The Beginnings of the Golden North Hotel

Three story hotel with golden dome
The modern day Golden North Hotel

NPS photo

Full burlap sacks with rifle, saw, rope and wooden boxes.
Miners, in order to enter Canada, needed to bring a year's supply of food, plus the usual equipment needed for survival in the Yukon.  Many bought their goods at the Klondike Trading Co.

NPS photo

The Golden North Hotel is a distinctive landmark on Broadway in Skagway, Alaska. It is one of several buildings representative of the gold rush heritage of the town. The building with an onion-domed tower was built in early 1898 on the southeast corner of 4th Avenue and State Street but it was not a hotel until 1908. Originally the building housed the Klondike Trading Company, a business which started in a tent in Skagway in 1897. Photographer Frank La Roche included a picture of the Klondike Trading Co. in one of his photo albums with the caption,

"Although the appearance of this store is not quite so pretentious as the name, a considerable business was done here during the season. Tradesmen are very sanguine as to the future, and remarkable energy is being exercised in the effort to cater to prospectors on their way to the gold fields.”

Indeed the Klondike Trading Company grew from humble beginnings to become a prosperous brick and mortar, (or plank and nail) store. In a photograph from June of 1898 the Klondike Trading Company stood on State Street and Third Avenue as one of the few two story buildings in Skagway at the time. In 1899, the company advertised in the Daily Alaskan, proclaiming, “First line of groceries in Alaska and blankets and robes of all kinds, sizes and prices.” This building did a thriving business in groceries and dry goods while another establishment, the Golden North Hotel opened in early 1898.
An older man in a suit stands upon a glacier.
Stroller White, a Juneau reporter, wrote extensively about the Klondike Gold Rush.

Alaska State Library, Portrait File, Photographs, ASL-P01-3936

In the Daily Alaskan, the Golden North was presented as a step above the rough bunks and rowdy bars that characterized other local establishments. When Stoller White, a newspaperman for the Skaguay News arrived in Skagway in 1898 he:

"Entered the first hotel he came to and, with an optimism born of crass ignorance, asked the man behind the desk for a room. What he had in mind was a single room or, in case of extremity, sharing a double.
“We have a room,” said the man. “Gimme a dollar and go up both flights of stairs. The room is at the top of the last flight. Take the first bed that isn’t occupied.”
The Stroller followed instructions, found a cot just inside the door of the room mentioned, rolled into it and went to sleep. He slept soundly; indeed, he slept so soundly that he did not hear any of his seventy-eight roommates as they came in. But that was the number he counted, in the dim light that trickled though a small and grimy skylight, when morning came. There were tiers of bunks four deep around the walls, while the entire floor space, which was big enough for a skating rink, was thickly sprinkled with cots.”

The Golden North on the other hand advertised, “Large Comfortable Rooms, No BAR—No Bunks, Patronage of Business Residents Solicited.” The respectable hotel was nevertheless the backdrop to some excitement in town. On November 18, 1898 the Skaguay News reported:
"Yesterday evening about 5 o’clock, six holes were shot in the air on Bond Street. Two men, one named Rinehart, the other an unknown, had quarreled in the room of a woman named Nash, at the Bay View hotel, and during the trouble Rinehart is said to have used a heavy gun with telling effect on the unknown’s head. The wounded man and woman fled from the house and elicited the aid of Marshal Tanner. The latter started for the Bay View and met Rinehart on the sidewalk in front of the Golden North hotel. Instead of submitting quietly to arrest Rinehart hastily drew a gun and fired three shots at the marshal, then started to run. Tanner returned the courtesy by firing three shots at the fleeing man. Of the six shots fired all were spent in the air except one, which smashed through a window in the Golden North, spoiling the window, but doing no further damage. Up to the hour of going to press, Rinehart had not been apprehended, but Marshal Tanner is confident of his capture very soon."

The drama of shots fired and a fight over a woman sounds like something out of a Robert Service poem. The editor of the paper certainly accentuated the drama of a panicked Rinehart who “hastily drew a gun and fired three shots” and the suave Marshal Tanner “who returned the courtesy.” The reporter continued to add dramatic flourishes, depicting Rinehart as a “gentleman of leisure.” The excitement of a shootout and a broken window was newsworthy, but the Skagway community was also home to growing families and less dramatic happenings.
Older man and woman among marigold flowers in front of a hotel.
The Golden North Hotel at Broadway and 3rd boasted a wealth of marigold flowers.

National Park Service, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, George & Edna Rapuzzi Collection, KLGO 59783d. Gift of the Rasmuson Foundation.

