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Bartlett Cove Canneries

A collection of fishing boats spread across the even surface of a cove, framed by trees and snow capped mountains
Boats in Barlett Cove

NPS

  • Period of Significance: 1883-1903
  • Current Status: A feature of the Bartlett Cove cultural landscape
  • Current Use: Non-existent

The Bartlett Cove Cannery was located on Lester Island, in what is today Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve. The cannery/saltery sites are a part of the Bartlett Cove Cultural Landscape.

Little is known about the first salmon saltery established at Bartlett Cove in 1883, other than remarks made by a tourist on its existence. This early saltery probably occupied the same site as subsequent salteries and canneries recorded from the late 1880s through the early 1900s. The facilities were located on Lester Island, the north shore of Bartlett Cove. The first company identified with the site was the Bartlett Bay Packing Company, which began operating a facility in 1888. The company brought cans and cookers to the facility in 1889 and produced a hand pack of 4,300 cases of red salmon that year. The salmon were harvested from the Bartlett River.

In 1890, William, Brown & Company of San Francisco built a cannery at this location. The new company produced a pack of 12,000 cases in 1890 and 7,600 cases in 1891. A build-up of ice hampered access to the cannery and forced its closure after 1891.

Low fog hangs in a cove, between mountains and still, reflective water where several boats float
Boats anchored in Bartlett Cove at Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

NPS

In 1892, the Alaska Packing Association acquired the cannery. This organization incorporated as the Alaska Packers’ Association in 1893. It is not clear whether the new owner reopened and operated the facility. The Alaska Packers’ Association dismantled the cannery in 1894, shipping its equipment to a facility at Pyramid Harbor near Haines. The cannery buildings burned down some time later, and only a few cabins remained standing when the Alaska Packers’ Association sold the facility to Peter Buschmann of Petersburg in 1896 or 1897. In 1899, he established a red salmon saltery at Bartlett Cove and put his son August in charge of it.

August Buschmann later recalled that the facility consisted of “a string of small buildings and cabins strung along the beach above high water mark on the north side of the Cove.” He explained how the steep shoreline of Lester Island affected the loading operation. “There was no dock out to deep water from the saltery so our pack had to be loaded by hand on scows and hoisted on board our cannery tender from Petersburg.”

Buschmann provides the earliest description of Native Alaskan labor in the saltery at Bartlett Cove. The Native village of Gatheeni is associated with the canneries on Lester Island. The presence of the village pre-dates the canneries, and is likely the reason the cannery workforce was Native from the onset.

His crew consisted of about 40 to 50 Hoonah men and women. The men harvested the fish, using beach seines to capture the red salmon as they returned to the Bartlett River. The women and some men worked in the saltery, first cleaning the fish then laying them in wooden barrels, where they were sprinkled with rock salt. A barrel held about 45 red salmon. During 1899, the saltery produced about 200 barrels. A cemetery was located about 30 to 40 feet above the saltery on Lester Island. Buschmann indicated that there was a “large Indian cemetery located on sand dunes behind the camp.” The “sand dunes,” or open ground, has since become heavily vegetated.
A lumpy rock with patches of moss and lichen stands in the low vegetation along a river.
Glacier erratic along the Barlett River

NPS Photo

A severe earthquake in 1899 weakened the glaciers at the head of Glacier Bay, causing them to calve an enormous number of icebergs. In the following weeks, icebergs as big as buildings drifted south to the mouth of Glacier Bay and Icy Strait. The vessel White Wing, which served the saltery at Bartlett Cove, was unable to get through the ice for two weeks, while larger steamers engaged in the tourist business were prevented from entering Glacier Bay for many years afterward.

Despite the new navigational obstruction posed by the icebergs, salting operations continued at Bartlett Cove in 1900. The Buschmann facility produced some 530 barrels of red salmon and another 120 barrels of silver salmon, the latter most likely harvested in Berg Bay. Also in 1900, an unidentified company built a cannery on the opposite shore of Bartlett Cove. Jefferson Moser described the structure as “a simple cannery building, 150 feet long, projecting on piles over the water.” The pilings were cut from the forest by the cove. Plans to install machinery the next year did not materialize, and the building remained vacant.

In the winter of 1900-1901, the Pacific Packing and Navigation Company bought the saltery. The new owner did not operate the facility and the company went bankrupt in 1903. Later, the Northwestern Fisheries Company of Seattle acquired the facility. This company, which owned and operated a cannery in Dundas Bay from 1905 to 1931, apparently held the Bartlett Cove property until the buildings collapsed.

Summary timeline of the Bartlett Cove Cannery
Year Event Owner Pack
1883 First saltery in Bartlett Cove Unknown -
1889 - Bartlett Bay Packing Company 4,300 cases
1890 Cannery built at location William, Brown & Company 12,000 cases
1891 - William, Brown & Company 7,600 cases
1891 Ice build-up causes cannery to close William, Brown & Company
1892 Sold Alaska Packing Association
1894 Dismantled Alaska Packing Association
1899 Red Salmon Cannery Established. Earthquake affects access to Bartlett Cove Buschmann 200 barrels
1900 - Buschmann 650 barrels
1900-1901 Cannery Sold Pacific Packing and Navigation Company -
1903 Cannery Sold Northwestern Fisheries Company Never operated again

Buschmann, August. Letter to David Hamlin. June 15, 1960.

Langdon, Steve. A Brief History of Salmon Fishing in Cross Sound and Icy Strait. Icy Strait Fishery Federation:1980.

Kurtz, Rick S. Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve Historic Resource Study. Department of the Interior, National Park Service: 1995.

More about Bartlett Cove Cannery

  • "Commercial Fishing" - A chapter in Land Reborn: A History of Administration and Visitor Use in Glacier Bay National Park and Preserve

Last updated: November 5, 2019