World War II Aleut Relocation Camps in Southeast Alaska - Chapter 4: Killisnoo Herring Plant, pt. 2

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Composite of three images viewed from the water. Top: building and harbor. Middle: small buildings among trees. Bottom: trees along the shore.
Figures 117-119. Top: Buildings on the Aubertine property. Middle: The central portion of Killisnoo contains Whaler’s Cove Lodge. Bottom: In 2008 the northwest portion of Killisnoo was covered in second growth timber.

Current Condition

The site of historic Killisnoo is now primarily split between the Whaler’s Cove Lodge and the Aubertine Trust (Figures 117-119). The lodge property extends from the midpoint of the beach fronting Killisnoo Harbor (Figure 118) northwest almost to the point guarding the harbor (Figure 119), where a new cabin has been built on Lot 1N of the Jacobson subdivision. Abutting the lodge property and extending southeast to the opposite point are the home and associated buildings of Tom and Chris Aubertine (Figure 117). Subdivision lots in the interior of the island were not investigated. Evidence of old Killisnoo among the modern developments consists of features on land, features and artifacts in the intertidal zone, archaeological deposits, and artifacts collected for display by the lodge-owners. There are no buildings or even building ruins from old Killisnoo. The old Killisnoo cemetery immediately south of the former industrial area is a separate but related site component (Figure 120).

Black and white line drawn map showing land and buildings between Killisnoo Harbor and Hood Bay
Figure 120. A sketch map of Killisnoo in 2008 was compiled from a 1977 survey for the Aubertine property, an aerial photograph, and field notes and photographs.

Modern buildings overlying the historic site of Killisnoo belong to Whaler’s Cove Lodge and the Aubertine Trust. Owner Tom Aubertine was a willing onsite guide (Figure 116), pointing out historic Killisnoo features on his property and the adjacent cemetery. Historic features on the Aubertine parcel were recorded, but buildings in use were not closely inspected. Five buildings are strung out more or less equidistantly along the harbor side of the Aubertine property, consisting of two boathouses and three dwellings. The most easterly building is a small boathouse, not far from where the herring plant’s boathouse was plotted in1891 (Figures 106-107). Next to it is a much larger boathouse (Figure 120); both buildings are sided and roofed in metal. Closer to the lodge are three dwellings in a row: a log cabin, flanked to the northwest by two frame cabins.

The lodge grounds were inspected, as was the second-growth forest along the shore further northwest. Owner Richard Powers authorized access to the lodge property and discussed the building history. Whereas Killisnoo’s three historic use zones along the shore from southeast to northwest were industrial, commercial, and then residential, in 2008 those zones roughly correspond to the Aubertine Trust property, the Whaler’s Cove Lodge facilities, and the second growth forest.

Composite of four images: Top: long building with a green roof and a red building with sign "boot shed". Bottom: Two story building with balconies and two small wooden buildings.
Figures 121-124. Top: The largest building at Whaler’s Cove Lodge is the lodge. A shed where clients check out boots for their stay. Bottom: Guest accommodations at the lodge include this two-story building with several rooms. Several small wood frame buildings serve the lodge.

Whaler’s Cove Lodge includes buildings of log, frame, and metal construction, with few unifying architectural themes, reflecting its gradual development as a seasonal fishing resort (Figures 121-125). The largest and most central building is the lodge (Figure 121), with a cafeteria, lounge, kitchen, gift shop, and other spaces. A power house and a shop – two large utility sheds (Figure 122) – are located inland. Other utility sheds, cabins, and two larger residential units are of frame construction (Figures 123-125). All the buildings are built on land above the high tide mark (Figure 126). A floating dock leads to a floating small boat facility, but it is seasonally operated and the floats are stowed on shore for winter.

Composite of two images. Left: Green shack. Right: small green buildings among the trees.
Figures 125-126. Left: One of the lodge’s employee quarters is a one-story wood-frame cabin with a hipped roof.  Right: The Whaler’s Cove Lodge buildings (here viewed to the southeast) are all built on gently sloped land above the intertidal zone.

The boundary of historic Killisnoo (SIT-014) has not been formally defined by archaeological survey, nor was the brief 2008 investigation sufficient to do so. Observations made the length of the shoreline facing Killisnoo Harbor (Figures 117-119) indicate that historic archaeological deposits potentially exist from one end to the other, though recent development has disturbed some areas.

