Historical Features

from the 2007 SKAGUAY ALASKAN Visitor Guide


• Ho for the KLONDIKE HIGHWAY! Mile-by mile driving log

• City of the New Century - Skagway Timeline from 1880s to present

Modern City of the North


Electric Lights, Pure Water, First Class School, Up-to-Date Accommodations, Live News Medium, Good Climate.

Arriving at Skagway, the flower garden and summer resort of Alaska, and nestling as it does between gigantic mountains, it should be rightly named “The Paradise of Alaska.”
It is not an ice-bound port as many who have not lived or visited here believe, but on the contrary has a delightful and health-giving climate.
With its fertile valleys, wonderful wild fruits, its charming views, its grand and rushing streams, and its miles of beautiful flowers on the mountains looking down on the glorious seas, make peace and happiness for everyone who has cast his or her lot in this Great Empire of Alaska.
Skagway has good streets, a good water system, a first-class public school, churches of every denomination, lodges and societies and associations. It has every modern and up-to-date improvement that can be had, taking into consideration the age of the town. It has the most beautiful stores that will compare favorably in stock of every line, all of which is up to date. Its hotels are all up to date institutions, you will find all conveniences that are to be found in all first class hotels: hot and cold running water in every room, baths, electric lights, and many other conveniences too numerous to mention.
The Daily Alaskan is a modern daily paper, owned and published by L. S. Keller, and each day’s news of the world, received by cable, is printed in this live medium.
Skagway’s water system, and the purity of its water has been pronounced to be the best. Taken as it is from an icy lake five thousand feet above the level of the town, it is as pure as the drifting snow, and is delivered to its consumers through wooden pipes that never corrode.
The public schools are conducted by the best and most competent teachers that can be secured, and the sanitary condition of the building cannot be surpassed. Its surroundings will compare with any school in Alaska.
The climate of Skagway is superb. The extreme cold which would naturally be expected in this northern latitude is tempered on the coast by the warm Japan current, which performs the same service in the Pacific which the Gulf stream performs in the Atlantic. It tempers the cold so that it is not much more severe than Puget Sound, while the mountains shut off the north winds. The summers are clear and warm, blessed with unbroken daylight.
– Dynes’ Tours of Alaska and Directory of Southeastern Alaska, 1921 edition

A Skagway Light and Water Co. group surveys the impressive work on the stone masonry dam holding back the town’s new reservoir in 1898. - Yukon Archives, H.C. Barley Collection, courtesy Alaska Power & Telephone

Skagway Powers Up For The New Century

By Jeff Brady

Stampeders were hungry for modern conveniences when they arrived on the Skagway beach beginning late summer of 1897. A tent city sprang up, but those who had a vision for the future, started planning a modern city with all the conveniences of a booming metropolis.
“Skagway, on the shores of Skagway Bay, at the head of Lynn Canal, is a modern young city, having a population of about 6,000. It is systematically platted, with wide streets and avenues graded and sidewalked in every direction,” noted an early 1898 business directory. “Large and substantial blocks line the principal streets that are occupied by progressive and up-to-date business men.”
Staying “up-to-date” meant having resources to compete, and the biggest modern resource of the day was electricity.
Just three months after the first boat landed, another ship arrived with machinery for the Skagway Electric Light Co., owned by A.F. Eastman. According to a 1990 paper produced for the Society For Industrial Archeology, the steamer “George W. Elder” delivered the equipment on November 18, 1897, and “within a few days a contract was let for the furnishing and erecting of poles.”
Skagway EL&P soon had competition from Juneau’s Alaska Light and Power Co., which had been established since 1896. AL&P would have arrived sooner, said the SIA article, if not for its first plant being lost when the steamboat “Corona” wrecked early in 1898. Once established, both companies were advertising modern lighting
The early 1898 guidebook, without naming the two companies, hinted at the upcoming competition and which one might prevail:

