SKAGWAY, DISTRICT OF ALASKA — 1884-1912: Building the Gateway to the Klondike
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Skagway, the gateway to the Klondike, has never lost its gold rush luster. The boardwalks bordering dirt streets, the wooden false-fronted buildings, and the narrow-gauge mountain railroad all represent a period of history peculiar to Alaska, the last frontier. In the old federal District of Alaska, Skagway had led the way as the first incorporated town and major city. Unfortunately, the new town's growth and exuberant spirit has since met times of political and economic hardship. The following pages describe some of the themes and pieces left in Skagway — especially those turn-of-the-century buildings which continue to give the town its distinctive flavor.

Part I, The Golden Dream, shows Skagway's rapid growth during the period from 1884 to 1912. It provides a glimpse of the historic era when Skagway emerged as a gold rush boom town to become the major city in the District of Alaska.

The second section, Building the Dream, reviews the architectural development in Skagway and looks at some of the buildings and their particular characteristics. It also includes views up and down Broadway Avenue, past and present, in the core of town. This section partially explains why the Skagway of today looks as it does.

In the final section, Preserving the Dream, is a summary of Skagway's preservation of objects and structures. A compilation of information about specific historic structures with a capsule history of each building within the Historic District can be found in the appendix — as well as a brief "flow chart" for personal research.

Hopefully, this study will help people to understand early Skagway life; it might also assist planners, private and public property owners, and preservationists to restore historic buildings with a sense of the town's heritage.

Many people contributed to the creation of this report, from the Klondike gold rush stampeders and their chroniclers to most of the present residents of Skagway. All who were approached for information willingly aided the project. To all who helped, I offer my heartfelt thanks. I wish to give full acknowledgment to the following people and organizations for their work and special assistance:

Zorro Bradley, Melody Webb, Ilyne Miller, Kathy Morack, Bob Wallant, and my other co-workers at the Cooperative Park Studies Unit, University of Alaska, Fairbanks;

Leslie Starr Hart, William E. Brown, and cultural resource staff, Alaska Regional Office, National Park Service;

The enthusiastic residents of Skagway, especially Virginia Burfield, the Selmers, the Dedmans, and octogenarian George Rapuzzi;

Soapy's gang, and the office, train, and track crews of the White Pass and Yukon Route;

National Park Service, Denver Service Center, historical architects Tom Bush and Jean Parker for photographing the street elevations and Randy Copeland for drawing the historic district maps and providing information about architectural details;

Janus Design of Tempe, Arizona, for the streetscapes;

Meg Jensen, former back country ranger, for photographs;

William Hanable, former State Historic Preservation Officer, and the staff of the Office of History and Archeology, Alaska State Division of Parks, for information about historic preservation;

Barbara Montgomery, Sue Hosford, Dorothy Richards, and Nancy Jones-Hill for typing the earlier manuscripts; and Teri Lucara and Paula Jones for typesetting the final text.

The staff of The Northern Engineer, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, for editing, design, and typesetting.

And the helpful staffs of the Alaska Historical Library in Juneau, the Anchorage Historical and Fine Arts Museum, the city of Skagway, the Days of 98 Museum in Skagway, the magistrates of Skagway, the State of Alaska, the University of Alaska in Fairbanks, and the University of Washington in Seattle.

Robert L. S. Spude

Skagway, on one of the routes to the Alaska gold fields. (Map courtesy of Archives, University of Alaska, Fairbanks)

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Last Updated: 06-Aug-2009