SKAGWAY, DISTRICT OF ALASKA — 1884-1912: Building the Gateway to the Klondike
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Part I

Chapter 1

After it was purchased from Russia on March 30, 1867, Alaska remained an unorganized territory of the United States until May 17, 1884, when president Chester A. Arthur signed an act establishing the District of Alaska. Skagway, situated in the southeastern panhandle of Alaska, came to symbolize many of the stages of development which occurred in the District during the gold rush era.

Captain William Moore, very much in character. Town founder and a man who bred legends, he had been in every Pacific coast gold rush since California in 1849. He was one of the first steamboat captains on a half-dozen British Columbia rivers, and among the first few into the Yukon River headwaters. The Captain boasted of his successes and dreamed of new ones. Skagway provided his final success before his retirement to Victoria, B.C. (Photo courtesy of Archives, University of Alaska, Fairbanks)

Log cabin and frame house, built by Captain Moore and his son Ben, amid the first wave of stampeders, August 1897. (Photo from the Winter and Pond Collection, courtesy of Alaska Historical Society)

1887 spring Captain William Moore and Skookum Jim conduct reconnaisance of White Pass.
1896 November Captain Moore and son Ben begin constructing log cabin and wharf at Skagway Bay.
Moores petition Canadian and United States governments for toll road privileges over White Pass.
1897 July Ben Moore's 160-acre claim surveyed.

August 14 Klondike discovery by George Washington Carmack, Tagish Charley, and Skookum Jim.
1897 March 25 SS City of Mexico leaves Seattle with 600 stampeders. Beginning of first wave.

July 14 Captain Moore announces White Pass Trail open.

July 17 SS Portland arrives at Seattle with over "a ton of gold."

The first stampeders, July or August 1897. (Photo courtesy of the Library of Congress)

1897 July 29 SS Queen discharges cargo and 200 passengers at Moore's Wharf. Second wave of stampeders.

August Pack Train Saloon opens.

August 26 Newspapers report tent city of 5,000-6,000 stretches from Skagway Bay to White Pass Trail.

October 15 First issue of Skaguay News: . . . Skaguay has 15 general merchandise stores, 19
restaurants, 4 meat markets, 3 wharves,
11 saloons, 6 lumber yards, 8 pack trains,
6 lawyers, and 9 hotels.

November 11 Post office established, spelled Skagway.

December 4 City election, H.E. Battin first mayor.

December 12 Union Church dedicated.


From Daily Alaskan (Skagway), Special Edition, January 1901

It was on August 2nd that the first great rush was made to stake lots. When lots were staked, the locators were notified by Mr. Hill, the then manager of Moore's wharf, that the property belonged to Captain Moore, and that none would be allowed to build on it. But the locators, they went on clearing and building just the same. It then became apparent that a large number would winter here, Dave McKinney and a few others called a meeting and decided to lay the town out in blocks, 12 lots of 50 by 100 feet to the block, and the streets to be 60 feet, with the exception of Broadway, which was to be 80 feet.

Dave McKinney (right), one of the leaders of the miners' meetings and Treunenan (sp?). McKinney Avenue, the street named for him, no longer exists — it became Fifth after he and others had moved on to the Klondike and a new 1898 town council voted to use numbers in place of names.

Other street names: Brady, John G. Brady, governor; Ivey, Joseph W. Ivey, collector of customs, Shoup, James M Shoup, U.S. Marshall; Sperry, Charles B. Sperry, manager of White Pass Trading Co.; Battin, H. F. Battin, tramroad promoter and first mayor; Keiser, stampeder; Bond, Marshal Bond, stampeder; McKinney, Dave McKinney, stampeder; Johnson, C. S. Johnson, attorney; Moore, Capt. William Moore, first resident, DeLaney, U.S. judge; Buchanan, George Buchanan, first man killed in town; Hobart, C. L. Hobart, customs agent; Suydam, Harry Suydam, surveyor, Strong, J. F. A. Strong, editor of Skaguay News. (Photo courtesy of Washington State Historical Society)

Frank Reid was at that time bartender at the Klondike Saloon, a tent standing near the rear of what is now Cheney's store [northeast corner 5th and Broadway]. Some unfortunate surveyor, on his way to Dawson, went broke and left his instrument in pledge at the saloon. Then Reid, with the ready wit and adaptability of the frontiersman, took the instruments and appointed himself city engineer.

