How to Use
Reading 2: Settlement and Commerce:
Within a short time, Skagway progressed from a homestead, to a hastily-constructed boomtown, and finally to a permanent city. William Moore's log cabin, which he built in 1887, was the first permanent structure in the Skagway River valley. By the time the stampeders arrived in the summer of 1897, Ben Moore (1865-1919) had built a 16-foot by 14-foot, story-and-a-half wood frame house next to the original cabin to accommodate his growing family. The tent city created by stampeders began disappearing by the fall of 1897 as settlers replaced tents with buildings. Structures ranging from simple wood frame shacks to large false-fronted buildings soon covered the town site. Stores, saloons, and offices lined the muddy streets. By March 1898, residents boasted that Skagway was the "Metropolis of Alaska" and the most prosperous town on the North Pacific Coast. A population estimate reported 8,000 residents during the spring of 1898 with approximately 1,000 stampeders passing through town each week. By June 1898, with a population estimated at between 8,800 and 10,000, Skagway was the largest city in Alaska.
Skagway's settlers were anxious to set up stores to sell supplies and services to their neighbors and stampeders. The Goldberg Cigar Store was typical of the earliest businesses that merchants quickly established in the new town. Annie Leonard, the first woman to stake lots in Skagway, constructed a 12-foot by 30-foot building of recycled mismatched lumber and packing crates. D. Goldberg probably arrived in Skagway during the fall of 1897 and either leased or purchased the building from Leonard. His cigar store prospered during the height of the Klondike Gold Rush. An advertisement in the Skagway News, September 16, 1898, lists his stock of goods: "Everything Fresh. Fruits, Confectionery, Cigars, Tobacco, Nuts, Cakes, Candies, and Dried Fruits."
Many of Skagway's small businesses doubled as homes for the owner and his family. Richard C. (Dixie) Anzer's description of his father's shoe shop provides information on one such arrangement:
A big black wooden replica of a man's shoe with the word "maker" painted on it, the typical symbol of a cobbler...was attached to the building. It was about fifteen feet wide with a fairly large window in front and about thirty feet deep.... My father pushed aside a gray blanket which served as a partition and we entered the rear of the shop, which comprised the sleeping quarters and kitchenette. There was a double bunk and father said the upper deck was for me. "Just unpack what you need, he suggested, and hang it on those nails." A large tin basin with a pitcher filled with water stood on a table and the inevitable chamber [pot] underneath. Behind another blanket partition were cooking utensils, a small stove, a table and two chairs.¹
As entrepreneurs prospered they hired builders to construct more permanent buildings. Herman Kirmse was one early successful entrepreneur in Skagway. In 1897 Kirmse opened a jewelry and watch repair shop in a tent he shared with a cobbler. Within a few months he opened Pioneer Jewelry Store on Sixth Avenue. In 1903, well after the gold rush had ended, Kirmse purchased a two-story wooden frame store on 5th and Broadway. In 1906 he expanded into the adjacent structure and remodeled it with large display windows. Native carvers created jewelry and curios for the shop. Still standing today, the building exhibits features typical of the era such as a false front, decorative brackets, and metal roof.
Skagway's permanent residents began establishing a community within a few months of the town's founding. Church groups organized and held services, elementary schools opened, and the first issue of the Skagway News appeared. Townspeople contributed money and labor to build a community hall, which several denominations shared with Skagway's first school. An Episcopalian and a Methodist missionary arrived in March 1898. In 1900 Skagway had five churches: Baptist, Catholic, Episcopal, Methodist-Episcopal, and Presbyterian. In 1899, when the Methodist Episcopal Church determined that the community needed a school of higher education to serve the nearly 400 children who soon would finish elementary school, members built McCabe College. Classes taught at the new school, according to an article in the Daily Alaskan, December 24, 1899, included arithmetic, orthography, penmanship, algebra, geometry, rhetoric, chemistry, geography, U.S. History, Latin, German, French, English, English grammar, and physiology.
The White Pass and Yukon Route company began laying railroad tracks along Broadway in Skagway in May 1898. The railroad depot was constructed between September and December 1898. Railroad employees hastily assembled the two-story wall sections on the ground and then raised them into place. Part of the building's original interior walls were made of rough boards torn from packing crates. Newspaper and sawdust served as insulation. By 1900 railroad officials wanted to send a message of stability to the public. To do so, they hired a Seattle architect to design an elegant general office building next to the depot.
Not surprisingly, Skagway's most prosperous or "boomtown" era ended when the tremendous rush of stampeders passing through the town slowed down in late 1898. At the turn of the century, Skagway's permanent population was little more than 3,000.² It had dropped to below 900 by 1910. Despite the end of the gold rush and a dramatic decrease in population, Skagway continued to survive. Between 1900 and 1920 Skagway's population consisted mostly of railroad employees, merchants, and some miners. The railroad helped promote tourism and by the 1920s the Dead Horse Trail and other sites associated with the gold rush had become some of Alaska's best known tourist attractions.³
Today about 100 buildings from the 1898-1910 era remain. Fifteen have been restored by the National Park Service as part of Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Together, these buildings remind us of the entrepreneurial spirit that led people to settle in this Alaskan town.
Questions for Reading 2
1. What evidence in the reading indicates that Skagway was becoming a permanent community as opposed to simply a supply station for people on their way to the Klondike gold fields?
2. What do the businesses and institutions tell you about the occupations and daily lives of Skagway's residents?
3. Why did Skagway's population drastically decline by 1910? What happened to the town after that?
Reading 2 was adapted from Richard C. Anzer, Klondike Gold Rush as Recalled by a Participant (New York: Pageant Press, 1959); Catherine H. Blee, Robert L.S. Spude, and Paul C. Cloyd, "Historic Structures Report for Ten Buildings," U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1984; Alison K. Hoagland, Buildings of Alaska (New York: Oxford University Press, 1993); J. Bernard Moore, Skagway in Days Primeval (Skagway: Lynn Canal Publishing, 1997); and Robert L. S. Spude, "Skagway, District of Alaska 1884-1912: Building the Gateway to the Klondike," Report prepared as a cooperative effort of the Cooperative Park Studies Unit, University of Alaska, Fairbanks, and the National Park Service Alaska Regional Office, U.S. Department of the Interior, September 1983.
¹Catherine H. Blee, Paul C. Cloyd, and Robert L.S. Spude, "Historic Structures Report for Ten Buildings," U.S. Department of the Interior, National Park Service, 1984, p. 149.