Kenai Fjords
A Stern and Rock-Bound Coast: Historic Resource Study
NPS Logo


Purpose and Scope

A Historic Resource Study (HRS) is an NPS management document designed to assess known historic properties and address their eligibility to the National Register of Historic Places, commonly known as the National Register. HRS's also are prepared to meet federal agency requirements set forth in the National Historic Preservation Act of 1966, as amended, and to contribute to and shape park planning, priorities, actions, and decisions that may directly or indirectly benefit, effect, or pose a threat to historic properties. Such a study provides the park with base line historical material on known resources and historic properties, and develops contexts within which these and yet undiscovered resources may have association and meaning. As a result, an HRS integrates cultural resources into the larger scheme of resource management and park identity.

This HRS was researched and written in accordance with the Cultural Resources Management Guideline (formerly known as NPS-28) and sections 101 and 106 of the National Historic Preservation Act. It develops historical themes and contexts for the land within Kenai Fjords National Park and shows how these resources relate to the surrounding areas. It also identifies and evaluates National Register eligible properties for purposes of NPS planning, interpretation, compliance, and natural and cultural resource management directives.

All too often, HRS's have consisted of a historical narrative and little else. This HRS, however, has incorporated known site information when possible. This style of document provides synthesis and analysis of both resource and history; it directly associates historic properties with their appropriate contexts. For example, the study states whether determinations of eligibility to the National Register have been made on specific properties. Each chapter is designed as a National Register historic context for a period of history that affected the park, and can be used to nominate known or yet to be discovered resources. As a result, the study has association with resources rather than being limited to a discussion of historical context.

Most of the buildings and structures in the park are associated with the early twentieth century mining context of the lower Kenai Peninsula. Some contexts (i.e., historical themes) have no related National Register eligible properties. The reason for this is twofold. First, environmental and cultural factors have both limited and defined regional settlement. Second, few existing buildings and other improvements retain the historical integrity necessary for listing on the National Register. Despite the apparent lack of cultural complexity, however, lands in the present park have strong cultural components that tie them into the broader historic contexts of the lower Kenai Peninsula.

Research Methods

Much of the research is based on primary materials. One of the first research venues was the City of Seward Municipal Records room located in the Seward City Hall Building. These records provided information on land use claims, permits, and leases for lands in the park. Most of the permits were related to mining claims at the southern end of the park; also located, however, was a fishing site permit in Aialik Bay and a 1920s-era permit to operate the Nuka Island fox farm. The Resurrection Bay Historical Society and the City Library in Seward provided photographs and a first hand look at historical materials.

The Kenai Fjords National Park headquarters library contained early park memoranda. The internal park correspondence that mentions cultural resources provides information on what properties existed when the park was established.

Archival research concentrated initially on Russian-American Company and Russian Orthodox Church records. Additional Russian language research included the translation of many references to the Kenai Peninsula from the Russian Orthodox Messenger, a journal published by the North American Diocese of the Russian Orthodox Church in New York. Further research in Russian records should include review of the Papers Relating to the Russians in Alaska, 1732-1796 in the collections at the University of Washington Library, Seattle. The collection consists of twenty-one volumes and is a typescript of the original, which is located in the Russian Archives. Archival research also included a review of the collections of the Bancroft Library, the National Archives, the Library of Congress, and the University of Alaska's collections at both its Fairbanks and Anchorage campuses.

American period records from the U.S. Coast and Geodetic Survey, [1] the extensive writings and cartography of George Davidson, and the records of both the Brown and Hawkins Company in Seward and the Alaska Commercial Company contributed to this study. The records of the commercial companies yielded personal information and perspective on individual transactions and gave insight into Native and American hunting practices along the coast in the late nineteenth and early twentieth centuries.

Several park resource reports were crucial to understanding the history. The "Seabird-Marine Mammal Survey and General Reconnaissance of the Southern Kenai Coast," conducted in 1976, provided one of the first opportunities to assess the proposed park's 600-mile shoreline from Point Adam to Cape Resurrection. In 1983, archeologist Georgeanne Reynolds conducted an archeological survey near the Placer Creek Cabin in the Resurrection River Valley. In 1987, J. David McMahan and Charles Holmes with the Alaska Department of National Resources published a site assessment and documentation for the Sather Fox Farm on Nuka Island. NPS archeologist Dr. Jeanne Schaaf's 1988 report, prepared for the Denton site in Aialik Bay, briefly discussed Russian occupation on the Pacific coast to establish a context for a small collection of post contact artifacts. In 1987 Bud Rice, Kenai Fjords National Park Resource Manager, investigated the history of glacial movement within the park and highlighted the cultural component in his early chapters. The Alaska Native Historic Sites Project, managed under the mandate of Alaska Native Claims Settlement Act (ANCSA), surveyed Chugach Alutiiq sites known as 14(h)(1) sites on the outer Kenai Peninsula. These reports provided primarily archeological orientation to the coast, and also incorporated historic resource site information related to Native use.