The city was laid out, and United States Commissioner, John U. Smith, pretended to record the locations of lots at $5 per pretense. When corner lots were scarce, an amended plat was got out, and the old corner lots were in the middle of the block, and so on. There was great excitement over this and many mass meetings. . . .

Moving buildings to clear Broadway, September 1897. The trail lies to the left of the activity, in front of the boardwalk. (Photo courtesy of Yukon Archives, Whitehorse)

A bevy of movers and shakers in early Skagway. Among the folks lined up at the post office in Dr. Runnall's store are Frank Reid (second person left of righthand tree), editor and Miss DeSucca (between the center trees), and S. F. White, a real estate man (leaning against the tree). The site is the present 5th Street between Broadway and State; the log city hall under construction in the background (left) still stands.

Jeff Smith's Parlor in the spring of 1898. The building which originally stood on 6th Avenue was moved to 2nd in 1964, it still stands. (Photo courtesy of Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)

The Czarina and the Dirigo at the wharves in Skagway, April 1898. (Photo courtesy of Provincial Archives, Victoria, B.C.)

Interior of Jeff Smith's Parlor. Soapy 1898 January 31 stands beside the bar with his hat in his hand. (Photo courtesy of Denver Public Library, Western History Dept.)

1898 January Deputy Marshal Rowan and laborer Andy McGrath shot in People's Theater.

February Klondike Trading Company store completed, corner of State and 3rd.

March 1 The rush increases, 1,000 stampeders arrive each week.

March Brackett Wagon Road opens. Vigilante Committee of 101 formed; countered by Law and Order Committee of 303.

May 27 Construction of White Pass and Yukon Route begins.

June Population estimated at 8,000 to 10,000.

July 8 Shoot out between "Soapy" Smith and Frank Reid.

July Soapy's gang captured.

August 5 News of Atlin discoveries.

October 12 Elks Lodge organized.

December New railroad depot opens, fire hall on 6th completed, and branch of Canadian Bank of Commerce opens.

Lynn Canal and Skagway from Mount Dewey, 1898. (Photo courtesy of Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)


From Skaguay, The Gateway to the Klondike, Skagway, 1898

One year ago the good ship City of Mexico, laden with gold hunters, anchored in Skaguay bay. Those argonauts landed on a beach which gave no sign of human occupation; but half a mile inland near the east bluff, was the cabin of Bernard Moore, the pioneer whiteman of Skaguay, who settled there in 1891 [sic.]. Some two hundred yards further west, amidst a grove of tall pines and cottonwoods, stood the home of old Captain William Moore, erected in 1892, on what is now State Street, at the crossing of Fifth Avenue. A city has sprung up around it. The second story window looks down State Street upon the blue waters of the bay, and also across 5th Avenue into the large plate-glass front of the 1st Bank of Skaguay, made more brilliant by electricity by night than by sunlight during the day. Half a block west, the same Union church bell calls the children to school, and the people to religious worship, whether Catholic, Presbyterian, Methodist, Baptist, Congregational or Episcopal — each in turn or together as one church.

Within a year 3rd, 4th, 5th, and 6th Avenues and the alleys between were lined with wood frame buildings; June 1898. (Photo from the Barr Collection, courtesy of Archives, University of Alaska, Fairbanks)

Robust, gray-bearded Captain Moore stands in the suit of a successful entrepreneur in front of his "old" home, built in 1892. This July 4, 1898, scene shows the town founder as a praised man, proprietor of Moore's wharf, Moore sawmill, and agent of the Alaska and Northwest Territories Trading Company, a Victoria concern which funded his developments and fought his lawsuits over the Moore homestead vs. the Skagway townsite. (Photo courtesy of Suzzallo Library, University of Washington, Seattle)

Moore's house was in the center of one of Skagway's main streets, at 5th and State, and he had already chased — with a crowbar — one group of miners who had attempted to move the structure. In October 1898 the Captain acquiesced to the town fathers' demands to move his old (1892) residence from the center of State Street; and after he moved to his temporary quarters in the Moore Hotel (still standing), the miners' committee removed the structure to the tideflats. It no longer stands. The present fire department is now on the site where The Jobbinghouse stood; the horses and wagon are standing in the middle of the 5th and State Street intersection, ready to proceed down 5th. (Photo from the Barley Collection, courtesy of Yukon Archives, Whitehorse)

Sixth Street in the spring of 1898. Note the Pack Train Restaurant on the left and Soapy's saloon (here, the First Bank of Skagway) and the three-story Peoples Theater (burned 1898) on the right.