The staff of the Golden North Hotel gathers outside under their early street light at 3rd and Broadway; a Skagway couple relaxes in their parlor at home, lit by a lamp from above - Yukon Arcives, HC Barley Collection and KGRNHP collections

“The streets and business houses, as well as many of the residences, are illuminated by night with electric lights – arc and incandescent. The electric light plant is well equipped with power and appliances and is prepared to meet all demands which are liable to be made upon it. The service is second to none and gives general satisfaction. Parties with unlimited capital have made application for a franchise from the city for another electric light plant with a capacity of 10,000 incandescent and 500 arc lights. The promoters of this company offers concessions to the city if the franchise is granted, which leads one to the conclusions that they have great faith in the future of Skagway.”
By the summer of 1898, street scenes of Skagway showed electric poles. Local hotels boasted “steam heat” and electric lights.”
According to the SIA article, AL&P took the lead in the lighting of Skagway, while the other company focused on the hillside, a source of both water and power.
The renamed Skagway Light and Water Co. constructed a masonry dam on the east hillside, 140 foot long and 33 feet high, holding back three million gallons in a reservoir fed by water diverted from a stream that fell from the icefield on the back side of Dewey Peaks. The water would be brought down in a huge pipe and circulated throughout town in wooden water mains. It would be completed at a cost of $45,000.
The 1898 guidebook described, in eloquent terms, the journey the “pure as it is clear” water took to get to the drinking tap:
“Among the peaks to the east of the City of Skagway is a great glacier; it rests on the slope of a range of tooth-like granite points surrounding a vast depression in the mountains, fully 5,000 feet above the level of the city. From its base a constant stream is falling; this for a mile or two finds its way among the dwarfed and twisted trees of this weird, cold valley among the clouds, then spreads into a beautiful lake, of length perhaps half a mile, of depth no one knows how great. Finding at one point a passage way out from among the rocks, it again starts downward. For mile after mile its descent is rapid. It forms a long series of cascades, with here and there a great fall. At last it plunges into view of the city, then drops from sight again behind the crest of the lowest hills, and takes its impetuous course through this lower valley.
“Here, eight miles from its source, its free career is ended. It is turned aside into the great reservoir prepared for it, 823 feet above Skagway. A massive dam of masonry, built across a cleft in the rocky hillside, holds it here to the amount of 3,000,000 gallons, and from here its flow is subdued and regulated. Pipes carry it down to the second reservoir or tank, capable of containing 70,000 gallons; it is then conveyed downward again to the city, under all the important streets of which six and eight inch mains are laid.
“Pipes run to the docks, where water can be furnished to the largest of ocean steamers. The pressure in the city mains is 71 pounds to the square inch; for any mechanical use, power can be obtained to the amount of 240 pounds per square inch. Thus the city has a never-failing and all-sufficient supply of the purest of water. It amply provides for the protection of the city from fire, and for all domestic, public or business uses, and leaves nothing to be desired in any respect.”
Another guidebook took this plunge: “Were Skaguay a city of 100,000 people, her water supply would be adequate, for enough water comes tumbling down o’er Dewey falls and into the reservoir, to supply the combined cities of Puget Sound.”
The dam, storage tanks, and piping systems have been upgraded over the years, but they still serve little Skagway.

A baseball catcher guards home plate on the old White Pass Athletic Club ballfield in the shadow of the Home Power Co. and its huge smoke stack. - Andy Beierly Collection

