Monday, December 8, 2014

Manley Roadhouse – Serving hospitality since 1903

Manley Roadhouse as it looked in 1994

John Karshner was prospecting for gold when he stumbled across a hot springs in the hills just north of a small Tanana River tributary in 1902. Karshner had a farming background and saw more potential for profit in selling food to prospectors and miners than in actually mining, so he immediately staked out a homestead north of the stream, which became known as “Hot Springs Slough.”

A trading post supplying goods to prospectors in the Tofty and Eureka areas to the north was located about 10 miles to the east, at the confluence of Baker Creek and the Tanana River. However, seeing the advantages of the hot springs site, entrepreneurs soon built a general store on the north side of Hot Springs Slough, eclipsing the Baker Creek operation. The Baker Creek site was located along the route of the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS) telegraph line and survived for a time as a telegraph station, but except for a small sawmill, otherwise passed into obscurity.

Hot Springs (also called Baker Hot Springs and eventually Manley Hot Springs) was in the ascendant though, and other facilities sprouted up. According to the Manley Roadhouse website, in addition to the store, Sam’s Meals and Rooms (which eventually became the Manley Roadhouse) opened in 1903, also on the north side of the slough.

Most of the new town’s businesses appear to have been clustered along the base of the hills on the north bank of the slough, rather than on the flatter ground to the south. This was in part because of the Martin Sabin homestead, which occupied about 150 acres on the south side of the slough where the town airport is now. I think it was also because of a military withdrawal on slough’s south bank made to support the WAMCATS telegraph line. When the landlines were replaced by wireless telegraphy (radio) most of the telegraph stations closed. Consequently, the military withdrawal at Hot Springs was abandoned, and business began moving across the slough.

In a biography of Stanley Dayo, a long-time Manley resident, he states that the Manley Roadhouse was moved across the slough to its present location in 1925. Late January and early February of 1925 was also when the serum run from Nenana to Nome occurred, during which 20 mushers relayed diphtheria anti-toxin to combat an outbreak of the deadly disease.

The book, The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic, relates the story of Edgar Kalland, an Athabascan musher who carried the serum from Tolovana to Manley, a distance of 32 miles. The temperature during his run was about 55 degrees below zero (F) and one newspaper article reported that upon arriving at the Manley roadhouse, Kalland’s mittens were frozen to the sled’s handle bar. The roadhouse proprietor reportedly poured boiling water over the handle bar to free Kalland’s mittens. (I’m assuming the roadhouse had not been moved before the serum run took place.)

The roadhouse has gone through a succession of owners, but it basic appearance has changed little over the years. The front portion of the establishment, a 2-½ story wood-frame structure with a gable roof, looks pretty much the same as it did when moved across the slough. It is very typical of commercial buildings built during the early 1900s.

The rear section of the building has changed gradually during the years — morphing from a small one-story addition (with additional additions tacked on, Alaska-style) to the present two-story structure. The roadhouse is still operating, serving Alaskan hospitality to locals and visitors year-round.


  •  An archeological reconnaissance of Manley and Hutlinana Hot Springs, central interior Alaska. Robert Sattler. University of Alaska Museum. 1986
  • Bureau of Land Management records
  • “Manley Hot Springs history.” John Robert Dart. On Dart Agriculture and Mining website. 2010
  •  “Manley Roadhouse history.” on Manley Roadhouse website. 2009
  •  Prospecting and Mining Activity in the Rampart, Manley Hot Springs and Fort Gibbon Mining Districts of Alaska, 1894 to the Present Era. Rosalie L’Ecuyer. Bureau of Land Management. 1997
  • Stanley Day, Manley Hot Springs. Yvonne Yarber & Curt Madison. Yukon Kuskokwim School District. 1984
  • The Cruelest Miles: The Heroic Story of Dogs and Men in a Race Against an Epidemic,. Gay Salisbury. W.W. Norton. 2003

Monday, December 1, 2014

For One Artist, Colorblindness Opened Up A World Of Black And White

Mary's Turn - engraving by Peter Milton

"Colors can cheat the eye but sumi (black pigment) never can; it proclaims the master and exposes the tyro" - Henry Bowie, in On the Laws of Japanese Painting.

Most readers of my blog probably don't know that I am red-green colorblind (as you silently say to yourself, "That explains why all his drawings are in black and white."). That's also why this story from NPR on the colorblind artist, Peter Milton caught my attention. What he says is so true--I don't miss color. Check out the story here.

Thursday, November 27, 2014

Chena River on Thanksgiving day -- sunny and beautiful

Thanksgiving day here is Fairbanks. My wife and I walked down to the river and back just now. It is clear and cold, about -5 degrees F. Actually pretty good weather for the end of November. Beautiful. So this is a photo of the Chena River on Thanksgiving at about 2 p.m.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Main School, now City Hall, is a Fairbanks fixture

Soon after Fairbanks was established, residents began clamoring for schools. In the fall of 1903 (even before the city was incorporated), a small private school opened. Thirteen students and their teacher met in a small cabin at the corner of Wendell and Noble streets. Unfortunately, a funding shortfall closed the school just before Christmas.

