Finnegan's Point History

Five men stand with a canvas tent and supplies.

Library of Congress LC-USZ62-47978

Finnegan's Point (variously spelled Finnigin's, Finnigan's, or Finigan's) did not exist until the Klondike Gold Rush. Before the gold rush, prospectors usually passed this area on their way to the Canadian Interior. Finnegan's Point was first noted in late August 1897. Tappan Adney, a roving correspondent for Harper's Weekly Magazine, described visiting the camp. At that time, the settlement consisted of "twenty tents, including a blacksmith shop, a saloon and restaurant." A month later, 75 tents sprawled about the site.

The location was a major stream crossing point along the Chilkoot Trail north of Dyea. The site was also important because, for awhile, it was the end of the existing wagon road. Some stampeders considered it a convenient spot where they might cache their supplies.

The site received its name when Pat Finnegan and his two sons established a ferry here. They set up their operations by the middle of September 1897. Alfred Daly, a stampeder passing through, noted that the ferry cost fifty cents per passenger. However, the ferry was not the only crossing option. A traveler in September 1897 noted that the river was only eighteen inches deep. This meant it could be easily forded. Other travelers pushed boats upriver, or hired Alaska Natives to perform this task. Finnegan improved upon his ferry in October 1897, when he installed a simple "foot log bridge" at the site.

With the onset of winter Finnegan's Point became less important. After the river froze up, many pulled sleds directly upriver, skirting the site. In the spring, as the ground began to thaw, stampeders reverted to the route used earlier.

During the spring of 1898 work began on a corduroy toll road through this part of the trail. Based on present day conditions corduroying may have been necessary. Modern hikers are familiar with the boggy stretch south of the current campground. The mile or so north of the camp, which crossed "a glacial moraine and several boggy areas" during the gold rush, has since eroded into the Taiya River.

The ownership history of the toll road is cloudy. It is likely that the Finnegan family built and maintained it. Deed records, however, state that the road was established by Frank and John Lucas on March 8, 1898. They proposed to "construct bridges and otherwise make this road passable for wagons in muddy weather." The Lucas brothers each claimed large lots in mid June 1898. They hoped to use them for agricultural or manufacturing purposes. Aside from a dwelling and a forty acre fenced clearing, the area remained undeveloped.

The settlement at Finnegan's Point was never large. It was a convenient stopping point along the trail. One traveler described it as good for "hot coffee and doughnuts." Except for a few weeks in the late summer of 1897, only a few tents remained here at a given time. Except for John Lucas's forty acre claim, there is no evidence that wooden buildings were ever constructed here. After April 1898, no businesses were recorded in the area. John Lucas continued to live here until March 1899. The site was probably abandoned soon after John Lucas left.

After the gold rush

Shortly after the turn of the century, the area had a small settlement called Jimtown. It was said to be "near Dyea and opposite Irene Glacier," and was just north of Finnegan's Point. The settlement suffered a fire in the summer of 1901. This fire, and others that may have occurred since then, may have destroyed remains from the gold rush.

Since the gold rush, low lying Finnegan's Point has suffered at the hands of both nature and man. The historical remains at Dyea have likely been covered by flood waters. Major floods occurred on the Taiya River in the 1920s, 1944, and early 1950s. Parts of the Taiya River shifted significantly between 1900 and the 1940s. Below the Nourse River, the Taiya has probably moved east, washing away the old trail.

People passing through the area may have removed some of the cultural remains. Several hundred hikers crossed over the Chilkoot Trail between 1900 and the 1950s. It is likely some of them collected historic artifacts from this site. More recent hikers may have found other debris from the old camp.

A significant impact to the site was the Hosford logging operation (Skagway Lumber Company). This company was active in the Taiya River valley between 1948 and 1956. The owner of the mill, Ed Hosford, directed the construction of a road from Dyea northward. He chose the present site of Finnegan's Point as a temporary terminus of his road. (Later, he took his machinery across the frozen Taiya River and continued operations northwest of this site.) The lumber operation itself probably destroyed some of the extant cultural resources. Several of the company's employees, moreover, may have collected historical artifacts.

Despite the ravages of time, scattered cultural resources remain near Finnegan's Point. Two telephone wires and insulator dowels extend north from the campground. These wires may have been next to the 1898 wagon road. Hints of what may have been the wagon road exist southeast of the recreational trail. Nearby, nailed into a cottonwood tree is an insulator. This is an artifact of the gold rush era telephone line that extended from Dyea over Chilkoot Pass.

All that remains from the actual settlement is a group of pits. Two foundations and two privy pits are located south of the campground. Further investigations may reveal more artifacts. Heavy undergrowth often obscures all but the largest artifacts. The lack of wooden structures at Finnegan's Point meant few durable cultural remnants.

Last updated: October 10, 2017

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