The first hotel manager was Thomas Whitten, a popular figure in town who also became father to a son in 1898. On June 17th the Skagway News announced that, “Mrs. Thomas Whitten and baby arrive[d] on the Elder from Portland, hence the lack of buttons on the vest of the popular proprietor of the Golden North hotel, Here’s at yer, br’er Whitten.” Though not exactly sure what “lack of buttons” on Whitten’s vest was supposed to indicate, historian Karl Guerke thinks that he could have been bursting with pride. Another expression of the time meant “having all of his marbles.” In other words, someone who was a “button short” was scattered or perhaps a little on the eccentric side. On the other hand, a person who “had all his buttons on” meant that he was sharp and sound in mind. It seems plausible though, that a new father and mother would be scattered with the arrival of a little one who kept them awake at night, but bursting with pride at the same time.

News about the Whitten family and the Golden North appeared a couple more times. In December of 1899 Thomas Whitten recommended that business owners shovel their walkways after a visitor slipped and fell in front of the St. James Hotel. Witten was also a U. S. Deputy Surveyor and drew a map of Dyea in August 1899. But the young family did not remain in Skagway for long. Sadly, Thomas Whitten died on January 11, 1900 when he fell from a gangplank on Moore’s Wharf into ice cold water. He may have died from shock. His wife returned to California where she scattered his ashes. The Golden North remained open for business. After Whitten’s death the housekeeper, Mary Falk, took charge of the hotel, while one of the owners, Ed Forman returned to town. The hotel was rented to the military in 1904. In 1908 two business partners Ed Foreman and George Dedman bought the old Klondike Trading Company and moved the building to its current location on the southwest corner of 3rd Avenue and Broadway. The Golden North Hotel also moved into the same building.

Man in uniform in front of streetcar.  He is pointing.  A large building is in background.
Martin Itjen stands with his streetcar in front of the Golden North.

National Park Service, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, George & Edna Rapuzzi Collection, KLGO 44778. Gift of the Rasmuson Foundation.

Foreman and Dedman marketed to long-term lodgers, people who remained in town for an extended period of time. This change was reflective of a shift in the Skagway population. Residents became less transient. Although tourism and transportation remained sources of income in the 1900s, the number of travelers passing through declined dramatically in comparison to the gold rush. On August 2, 1902 the Daily Morning Alaskan reported 300 tourists on the busiest day of the tourist season compared to hundreds passing through each day in 1898 and over 10,000 on busy days today. Instead, the transportation industry grew, and families began to live in the community for longer periods of time. The White Pass and Yukon Route railroad was a major employer, but community members were also fishermen, longshoremen, laundresses, nurses, merchants, barbers and brewers.
Older two story building
Sylvester's Store, circa 1902-1903. It is possibly patrolled by soldiers.

Alaska State Library, William E. Hunt collection, PCA 155

In 1900 there were no long term lodgers recorded at the Golden North Hotel, but in 1910 there were eight people who roomed at there. They included Edward Gavin, the school principal; Henry Holmes, U.S. Marshall; Frank Muir, listed as a janitor; and Frederick Flaharty, a saloonkeeper in town. In addition to lodgers, the employees and owners roomed at the hotel. Ed Foreman, a bachelor and the Dedmans, a family of four, lived in the building, too. The business partnership must have worked well because Ed Foreman and Mr. and Mrs. Dedman lived in the hotel through the next two decades. By 1930, Henry Dedman, the eldest son, had become manager of the hotel. The history of the Golden North continues to the present day in Skagway where it is no longer a hotel but houses numerous businesses.

About This Article

This article was researched and written by Susannah Dowds, Assistant Historian at Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park, in July, 2016. It was originally given as a KHNS radio talk. Information was supplied by the following sources:

Advertisement, Daily Alaskan, February 3, 1899.
“The Air Punctured by Six Leaden Balls,” Skaguay News, November 18, 1898.
National Park Service, Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park Library, Frank La Roche Album, KLGO SE-10-212.
“Reduced to Dust,” Daily Alaskan, February 24, 1900.
“Remains Go South,” Daily Alaskan, January 13, 1900.
Spude, Robert L., Skagway, District of Alaska 1884-1912 (Alaska Regional Office: Cooperative Park Studies Unit and University of Alaska Fairbanks), 144
“Thomas Whitten Falls to His Death,” Daily Alaskan, January 11, 1900.
White, Stroller, Klondike Newsman, ed. R.N. DeArmond (Skagway: Lynn Canal Publishing, 1989), 9-10.
U.S. Census, Skagway, 1910.1930.

Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park

Last updated: December 7, 2017