On Broadway, one block east, the railroad has apparently come up out of the water and is stretching its unknown length around Porcupine hill, over White Pass and down the Yukon — intent on bringing back to Skaguay, all the golden wealth of the Klondike.

Should Captain Moore's old home catch on fire, our magnificent water system, with hundreds of feet pressure from the mountain lake far above the city, would quench the fire, and if need be, tear the house to pieces, without the aid of a fire engine. The old lanterns hanging in its loft are useless now, for it stands in the glare of electric lights of a system that supplies 1,200 sixteen-candle incandescent lamps, and 50 arc lamps, which beautify our graded streets and spacious sidewalks, our pleasant homes and palatial stores well stocked with complete Klondike outfits, as well as with every necessity and luxury for use here, at almost San Francisco prices. In addition to these, our growing machine shops and factories and our four large wharves, at which the ships of all nations can find ample accommodation, will give employment to hundreds of workmen.

The Indian hunter's path over White Pass developed into the dreaded Skaguay pack trail, which in the first four months, was strewn with the maimed and starved bodies of 3,000 dead horses. This gave way to the famous Brackett wagon road, but before that quite reached the summit its moving terminal was overtaken and passed by the Pacific & Arctic Railway, which will soon bring Dawson City within thirty hours travel from Skaguay with the wagon road and good trail to Bennett and fast steamers on the Yukon, which even now is only four days from the Klondike . . . .

A family in 1898 (top), and the first school in Skagway, October 1898 (bottom).

Skaguay is unique as a study in social civics. She has no government but a city council with no power of collecting taxes, or enforcing its ordinances. She has no police but one duputy U.S. Marshal. Yet in spite of her frontier position and her cosmopolitan, rapidly changing population, Skaguay is the most quiet and orderly young city in the world. She had demonstrated, by implication at least, that other cities are too much governed; that American people left largely to themselves are disposed to do the right thing, and without compulsory taxation will improve and beautify the city of their choice . . . .

The future of Skaguay is assured: she is the San Francisco of Alaska — the Key City of the great golden Northwest and will be the capital and the metropolis of the coming North Star State.

The Nome Saloon. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Historical Library, Juneau)

1899 January 5 Theater Royal burns.

January Skagway's 80 illegal saloons fined $100 each. Many close.

Japanese prostitutes move to "Jap Alley" (west of State, between 5th and 6th). Their removal requested by editors and competitors on "Paradise Alley" (north of 6th).

YMCA has 1,000 members.

Frank Reid monument erected.

February 20 Railroad open to Summit.

March 9 Railroad workers strike.

March Canada's anti-alien laws cause halt to Atlin rush.

May 16 First news of Nome gold rush.

May Construction of Arctic Brotherhood Hall (Broadway), Baptist Church (4th and Main), and McCabe College (6th) begun.

June 8 "Skagway Day" declared a day to clean up town for tourist season.

July 1 New $1,500 license law closed all but 10 saloons.

July 6 Railroad reaches Bennett.

The Manila Saloon, 5th Avenue between Broadway and State, 1898. Closed 1899.

Laying the rails down Broadway in June 189& (Photo courtesy of Provincial Archives, Victoria, B.C.)

From Directory and Guide to Skagway, Skagway, 1899

The many difficult engineering problems of building a railroad to the interior of Alaska have been solved, and the White Pass & Yukon railroad is now completed and in operation from Skagway over the summit. Its construction is a marvel, the acme of engineering skill, the triumph of capital and labor in subduing and making subserviant to man the heretofore impassable and barren vastness created by God, formerly preserved for himself as it were, and visited only by the howling blasts of Boreas.

The line surveyed and over which the road-bed has been successfully constructed over the summit has proved to be not only a practicable and feasible route, but one the grade of which is nowhere abrupt, having a gradual ascent of about 175 feet (maximum) to the mile. The road runs from the waterfront, on Broadway, to the suburbs of the city, crossing the river at Twenty-third Avenue, from whence it follows the old Skagway trail to the foot of the mountain. In order to secure a gradual elevation the line follows the east fork of the river, making a long horseshoe curve around the upper end of the canyon. From this point the ascent is continuous and the roadbed is hundreds of feet above the river.