In spring 1904, a public school opened in a rented facility near Lacey Street and Third Avenue. The next fall 50 students moved into a new school building at the corner of Second Avenue and Noble Street.

The Fairbanks school population continued to grow, and in 1907, a new two-story frame schoolhouse with full basement was built on Cushman Street between Eighth and Ninth avenues, the site of the present Old Main School. (A few school board members objected, saying the location was too far out of town.)

The new school building had wide front steps surmounted by a portico, and a hipped roof topped by an open belfry. In a town composed primarily of one story log cabins, the two-story school seemed a magnificent building, likened by one local pastor to an English cathedral.

The school, along with a 1929 addition, served Fairbanks children until 1932 when fired consumed the building. The structure was a loss, and classes were moved to nearby churches and civic organization facilities until a new facility was constructed.

In 1933 construction began on a 35,500-square-foot, reinforced-concrete building on the site of the old building. Plans for the new school were drawn up by the engineer responsible for the Federal Building then under construction in Fairbanks, and the school building shares many of the same Art Deco exterior design elements. As originally constructed, the building had three stories with a ground floor daylight basement. The building faced Cushman Street, with classrooms and office on all three floors and a 4,000-square-foot gymnasium extending to the rear. It was officially opened on Jan. 22, 1934.

A burgeoning student population meant the addition of a south wing in 1939 and a north wing in 1948. With both additions, close attention was paid to blending in with the old exterior. However, consistency between old and new interior floor plans was not maintained. Differing floor levels and confusing connecting hallways made the interior a maze. In his booklet, The Spirit of Old Main, a History of the Old Main School, Chris Allen related a joke that, “suggested that any senior who was able to find his way from the center of the building to the outside should be handed a graduation certificate.”

Main School remained the Fairbanks School District’s only school until 1951 when the district began building schools in outlying areas. By 1959 only junior high students remained. All students had been moved to other facilities by 1976 and the school district’s administration offices moved in. The district’s offices remained there until 1993 when a new administrative center was completed. Main School was then relinquished to the city. The building’s ground floor windows were boarded up and the heat was turned off.

The next December (1994) the city began moving its offices into the building. A year of no maintenance and no utilities meant a great deal of work needed to be done on the building.

Old Main School is in the National Register of Historic Places, and the city has a goal of restoring the building to its original floor plan. Some major renovations have already been accomplished, such as fixing the roof, refinishing the gym floor and bleachers, replacing all the windows that had been boarded up, and opening up all the hallways. Much of the credit goes to former Mayor Jerry Cleworth, who attended Main School.


  • Conversation with Jerry Cleworth, former Fairbanks City Mayor
  • “Fairbanks, a City Historic Building Survey.” Janet Matheson. City of Fairbanks. 1985
  • “Our Schools, a History of Elementary and Secondary Public Education in the Fairbanks Area.” Fairbanks North Star Borough. 1989
  • “The Spirit of Old Main, a History of the Old Main School – 1932-1995.” Chis Allen. 1995
  • “National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.” Russell Sackett. National Park Service. 1990

Monday, November 24, 2014

Kickstarter campaign starting soon for "Interior Sketches II"

This is for fans of my historical essays, drawings, and  first book, "Interior Sketches, Ramblings around Interior Alaska historic sites." Response to the first book was positive, and since I have continued to write and draw, its time to begin working on a second book.

After Thanksgiving I'll be starting a Kickstarter campaign to raise funds to publish "Interior Sketches II, More ramblings around Interior Alaska historic sites." The book will feature 60 more historic sites in Eastern Interior Alaska, plus additional drawings of Interior Alaska.

The fundraising campaign will have the same sort of premium levels as my first Kickstarter campaign: notecards, post cards, calendars, copies of the book, and original drawings. Watch this page for additional information.

Friday, November 21, 2014

Birch seeds and catkin scales as miniature leaves for dioramas

So all you Northern types who live surrounded by birch trees--there are those winter days when the wind blows and the snow ends up with piles of birch seeds and birch catkin scales all over the place. Very pretty, but do you know what all those itty bitty birch bits are good for? I didn't until this week when something odd happened on my blog.

I did a blog post several years ago about a blustery winter day and posted photos of birch seeds and catkins strewn all about. In recent blog statistics I noticed multiple hits for that old blog posting--almost 50 hits coming from all over the world.

I finally tracked the hits to a link posted on a website for large-scale model builders who construct dioramas for their models. Turns out if you put down a thin layer of glue on your diorama and then sprinkle birch seeds and catkin scales liberally over the glue you end up with piles of just-the-right size autumn leaves! Here is a link tp that page.

The person posting the link evidently thought my piles of miniature leaves were good examples. The power of the internet! Here is a link to my original post.

Who knew?

Monday, November 17, 2014

Icy tree in the winter sun - Fairbanks in November

Had a friend  tell me about an ice-laden tree near the old library at the corner of 1st and Cowles here in Fairbanks. The tree stands beneath the downspout of the building's gutter and with the warm winter we have had so far many of the branches are coated in ice. The icy branches looks very interesting in the changing light conditions. Pick a different time of day and the tree will look different.