The Frye-Bruhn Meat Packing Company Comes to AlaskaDuring the early gold rush years in Skagway, this building was associated with one of two businesses that provided retail and wholesale meat to stampeders and commercial clients. Known as the Frye-Bruhn refrigerated warehouse, it was owned by brothers Frank and Charles Frye and Charles Bruhn and was part of the Frye-Bruhn Meat Packing Company, of Seattle, Washington. Incorporated in 1891, the company rapidly expanded during the gold rush and soon had stores in several locations in Alaska including Haines, Juneau, Seward, Skagway, Valdez, and a cattle ranch in Katmai.
This building, part of the Frye-Bruhn meat packing empire, was first used briefly as a slaughter house. It was remodeled in May 1900 and turned into a refrigerated warehouse for meat. In November 1902 it was moved from the north side of 2nd Avenue to the south side of 5th Avenue to be nearer the company's commercial store.
A Refrigerated Warehouse
It is not known how long the refrigeration units in the warehouse were operable. Commercial refrigeration was introduced in the United States in 1856. However, the ice industry had become well-established, and its relative simplicity compared to commercial refrigeration kept it dominant until the 1890s when problems with ice from polluted rivers and lakes forced breweries and meat packers to take a closer look at commercial refrigeration. These early commercial refrigeration units, such as the one probably used at the Frye-Bruhn refrigerated warehouse in Skagway, used either gaseous ammonia, methyl chloride or sulfur dioxide as refrigerants. Leakages often had fatal results for those nearby when the leakage occurred. It wasn't until the 1920s that chlorofluorocarbons for cooling were developed by Frigidaire.
The Frye-Bruhn Company sold the warehouse in September 1919 to Anthony Dortero, a Skagway fruit dealer and clothier to men, for $450, but continued to operate in Skagway until the mid 1930s. Mr. Dortero died in 1920 but his widow, Sabina, kept the property until 1945. After that it was owned by several people before being donated to the National Park Service (NPS). Exactly when the refrigeration equipment in the old building quit working is unknown but it still contains parts of the original refrigeration coils and overhead track used to keep the meat cool and to move it around.
When the NPS acquired the building, it was still being used for non-refrigerated storage of miscellaneous items. The building was moved to its current location near the Moore Homestead on 5th in the spring of 2004. The NPS recognizes the value of buildings such as this one in telling the story of the past and in potential rehabilitation and reuse. Currently in Skagway, at least 18 such buildings have been restored by the NPS and either leased to private businesses or used as public facilities. Look for the small bronze plaques on the building fronts that identify such buildings
Material for this page was adapted from a written report by Doreen Cooper.
Last updated: April 14, 2015