White Pass & Yukon Route, the first excursion train, on Broadway in June 1898. (Photo from the Draper Collection, courtesy of Alaska Historical Library, Juneau)

A trip in one of the comfortable upholstered and modern coaches on the White Pass division of this road is replete with interest and pleasure, in marked contrast to the toilsome and weary journey on foot climbing the summit, over a half cut trail, with a pack on your back, as experienced by thousands of prospectors during the past two years. The scenery is one grand panorama of beauty and wonder. Always in view of the now world-famed Skagway river, whose turbulent waters rush on in unceasing disquietude as if in haste to seek rest in the placid bosom of Lynn Canal. The iron belt winds like a serpent around the mountains, hundreds of feet above the river, always going upwards, upwards! upwards!! and always going northward in order to reach the point where it crosses the summit and starts down to the vale of the Yukon, to which, with expectant gaze, the eyes of the civilized world are turned.

An express cart weighted with over 3/4 million dollars worth of Klondike gold at the rear of the depot, about 1900. (Photo courtesy of University of Oregon Library)

Down at the depot in 1899. The railroad tracks curved from behind the depot to continue up Broadway. These coaches have just arrived from the Yukon (note the snow on their roofs and the hotel courtesy car on the left). (Photo from the J. G. Price Collection, courtesy of Archives, Univesity of Alaska, Fairbanks)

Military parade on 5th between Broadway and State, July 4, 1899. (Courtesy of Alaska Historical Library, Juneau)

1899 October 24 Bert and Florence Horton murdered by Tlingit Indians.

November 2 Captain William Moore lays foundation for mansion at east end of 5th (Pullen House).
1900 January 17 Brannick Hotel fire.

February Railroad Building on 2nd Avenue under construction.

March Idaho Saloon refitted as bar and "family liquor store."

YMCA forms camera club and begins construction of gym.

Wholesale houses opening.

April Presbyterians build church (5th and Main).

May 2 Sash and Door factory built. First advertisement for motion picture show.

Brannick Hotel on the north side of 4th near State, 1898. The hotel burned in 1899. (Photo courtesy of Bancroft Library, University of California, Berkeley)

YMCA Camera Club at lunch on Burro Creek, June 22, 1900 (note Capt. Moore with the white hair and beard). (Photo from the Moore Collection, courtesy of Archives, University of Alaska, Fairbanks)

An aspect of Skagway in about 1900. (Courtesy of Alaska Historical Library, Juneau)

1900 May Elks Hall under construction.

June Census record reports 3,117 residents.

June 28 Skagway incorporated.

July 2 Railroad connects Skagway to Whitehorse, Yukon Territory.

July 11 Barrett and Bussart, last packers, leave for Dawson.

July 18 Decision against Moore homestead claim. Scramble for lots east of Broadway.

July 22 Arctic Telephone Co. competes with Alaska Telephone Company. Wires cut.

August 19 Women form Magpie Club (Women's Club).

October U.S. Army barracks built on 6th.

December U.S. District Court opens in McCabe College building.

Moore's wharf in about 1900 with the City of Seattle (center) and the Dirigo moored near the cattle pens. (Photo courtesy of University of Oregon Library)

Moore's wharf about 1900. Note the mining machinery (lower left) and the rails, cattle, hay, and boilers (near the temporary storage tents) awaiting transport to the mines inland. The City of Seattle is in port at the Pacific Coast Steamship Company wharf (upper left). (Photo from the Moore Collection, courtesy of Archives, University of Alaska, Fairbanks)

From Alaska-Yukon Gazetteer and Directory, Seattle, 1901

SKAGUAY is located at the mouth of Skaguay River and the head of Lynn Canal, 1,000 miles north of Seattle, and 110 miles northwest of Juneau. It is the southern terminus of the White Pass & Yukon Railway, which runs daily trains to White Horse and intermediate points, connecting in summer with steamer lines, and in winter with semi-weekly stages for Dawson and the Klondike, it is the gateway to the gold fields of the Yukon Territory and Alaska. It was settled in 1897, and incorporated in 1900, is governed by a Mayor and City Council . . . has good graded schools, five churches, two hospitals and two banks, one library, two local telephone companies, eight hotels, and several large, well established wholesale houses, who supply the miners of the upper Yukon and the Klondike. It is a port of entry and the Canadian and U.S. Customs Officers are located here. It is connected with Dawson, Atlin and all intermediate points by telegraph. Has four newspapers. Population, 3,000.

The Mascot Saloon, Pacific Clipper office, Verbauwhede Confectionery, and other Broadway buildings during a flood and high tide, October 28, 1901. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Historical Library, Juneau)

The Principle Barbershop, about 1900. (Courtesy of Alaska Historical Library, Juneau)

1901 January Cantilever bridge of WP&Y railroad completed.

Tacoma businessman consolidate Skagway's utility companies.