Features on Land

A dense second-growth spruce-hemlock forest covered much of Killisnoo in 2008, reflecting the late 1800s clearing there (Figures 104-105); by the early 1940s the forest was already encroaching upon the facility (Figures 110, 112). Amid the modern forest are patches of bushes and shrubs marking past disturbance footprints (Figure 118), but their meaning is not obvious. Less ambiguous features observed on land were the ruin of a marine ways, the lodge’s current reservoir, and large and/or stationary artifacts.

Rusted items with overgrowth along the edge of trees.
Figure 127.  The remains of a marine ways including a few rails salvaged from a coal mine at Kanalku Bay postdate World War II. The boat cradle and railcars at right are from a mine in Idaho.

A linear clearing perpendicular to shore on the Aubertine property represents a marine ways – a track used to haul boats out of the water for storage and repair (Figure 127). The clearing is about 20’ wide and extends from the shore about 60’-80’ into the forest fringe (Figure 120). A gravel track about 8’ wide runs through the center of the alignment. Along the grade to the southeast are the remains of two large plank and plywood cradles mounted on steel railcar chassis. The cradles where they contact the boat hull are upholstered in carpet. Several lengths of regular-gauge rail protrude from beneath the two railcars, and several notched logs are associated with the collection. The condition of the clearing, gravel track, and plywood-and-carpet cradles suggested manufacture and operation decades ago. Owners Aubertine and Powers stated that the system included 4-5 rails salvaged from the Kanalku coal mine on Admiralty Island combined with rails and cars from a mine in Idaho, installed at Killisnoo long after World War II by Carl A. Jacobson, Jr., and Powers himself. The track and gear have not been used since the early 1990s.

Composite of four images. Top left: pond in a grassy area. Top right: black and white boiler. Bottom left: a man pointing to a boiler covered in moss. Bottom right: metal wheel mounted on mossy concrete.
Figures 128-131. Top: In 2008 the main ditch-fed reservoir for Whaler’s Cove Lodge is a pleasant pond. Three boilers rest just inside the treeline next to a boathouse on the Aubertine property.  Bottom: Tom Aubertine points to a boiler. Near the lot line is a steam engine on a concrete pedestal.

In 1891 Killisnoo had a reservoir plotted on USS 5 midway between the school (labeled “S.H.” in the upper left of Figure 107) and church (Figure 106). The island’s feeble seeps were channeled to it by way of intersecting ditches, some over four feet deep to bedrock, according to historic photographs. The ditch and reservoir system and a creek across Killisnoo Harbor (requiring a boat to access) were used by Atka villagers as water sources (Kohlhoff 1995:120). A secondary reservoir about 150’ south of the one plotted in 1891 (Figure 107) must have been in use by then, as such a feature was enlarged by Richard Powers to serve the lodge. In 2008 a grassy embankment retained a small pond of dark water, backed up to a few spruce and hemlock trees (Figure 128). Water retention has been improved with a black pond liner. Evidence of the reservoir’s historic origins was lacking.

At least eight boilers were observed in the former Killisnoo industrial area. Three (Figure 129) are located just inside the treeline immediately next to one of the boathouses on the Aubertine property. Another five or six boilers were found another 30’ further inside the treeline (Figure 130). The large artifacts are rusty and overgrown with vegetation, and appear to have not moved for decades.

Several rusty artifacts from the herring plant have been moved and landscaped into the grounds of the lodge, but only one large stationary machine was noted in its original position. Located near the boundary of the lodge and Aubertine properties is a steam engine on a concrete pedestal, mounted with the power shaft parallel to the shore (Figure 131).

Intertidal Features and Artifacts

Killisnoo’s intertidal zone was not extensively inspected in 2008. Piling stubs ground flush and buried beneath the beach gravels are likely present offshore, as are isolated artifacts, and local resident Frank Sharp as well as Richard Powers mentioned sport divers bringing up historic artifacts from the harbor where the dock was located. But the only features recorded in 2008 consisted of an extensive scatter of industrial debris on a long reef marking the southeast end of the beach (Figures 132-133), and a pair of pilings.

