Mount McKinley Park Hotel
The Mount McKinley Park Hotel opened for business on this site on Thanksgiving Day 1921, serving holiday dinners to workers building the Riley Creek railroad trestle. Frozen turkeys and hams transported from Fairbanks supplemented game meat, local potatoes, and wild berries that comprised the inaugural meal.
For almost two decades, people from far and wide gathered at this rustic hotel to celebrate holidays like the Fourth of July and Christmas. Dances and socials, though sometimes marred by brawling inebriates, enlivened the long winter nights. Here, dog mushers and trappers mingled with miners and rangers, schoolteachers and itinerants, and once, a U.S. president. In July 1923, President Warren Harding stopped by on a tour of the length of the Alaska Railroad, during which he drove a Golden Spike signaling its completion at Nenana.
The hotel was the first thing visitors saw stepping down from the train. The 120-acre homestead of hotel proprietor Maurice Morino straddled the railroad tracks. One visitor described the unusual, flat-roofed, two-story log building as "Italian-Alaskan." It featured exposed balconies, glass windows, and electric lights. Inside were two-dozen sleeping rooms, a mercantile, lunch counter, kitchen, and storeroom.
The Mount McKinley Park Hotel was not Morino’s first foray in the local hospitality sector. Five years earlier, just two years after he first settled here in 1914, Morino learned that his home on the banks of Riley Creek was right on the newly selected route of the Alaska Railroad. Quick to spot an opportunity, Morino added on to his cabin and turned it into a roadhouse and trading post. With the news of the establishment of Mount McKinley National Park in 1917, he renamed it the "Park Gate Roadhouse."
Meals and beds cost a dollar each. "All Morino had was caribou hides for bunks," recalled one man, who also described the bill-of-fare as "always caribou meat and beans." Morino was an inveterate gardener and he tended the usual cold-hardy crops.
In late 1920, business booming, Morino realized that the roadhouse was unsuited to handle the volume. By late summer 1921, he was hard at work on a new hotel at a new location on the bluff near the tracks. After completion of the railroad, Morino planned to cash in on park tourism, envisioning a lively business.
While there were reports of lice, dirty linen, drafty rooms, marginal food, and bad coffee, the hotel was not unusual by Alaska roadhouse standards. When it finally shut its doors in the 1930s, its golden era had long passed. The hotel, and its proprietor, aged poorly and business was lost to accommodations farther into the park at Savage Camp.
When park boundaries came east and absorbed McKinley Station in 1932, Morino kept his homestead listed as a park in-holding. The title passed to the Park Service in 1947. Three years later in 1950, the dilapidated remains of his hotel were destroyed in a fire started by a transient.
Did You Know?
The vast landscapes of interior Alaska are changing. Large glaciers are receding, permafrost is melting and woody plants are spreading. Comparison of "then-and-now" photographs and data from major vegetation monitoring should allow detection, understanding and potential management of these changes.