In 1989, site investigation associated with the Exxon Valdez supertanker oil spill contributed to existing NPS, State of Alaska, and Bureau of Indian Affairs site documentation. As a result, more inclusive thematic studies of the cultural history of the region evolved. Site assessment of the Chiswell, Pye, and Nuka Island areas by the Exxon Cultural Resource Program resulted in the analysis of cultural resources. In the summer of 1993, a team of archeologists and other scientists, working as part of the NPS's Systemwide Archeological Inventory Program (SAIP), surveyed areas near the Aialak, Holgate, Northwestern, and McCarty glaciers. Through a collaborative effort between the NPS, the USGS, the University of Alaska Fairbanks, and the Arctic Studies Center, Smithsonian Institution, the survey team developed a new approach to site identification on the coast. The team tied the region's history of glacial geology to likely sites of habitation.

These studies illustrate some of the methods used to document the region's resources. All of these studies contributed to and shaped the research for this HRS.

Many known historic properties were visited to assess National Register integrity and to understand how the setting defined each resource. These properties were identified from mining compliance files, oral histories, conversations with NPS staff, and many other maps and reports that specified the existence of a built structure in the park.

Architect James Creech and historian Bonnie Houston of the Alaska Support Office's List of Classified Structures program accompanied one of the authors on a 1993 reconnaissance of park coastal areas. More specifically, this trip visited Nuka Island and the various Nuka Bay mining properties. Information obtained on this field visit substantiated earlier fieldwork and provided critical information on both resource and setting integrity.

Despite the research devoted to locating existing historic properties, there are many unanswered questions regarding park resources. The evolution of the village site of Yalik, for example, is still unclear. One cabin remnant exists in Harris Bay near Northwestern Glacier; however, little is known of its history. It is possible that the cabin had an association with an earlier or prehistoric village site. In addition, several cabins appear to have vanished without a trace. These include a cabin on James Lagoon and Skeen's cabin in Nuka Bay. An author's visit to James Lagoon failed to locate the remains of a cabin, and extensive mining survey work never found Skeen's cabin. Lost with these cabins are the events and motivations that led to their construction and what happened to both building and occupant. In all probability, other cabin ruins exist in the park that are not addressed in this study.

Historic Contexts

Historic contexts for this study developed from the recurring theme that environmental conditions produced a landscape that resisted many of the patterns of nineteenth and early twentieth century historic resource use and settlement commonly found in Alaska. As a result, the contexts relate the cultural component through environment perceptions--always coming back to the question of how the landscape shapes the manner in which cultural use and occupation occurred in Kenai Fjords National Park. Recognition of the harsh geographical and environmental regime of the outer Kenai Peninsula is an underlying theme.

TABLE A. Historic Contexts and Associated Historic Properties

HRS Historic Contexts Possible Eligible Properties Property Types Ineligible Properties and Sites
The Stern and Rock-Bound Coast

Native Lifeways on the Outer Kenai Peninsula Yalik Village Site
European Exploration and Russian Settlement Patterns on the Lower Kenai Peninsula Aialik Bay cultural landscape
Shifting Landscape: Demographics, Economics, and Environment on the Kenai Peninsula Nuka Bay, Yalik and other abandoned village sites on outer coast cultural landscape
Developing the Transportation Infrastructure

Moran Camp sign, 1898; McArthur Pass navigation aid; Nuka Pass berm; Summit Creek berm
Living off the Land and Sea Pete and Josephine Sather Fox Farm, Nuka Island fox farming landscape, pens, buildings, structures Mike's Bay moonshine camp; Beauty Bay whiskey still; Bob Evans's cabin at McCarty Lagoon
The Lure of Gold Nuka Bay Historic Mining District mines, camps, roads, isolated cabins, landings, scattered equipment
Resurrection Bay Military Activities Outer Island Camp barrack ruins, Kitten Pass stairs, road, iron cart
Commercial Fish Harvesting and Shellfish

Stream guard station sites at Delight Creek, Nuka Island, Pederson Lagoon, and Beauty Bay
Recreation and Tourism

Spruce Creek trail; Bear Glacier (beginning of 1940 Harding Icefield crossing); Exit Glacier (end of 1968 Harding Icefield crossing)

<<< Previous <<< Contents >>> Next >>>

Last Updated: 26-Oct-2002