Saturday, March 28, 2015

Kickstarter campaign for "Interior Skeches II" book reaches 50% funding level

We are half way to our funding goal of $2,230.00, which is the amount needed to cover the development and first printing of my book, "Interior Sketches II, More ramblings around Interior Alaska historic sites.

For those of you unfamiliar with the project, this is a follow-up project to my first book, "Interior Sketches, Ramblings around Interior Alaska historic sites.

Both books are based on the historical column, "Sketches of Alaska," which I have been producing for the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner newspaper for the past five years. That column was given the "Contributions to Alaska History award by the Alaska Historical Society in 2011.

Each book showcases 60 historic sites scattered across the region, with each listing featuring a detailed pen and ink illustration plus a short essay describing the site and regional history. You can get a feel for the book by looking at the historical posts on my blog, "Sketches of Alaska."

Please check out the Kickstarter project for "Interior Sketches II." The project ends on April 19th, so there is still time to pledge. Rewards offered range from art postcards and note cards for $10.00 and under, a 2016 historical calendar for $12.00, copies of the new book for $20.00, and original historical pen and ink drawings ranging from $150.00 to $400.00.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Old Independent Lumber warehouse representative of Interior Alaska's lumbering history

Independent Lumber's Fairbanks warehouse in 1990

As the town of Fairbanks grew between 1901 and the early 1920s it was not built with brick and stone. The city was far from Outside sources, and shipping space limited. Heavy building materials were generally too expensive to ship, so residents built with local materials when possible.
Wood was the construction material of choice, and Fairbanks had an insatiable appetite for lumber during its early years.

Logs and milled lumber were used to construct buildings, boats and other implements; timbers were needed for bridges and mine tunnels supports; and cordwood was essential to fuel the countless steam engines used at mines, and to heat homes and businesses. Huge wood lots lay scattered about town. One early photo of a cord-wood yard describes it as being 20 acres in size.

The first buildings in Fairbanks were cabins constructed of logs hewn by the builders themselves, but by 1903 local sawmills were supplying lumber. A 1904 photograph shows Fred Noyes’ Tanana Mill at the edge of town, about where the Morris Thompson Cultural Center is now. (The Tanana Mill later moved across the river to “Noyes” slough, where the Golden Valley Electrical Association complex now is on Illinois Street.)

According to a 2003 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article by Candy Waugaman, four lumber mills supplied the Fairbanks area’s needs by 1907. There was Chena Lumber at Chena townsite downriver from Fairbanks, Fairbanks Lumber on Garden Island, the Noyes mill, and Independent Lumber at the east end of Seventh Avenue, on the far side of the city cemetery.

Independent Lumber began as a partnership between Roy Rutherford and Sylvester Widman. A 1909 article in Alaska-Yukon magazine relates that Rutherford came to Valdez in 1901, spent several years there operating a sawmill, and then moved to Fairbanks. Widman stampeded to Dawson City in 1898, moved to Eagle after a couple of years and finally landed in Fairbanks about the same time Rutherford did.

In May 1906 Rutherford bought land on the bank of the Chena River at the edge of town and erected a mill, and in September of that year he partnered with Walker to form Independent Lumber Company. For many years they operated a large lumber yard stretching from the city cemetery at Seventh Avenue to 10th Avenue where the Regency Hotel is now.

Facilities included a saw and planning mill, garage, offices, two residences, numerous sheds and warehouse. Logs for the mill were felled in the upper reaches of the Chena River Valley and floated downriver to Fairbanks. An early photo of the sawmill shows an inclined skidway four-logs wide leading up from the river to stacks of unprocessed logs, with the mill building in the background.
The operation was so successful that it opened an office downtown on First Avenue and had an additional office across the river near the railroad yard.

In 1918, it bought out the Tanana Mill. Independent Lumber remained at its eastside location until the 1960s when the business moved to a new site on south Cushman Street (where Independent Rental is now).

The 50-foot by 84-foot timber-frame gable-roofed warehouse shown in the drawing is the mill’s only surviving building. It is depicted with its original ship-lap siding and corrugated metal roof. Located at the corner of Clay Street and 8th Avenue, it lay empty and deteriorating for almost 50 years. In 1975,the Borough even assessed it as only being worth salvage value.

However, the building was recently rehabilitated, including replacing the siding and roof. It now houses Automotive Concepts. One can hope that the building, visible from the Steese Expressway, will be around for many years to come.


  • Buzby and Metcalf photo album. University Archives. University of Alaska Fairbanks

  • “Fairbanks, A city historic building survey.” Janet Matheson. City of Fairbanks. 1985

  • “In the woods.” Candy Waugaman. In “Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. 2-23-2003

  • “Men and Endeavor in the Tanana Valley.” B. B. Metheany. In “Alaska-Yukon” magazine. “ January 1909

  • "Mill stood where hotel is today.” Candy Waugaman. In “Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. 4-23-1995

  • Woodrow Johansen Papers. University Archives. University of Alaska Fairbanks 

Sunday, March 22, 2015

Spring Equinox in Fairbanks - 2015

So this is what spring looks like in Fairbanks. I went out for a walk in the woods behind our house on Saturday, the 21st. Still long shadows, but the world is warming up.

