben raised his family here. It was sold in 1907 to jeweler Herman and Hazel Kirmse and the home remained in the Kirmse family until it was sold to the Park Service by son Jack Kirmse in 1977. The house includes historic furnishings in the parlor and bedroom and exhibits on the Moores and Kirmses. The original upright Smith and Barnes piano was used by Kirmse friend Elinor Dusenbury of Haines to compose the music to the Alaska Flag Song during a visit here in 1939.
If you would like to read the entire 32-page SKAGUAY ALASKAN, please send $2.00 to The Skagway News, Box 498, Skagway, AK 99840 and we'll gladly mail one to you. Or you can pick one up for free on your way to Skagway. Copies are distributed on the Alaska ferries and water taxis, at the Juneau airport, at all Yukon visitor centers on the Alaska and Klondike Highways, and at RV parks in the Whitehorse-Tagish-Carcross Yukon area. It is also available at numerous locations in Skagway, or from our popular Days of '98 Newsies who greet the cruise ships every mornng in the summer.