Composite of two photos. Both show rusted metal items in an intertidal area. In the left photo a harbor is in the background. In the right, a barrel is visible.
Figures 132-133. Killisnoo’s wide gravel beach is bounded on the southeast by a reef that at low tide reveals an extensive scatter of industrial debris. The barnacle-clad ferrous and cuprous artifacts on the reef are fast deteriorating into unidentifiable flakes and lumps of metal.

Within the reef scatter are remains of two boilers, cable, chain, pulleys and gears, vehicle axles and tire rims, barrel hoops and other sheet metal items, angle iron, pipe and wire in various diameters, and some glass and ceramic items. Metals represented include iron/steel, copper, brass, and lead alloys. The scatter shows in a 1945 photograph of the Aleut departure (Figure 112), so it holds more than 65 years of antiquity. Industrial debris from Killisnoo has been discarded there into recent decades, according to Tom Aubertine.

The pair of pilings consists of one at the vegetation line onshore and another about 20’ offshore perpendicular from it, approximately 80’ southeast of the marine ways. Tom Aubertine believes these mark the former location of Killisnoo’s original historic marine ways.

Composite of two photos. Left; a person holds a brown object. Right: hands holding a broken blue and white china ceramic item.
Figures 134-135.  Left: Archaeologist Becky Saleeby holds a leather boot fragment observed in the former residential portion of Killisnoo. Right: Domestic artifacts such as this transfer-printed ceramic bowl fragment were observed on the surface of the old Killisnoo village area.

Terrestrial Archaeological Deposits

Several localities within the current resort have disturbances revealing black organic deposits and historic artifacts. Intact deposits revealed by natural exposures (primarily the rootwads of fallen trees), were observed in two places. The most extensive evidence is northwest of the resort where the historic village of Killisnoo was destroyed by the 1928 fire. Large metal artifacts like stove parts protrude through the forest floor. Smaller artifacts noted on the surface included leather and ceramic items (Figures 134-135), as well as enamelware utensils. Second-growth timber covers most of the area and the sod and moss were sufficient to hide most cultural features, but clam shell clusters showed in several places. Bits of rotten planks could be discerned – sometimes in isolation and sometimes in clusters defining a building footprint. Near the far northwest end are several concentrations of rotten planks from buildings that either escaped the 1928 fire or were built later.

Leg and foot in rain gear in an open area with leaf litter on the muddy ground.
Figure 136. Inland from the marine ways is an exposure of densely packed shell overlain and penetrated by solidified bunker fuel from the old Killisnoo industrial plant.

The second deposit of archaeological interest is an exposure of densely packed shell less than 50’ inland from the old marine ways (Figure 136). Overlying the shell and worked into it was a layer of crusty black bunker fuel visible in 2008; since then bioremediation has almost totally removed the oil, according to Richard Powers.

Composite of three images all show metal items including saws and guns on the outside of painted green buildings.
Figures 137-139. Top: Displayed on the lodge are recovered firearms – relics of the 1928 fire that destroyed the old village. Middle & bottom: The Hasselborg Cabin is adorned with saw blades – from the 1928 fire, as well as the herring plant’s steam whistle (the cone at left).

Scavenged Artifacts

In addition to a few large industrial artifacts landscaped into the grounds for the enjoyment of lodge patrons, smaller artifacts have been collected for display. Arranged on the southeast exterior wall of the lodge is a collection of firearm parts – mostly metal barrels and actions – recovered during lodge development (Figure 137). One specimen has a fire-warped barrel, and the sheer number of specimens (at least 30 on display) attests to the speed of the 1928 fire – people had no time to salvage essential items such as shotguns and rifles.

Almost as useful were the large saws needed not only to provide firewood for domestic use but to cut the large quantities of industrial boiler cordwood. As with the firearms, the large number recovered and displayed at Killisnoo gives a sense not only of how common the tool was in the typical Killisnoo household but also of the speed of the fire that prevented their owners from saving them. A one-story frame cabin immediately southeast of the lodge, named the Hasselborg Cabin after one of Admiralty Island’s notable historic characters (Orth 1967:409), has its entrance flanked by saw blades (Figures 138-139).

Several shelves of old bottles of various colors.
Figure 40.  Glass bottles found at Killisnoo are displayed in the Whaler’s Cove Lodge.