In 1901, both companies were purchased by Northwest Light and Power, which obtained the hillside water rights and all electrical operations in the city. According to SIA, the electric plant operated with wood-fired steam until the fall of 1902, when the company constructed a penstock down the mountain from the reservoir to drive a hydroelectric generator for the summer months.
The White Pass and Yukon Route jumped into the electrical business in 1904 as competition for NL&P. Both companies obtained licenses from the city, but after NL&P was taken over by local businessmen and renamed Home Power Co., the railroad lost support for its venture (see story on page 25).
Over the years, Home Power became a fixture in the community with its power station at 5th and Spring, and expanded its Dewey Lake system above town with smaller dams at Upper Dewey, Icy Lake, Upper Reid’s Falls, and Snyder Creek.
The company was purchased in 1933 by Mr. and Mrs. John Pichotta, changing the name to Skagway Public Service Co. They added a 220 kilowatt diesel generator in 1939 to replace wood-fired steam power in the winter. Two more diesel units were added during World War Two, when Skagway was occupied by the U.S. Army.
The Picohttas sold their business to the Garrett family and Alaska Power and Telephone in 1957. AP&T is celebrating its 50th anniversary this year. From its roots in Skagway, it has expanded its operations to 33 communities all over Alaska from nine major service centers. Although company headquarters moved to Port Townsend, Wash. in the 1970s, the company still has a strong presence here, employing 11 people full-time. The city took over the water systems years ago, but AP&T is involved in phone, Internet and wireless communication, as well as power generation.
AP&T completed the 4 megawatt Goat Lake Hydro system in the late 1990s, taking water from the lake high above the railroad in the shadow of the Sawtooth Range, and dropping it via a penstock to a power station perched along the Skagway River. The penstock can be viewed from about 8 Mile on the Klondike Highway, as it parallels Pitchfork Falls.
Goat Lake powers Skagway much of the year, and also services Haines via an underwater cable. The system is bolstered in summer by the Dewey Lakes system, but some diesel generation is still required annually in both communities when water levels are low, said Stan Selmer, AP&T’s general manager for Upper Lynn Canal.
To remedy this, AP&T in 2002 received a license for a third hydro project at Kasidaya Creek, three miles south of Skagway. Construction began in 2004 and is expected to be completed next year. The company is pitching it as “Green Energy for Upper Lynn Canal” to totally eliminate diesel generation.
“We hope to have it up and running in the spring of 2008,” Selmer said.
Kasidaya will be a 3 megawatt operation. Its dam is about 600 feet up “Paradise Valley” and can be seen by passing ferries and ships on the east side of Taiya Inlet as they near Skagway, still a modern city, lighting up for the new century.
Jeff Brady is beginning his 30th year as “Governor” of The Skagway News. He has a degree in American Studies and enjoys writing about the history of this area for the Alaskan. He has compiled these articles for a new book, “City of the New Century”, to be released in 2008.

Street Lights and Early Politics,
Home Power Takes on New Meaning

By Catherine Holder Spude

As early as the summer of 1898, Skagway boasted 1,200 electric street lights – no more muggers and thugs would work the dark streets. The Northwest Light and Water Company built its plant at the base of the Dewey Peaks. The Pacific and Arctic Navigation Company, a subsidiary of the White Pass and Yukon Route, set up its operation near its shops.
City property taxes paid for those lights, and the costs of all that electricity became more and more contentious as the years passed. While the two power companies contended for the privilege of lighting the streets, the idea that competition would keep prices down did not occur to early 20th century entrepreneurs. Instead, they tended to work together to drive up prices.
By April 1907, fair taxation and a voice for the working man had become local political issues. Led by Chris Shea, owner of the Pack Train Saloon, the Labor Ticket took City Hall by storm, ousting the Citizens, the group of businessmen and railroad managers who had governed the city since the end of the gold rush. One of the first money-saving measures of the new council? Refuse to light the streets in the summer months.
When City Hall solicited bids to light the streets in September 1907, the city’s two power companies came in with identical bids – at twice the rate they had charged previously. Furious with the companies for acting in collusion to bilk the city, the council split the town down the middle and entered into contract with both utilities.
Meanwhile, a number of private citizens began quiet negotiations with Northwest Light and Water to buy the plant. The new buyers changed the company’s name to the Home Power Company.
As the April 6, 1908 election loomed, the Taxpayers Ticket, headed by Chris Shea with the support of a number of businessmen this time around, and running against the railroad-backed Citizens Ticket, promised “a City Government that will bend its best efforts to provide Water, Light and all other Public Utilities, under straight Municipal Control and Free from the ROPES that have heretofore TIED us to a CORPORATION,” meaning, of course, the White Pass railroad. Folks in the know reckoned this election was a fight between the railroad and the upstart saloonkeeper with his working class following and the independent businessmen who thought they would shake themselves loose of the Canadian corporation that owned their railroad.
Shea and just barely enough of his confederates won the election to assure the collapse of the railroad’s power company. Shea became mayor of Skagway. His fellow party members Phil Snyder, Charles Nye and H. D. Clark gave him enough votes that they could award the city electrical contracts to the Home Power Company.
The Home Power Company incorporated on April 12, 1908, five days after the city council election that year. When the officers were elected in June, Mayor Chris Shea, and Councilmen Charles Nye and P. W. Snyder were among the board of directors. Snyder became the general manager for the Home Power Company. Charles Nye eventually became the manager and the major share holder of the company.
When the bids were advertised the following September, the city contract was awarded to the Home Power Company, which offered to supply electricity to light the city streets and city buildings at two-fifths the cost of the White Pass. Similar rates were offered to Skagway’s citizens. The railroad’s power company went out of business. It closed in March of 1909.
Political graft? Corruption? Favoritism? Yep. But it cut utility rates to all consumers – not just the city – by more than half, and brought the control of both power and water rates to the local Skagway businessmen, not the big corporation entrepreneurs in Victoria, B.C.

