Sunday, June 18, 2006

Alaskan History Cruise, Part Two - History of Juneau

(Juneau from atop Mt. Roberts)

Do you know what the capital of Alaska is? Do you know? It is Juneau of course! At least, that was how I was prompted to remember the Alaskan capital when I was in grade school learning the capitals of all 50 states.

The ms Zaandam arrived in Juneau today. There were a lot of historical sites to choose from on the shore excursion list. Of course, we did none of them. My wife looked at the list months ago when we were planning our intenary and she really wanted to take the whale watching trip. I agreed and we had a good time spotting several different types of whales. (And I would rather not recount the history of the Alaskan whaling community...)

History of Juneau

The History of Juneau gives a short summary of the city history. It notes, "The area was a fish camp for the indigenous Tlingit Indians. In 1880, nearly 20 years before the gold rushes to the Klondike and Nome, Joe Juneau and Richard Harris were lead to Gold Creek by Chief Kowee of the Auk Tribe. They found mother lode deposits upstream, staked their mining claims, and developed a 160 acre incorporated city they called Harrisburg, which brought many prospectors to the area. The state capital was transferred from Sitka to Juneau in 1906 while Alaska was a U.S. Territory. The Treadwell and Ready Bullion mines across the channel on Douglas Island became world-scale mines, operating from 1882 to 1917. In 1916, the Alaska-Juneau gold mine was built on the mainland, and became the largest operation of its kind in the world. In 1917, a cave-in and flood closed the Treadwell mine on Douglas. It produced $66 million in gold in its 35 years of operation. Fishing, canneries, transportation and trading services, and a sawmill contributed to Juneau's growth through the early 1900s. Mining declined by the 1930s, and the A-J Mine closed in 1944 when it was declared a nonessential wartime activity. The A-J produced over $80 million in gold."

The original name of the city was Harrisburg. However, locals objected to this name as the locality grew as so many other places in America were named this. The town name was changed to honor the local US navy Commander Charles Rockwell. Rockwell became the new name. In 1881, Joe Juneau was complaining that nothing in the district had been named for him and the name was again changed this time to Juneau which it remains today. (The Tlingit name of the city is Dzántik'i Héeni "flounder creek.")

Juneau is not located centrally in the state. It is far removed from Anchorage and Fairbanks. This has prompted several attempts to move the capital elsewhere. In 1954, a measure was passed to move the capital north in order to locate it closer to the territorial population center. This plan stalled and Juneau remained the capital. In the 1970s, plans were made to move the capital to a site near Willow, a town north of Anchorage. However, these plans never went very far either.

Miland in Juneau

As mentioned, my wife and I participated in a whale watching tour. We saw a variety of humpback whales (some rather close) as well as eagles, seals, and sea lions. I also was surprised to get a dose of history on the tour.

The boat we were on passed by Admiralty Island. This huge island has the world's highest density of brown bears in the world averaging one bear per square mile. It is also the site of Point Retreat. On a voyage looking for the Northwest Passage, Captain George Vancouver was sailing by Admiralty Island in the eighteenth century. He spotted native war canoes and beat a retreat to what is now Retreat Point. His hiding spot worked and he (and his crew) survived.

We also saw Vanderbilt Reef. This is the site of the 1918 sinking of the Princess Sophia. The ship ran aground. Help arrived but the captain waived off the help assuming that the rising tide would free the ship. Instead, it broke in two and sank. All 343 people on the ship died.

After the whale watching, we went into Juneau and went up the tramway to Mount Roberts. It gave us a good view of the city and the port with five cruise ships in dock. These tourist ships probably explain the tackiness and high prices of the tourist trap district in Juneau right off the dock. I was not impressed. However, I did enjoy the Red Dog Saloon. This old bar was a favorite of miners in the 19th and early 20th centuries. The miners used to drink their fill on payday and then leave a dollar pinned on the wall with their name on it so they would have money to drink with later. Many of these dollars remain on the walls. This was a nice bar and well worth visiting!

Tomorrow we will be in Glacier Bay and that will be the focus of my next post.

Previous Post: Alaskan History Cruise, Part One - (At Sea) A History of Holland America and the ms Zaandam

Next Post: Alaskan History Cruise, Part Three - History of Glacier Bay


Roger said...

In 1954, a measure was passed to move the state's capital north in order to locate it closer to the state's population center.

Alaska wasn't a state until 1959.

M said...

Indeed. You are correct. As the crusie ship is charging 40 cents a minute for internet access, my proofreading is not up to my normal standards. Thanks for the correction.