Moore wins appeal and right to 60 acres of downtown area.

January 22 Queen Victoria dies.

February First rush to Tanana (Fairbanks).

March Mounties close Dawson gambling halls.

April City council orders prostitutes moved to district on 7th Street.

April 5 12th Street School plans accepted.

May 15 Annual clean up day. Plant flowers.

July 10 Mrs. Hattie Pullen opens lodging house in Moore Mansion.

July 13 Masonic lodge first installation.

September Telegraph line opened to "Outside."

President McKinley assassinated. Theodore Roosevelt becomes 26th U.S. president.

September 5 Businessmen agree to settlement with Moore over town site lands, pay 25 percent of 1900 assessment.

October 13 Tide and river flood town.

October 29 City council allots $1,000 for dike.

November YMCA closes. 55 members.

December 22 Will Clayson moves business block to Broadway and 4th.

Interior of the Arctic Brotherhood Lodge in 1902. The building still stands today. (Courtesy of Alaska Historical Library, Juneau)

1902 April 15 Anti-Chinese meeting; eviction of Chinese demanded.

Businesses moving to new railroad center of Valdez.

June 5 Annual clean up day. H.D. Kirmse offers prizes for best garden.

August 5 300 tourists in one day, busiest day of the season.

August Lee Guthrie's residence "The White House" built.

September Population estimated at 1,800.

September 13 First regular shipment of ore over railroad.

September 16 Bank of Commerce robbery attempt.

November 5 Moore sawmill burns.
Second rush to Tanana. Fairbanks booms.
1904 March Elks hall burns. Rebuilt.

Summer Alsek and Kluane discoveries. Minor rush.

October $18,000 water system completed.

Keelar's store in 1904; it is now the liquor store half of Moe's Frontier Bar. (Photo from the C. L. Andrews Collection, courtesy of Alaska Historical Library, Juneau)

Ben Moore, the Captain 's youngest son and partner in the Skagway venture. (Photo from the Moore Collection, courtesy of Archives, University of Alaska, Fairbanks)

Captain Moore's mansion; today, the Pullen House. (Photo from the Moore Collection, courtesy of Archives, University of Alaska, Fairbanks)

Kern Castle Resort above Skagway. (Photo courtesy of Alaska Historical Library, Juneau)

Population estimated at 1,000.
Development of copper mines near Whitehorse.

The Soapy Smith Tragedy published.
1908 February Railroad begins building branch to mines and ore bunkers at Skagway; 500 workers hired.

March Klondike Trading Co. building moved to Broadway; opened as Golden North Hotel.

May 9 Dewey Hotel rolled to Broadway and 2nd.

May "Kastle Kern" resort built above Lower Lake.

June 15 Three-story Trail Inn/Pack Train Saloon opened.

July 20 Soapy Smith's headstone stolen.
Old St. James Hotel and Peterson's Store moved to Broadway and 4th.

March 29 Captain Moore dies in Victoria.

Gold rush to Iditarod.

From Skagway, Alaska, Skagway Commercial Club, 1910

Skagway is the natural headquarters for tourists and sightseers. . . . 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 1000 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 as should prove a magnet strong enough to attract men and women from afar.

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 residence 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 far away town could improve so rapidly when it did not come into existence until 1898 [sic], at which time it was the headquarters 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.

1910 April Red Light District removed from Broadway and 7th to Alaska Street.

May 6 King Edward VII dies.

Census record reports 872 residents.
Last White Pass & Yukon Route railroad dividend.

August 24 U.S. Congress establishes Territory of Alaska.

First legislature convenes at Juneau.

Broadway Avenue, 1910. (Photo from the Barley Collection, courtesy of Yukon Archives, Whitehorse)


Bearss, Ed. Proposed Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Historic Resource Study. Washington, D.C., 1970.

Daily Alaskan (Skagway). 1898-1912.

Directory and Guide to Skagway. Skagway, 1899.

Moore, J. Bernard. Skagway in Days Primeval. New York: Vintage Press, 1968.

Polk & Co., Alaska-Yukon Gazetteer and Directory. Seattle, 1901.

Skaguay, The Gateway to the Klondike. Skagway, 1898.

Skaguay News. 1897-1899.

Skagway Commercial Club, 1910. Skagway, Alaska.

Moore cabin, the first house in Skagway. (Photo courtesy of Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum)

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Last Updated: 06-Aug-2009