Also displayed with the saw collection is a galvanized steel cone used by Killisnoo’s coopers as a barrel anvil. A second metal cone – this one of galvanized tin – is the herring plant’s steam whistle (Figure 139).

Inside the lodge building is a collection of glass bottles found at Killisnoo, arranged in a display case for visitor enjoyment (Figure 140).

Killisnoo Cemetery

The Killisnoo cemetery (SIT-749) is a collection of graves south of the Killisnoo industrial complex, on a surveyed parcel fronting the south shore of Killisnoo Island (Figure 120). Vegetation consists of second-growth timber and a dense cover of berry bushes and ferns, hiding several types of graves. Cut and polished stone markers with Christian motifs numbered in the dozens, with Japanese, Tlingit, and EuroAmerican surnames appearing on them. Granite, marble, and limestone were included in the collection, and dates of death ranged from the 1880s to the 1930s. Some stones are damaged, and some are no longer erect. Grave fences of concrete, wood, and wire mesh were observed in various states of disrepair (Figure 141). An elaborate wooden Chinese grave house is falling down, though major structural elements and paint are still discernible (Figure 142). At least one example of Tlingit formline design was noted – carved in stone (Figure 143).

Composite of four images: top left- graveyard among plants. Top right: board with faded numbers and Asian characters. Bottom left: headstone with carved fish. Bottom right: Russian cross leaning on a tree.
Figures 141-144. The Killisnoo cemetery contains several types of monuments. The elaborately painted Chinese grave house includes a wooden plaque with the date 1899. Some have Tlingit formline art – like this dog salmon. On the north edge are 5 wood Russian Orthodox crosses marking Aleut internments

On the north edge of the cemetery are the remains of five wooden Russian Orthodox crosses said by Tom Aubertine to mark the Aleut cemetery from the World War II era (Figures 144-146). Both Aubertine and Powers remember at least a dozen standing at one time, decades ago. The crosses are scattered within an area approximately 25’ by 50’ in size, and none are upright. Instead they are broken and laying on the ground or against a tree. Two prone crosses have stubs protruding from the sod nearby to suggest their original location (Figures 145-146).

Composite image of two photos of wooden crosses laying on the ground surrounded by plants.
Figures 145-146. Left: Two Russian Orthodox crosses including this example may be near their original position. Right: The wooden Russian Orthodox markers have barely legible Cyrillic lettering not of names but rather of scripture.

All five crosses show traces of faded white paint, and Cyrillic letters in black appear to spell out religious scripture rather than names. A votive candle was nestled in the moss at the base of one cross. Another cross is of newer wood than the others and has Russian lettering “sans seraph” rather than the others’ more ornate style, suggesting it might be a replacement for an older marker.


The site of the Killisnoo herring plant still holds one large stationary machine, at least eight boilers, at least one large intertidal artifact scatter, and an extensive tract of second-growth forest hiding the archaeological remnants of the residential district that burned in 1928. There are no standing buildings that date to the operational period of the plant or the later World War II Aleut occupation. Numerous artifacts have been recovered by the existing landowners – Richard Powers and the Whaler’s Cove Lodge, and to a lesser extent Chris and Tom Aubertine. The many saw blades as well as gun barrels and actions salvaged from the site over the years attest to not only the utility of those two tool types during the early twentieth century but also the speed of the 1928 fire that destroyed the dwellings in which many of those tools resided. Other artifacts displayed by the lodge include glass bottles, a cooper’s anvil, and the herring plant’s steam whistle. The former residential portion of the site indicates considerable potential for buried archaeological remains.

The only evidence of the Aleut presence at Killisnoo is the collection of Russian Orthodox crosses along the north edge of the cemetery. Identical white wooden Russian Orthodox crosses can be seen in archival photographs of the Killisnoo cemetery taken long before World War II, reflecting the local Tlingit Indian’s conversion to that faith in the late 1800s. But the Aleut association with these particular markers is certain; Tom Aubertine and Richard Powers mentioned that occasional Aleut visitors care for the graves, such as Alice Petrivelli in the documentary film “Aleut Story.”

Part of a series of articles titled World War II Aleut Relocation Camps in Southeast Alaska.

Aleutian Islands World War II National Historic Area

Last updated: February 14, 2021