Cathy Spude recently retired after working for 30 years as a historical archaeologist for the National Park Service. She now does free lance writing from her home in Santa Fe, New Mexico, penning history articles and historical fiction about Alaska and New Mexico, the two states she loves the best. Her first novel, “Sin and Grace”, about prostitution and reform in Skagway, is being launched by Lynn Canal Publishing this summer.

The Daily Alaskan, 1907-1909
The Douglas Island News, 1908
The Interloper, 1908-1909
Skagway, Gateway to Alaska, 1898.
John Pichotta, History of the Home Power Company, 1948.

MASCOT GROUP– Patrons and barkeeps line up for a photo in the well-lit Mascot Saloon. The old saloon exhibit at 3rd and Broadway has lighting that matches the wiring in the photo above. - Rapuzzi Collection, KGRNHP

Cost of Electric Lights in Early Days

The earliest available references are a ledger in the archives of Northwest Light and Power Co. (ancestor of AP&T), covering January through June 1902, and the Daily Alaskan of Feb. 1, 1902, which quotes rates in effect at the time:
• The Mascot Saloon electric bill for Jan.-June 1902 averaged $32 per month (over $600 in 2006 dollars). How many drinks would they have to sell to pay the light bill?
• Meter rate for installations with meters was .25 per kilowatt hour in 1902 ($5.50 in 2006 dollars), compared to about .20 per kilowatt hour at 2006 rates.
• Business installations without meters were billed PER BULB. Up until midnight, each 32 candlepower bulb (about 10 watts equivalent) cost $3 per month ($60 in 2006 dollars), and each 16 candlepower bulb (about 5 watts) cost $1.50 per month. Bulbs left burning after midnight cost 25 percent more!
Residential rates were slightly lower for multiple lamp installations. By modern standards, these bulbs were not very bright, but considering the replaced candles and kerosene lamps, they would have seemed an improvement.
Captain William Moore evidently left town for Nome owing NL&P 30 cents, and the balance carried forward each month as an account receivable. – KGRNHP

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.

• 2000 SKAGUAY ALASKAN Historical Features

• 2001 SKAGUAY ALASKAN Historical Features

• 2002 SKAGUAY ALASKAN Historical Features

• 2003 SKAGUAY ALASKAN Historical Features

• 2004 SKAGUAY ALASKAN Historical Features

• 2005 SKAGUAY ALASKAN Historical Features

• 2006 SKAGUAY ALASKAN Historical Features