Friday, March 20, 2015

"Interior Sketches II" selected as a "Staff Pick" by Kickstarter

I just received an e-mail letting me known that someone at Kickstarter decided my project was worthy enough to be a "Staff Pick." That means that for at least a few days it will be featured in the Staff Pick and New and Noteworthy sections on the Kickstarter site. Woo hoo! They didn't do that for my last project...

If you missed my earlier note about the project, here is the project link: . Or you can do a search for "Interior Sketches II" on the Kickstarter website (

Thanks for all your support.


"Interior Sketches II: More Rambling around Interior Alaska historic sites" Kickstarter project launched

For the past five years I have been publishing a bi-weekly historical column, “Sketches of Alaska,” in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner newspaper. Each column features a detailed pen and ink drawing of a historic site in Eastern Interior Alaska, plus a short essay describing the site and regional history. The column was awarded the “Contributions to Alaska History” award by the Alaska Historical Society in 2011.

In 2013 I published a book, “Interior Sketches: Ramblings around Interior Alaska historic sites,” based on the first 2 ½ years of the column. That book, which showcased 60 historic sites scattered across the region, has been well-received.
 Now it is time to publish a second installment covering the most recent 2 ½ years of the column. My new book, “Interior Sketches II: More ramblings around Interior Alaska historic sites,” will feature 60 additional sites.

As with the first book, I am producing “Interior Sketches II” through my own imprint, Pingo Press, and would appreciate your help in financing the initial printing of the book. I have started a Kickstarter project to help fund the publishing costs. (For those of you not familiar with Kickstarter, it is an internet site for group funding of creative projects.)

Please check out my “Interior Sketches Kickstarter project. There are some neat rewards for pledges at $5.00 and above. For a $20.00 pledge you can reserve a copy of the new book. Pledge if you can (minimum pledge is $1.00) and tell all your friends about it. The only way my project will succeed is by spreading the word about it. This is a 30 day project and ends on April 19th.

Saturday, March 14, 2015

Redpolls delight in sunny March weather in Fairbanks

The redpolls (small brown and white finches with a red spot on top of their heads) have been flocking around Fairbanks this past week. They descended on our back yard, feasting on the birch seeds scattered across the yard.

 They left amazing tracks in the snow--cryptic scribblings covering our back yard
These two photos were taken on different days and at different times during the day, and the reversed shadows change to look of the tracks entirely.

Wednesday, February 18, 2015

Fairbanks-Circle Trail gradually morphed into Steese Highway

Adams "Leaning Wheel" grader used on Steese Highway, now at Circle Distirct Museum in Central
Ever since the 1892 discovery of gold along a Yukon River tributary called Birch Creek, prospectors have been tramping the region searching for riches. Miners primarily worked streams such as Mastodon, Miller and Independence Creeks draining northward towards the Yukon, but a few hardy souls crossed Twelvemile Summit (so named because it was 12 miles from early miners’ diggings on Birch Creek) to explore the headwaters of the Chatanika River, which drains into the Tanana.

When Judge James Wickersham first visited Fairbanks in spring 1903 he mushed southwest through this region from the Yukon River community of Circle. He later wrote in his book, Old Yukon: Tales, Trails and Trials, of overnighting in a one-room log roadhouse near the mouth of Faith Creek just south of Twelvemile Summit. The cabin had been constructed in 1901 by Circle stampeders.

A system of trails from Circle to the mines was blazed during the early years of the Circle Mining District, and these became part of the Fairbanks-Circle Trail, a primary route for freighters and mail carriers. Running northeasterly from Fairbanks, the trail followed the Chatanika River, crossed Twelvemile and Eagle summits, ran along Crooked Creek to Central, and then across lowlands to Circle.

The Alaska Road Commission (ARC) was formed in 1905 and took over the responsibility for the Fairbanks-Circle Trail. By the mid 1910s it had built a rough wagon road from Circle as far south as Miller House (a popular roadhouse) just north of Eagle Summit.

As with many early trails, The Fairbanks-Circle Trail included summer and winter routes. These seasonal alternatives could be found on sections of the trail north of Central and south of Twelvemile Summit.

Some maps show the southern end of the trail wending its way northeast from Fairbanks, skirting the hills south of the Chatanika River before ascending Twelvemile Summit. However, a 1928 ARC map labels this route as a summer trail and indicates that the winter trail lay next to the Chatanika River on its north side. It was this winter route that Judge Wickersham traveled in 1903.

In the early 1920s the ARC began improving the Chatanika end of the trail, installing bridges across streams and constructing a road along a route above the old winter trail on the north side of the Chatanika River. Most of the work was in tandem with the construction of the Davidson Ditch by the Fairbanks Exploration Company (FE Co.). The initial work, however, was accomplished before the FE Co. began exploration work in the Fairbanks area. By 1926 the road reached the upper limit of the Chatanika River, just below Faith and McManus creeks, where the Davidson Ditch’s containment dam was located.

The ARC then extended the road over Twelvemile and Eagle summits, linking up with the Circle-Miller House road, and re-routed portions of the Circle to Central road. (Oscar Bredlie, an early freighter and mail carrier between Fairbanks and Circle, related in an interview with Jane Williams that the Circle to Central road used to be as “crooked as a dog’s hind leg.”) 

The ARC also upgraded the entire road to automobile standards. Bulldozers hadn’t been developed yet, and tractor-pulled scrapers and graders accomplished most of the road construction, supported by WW I-era GMC and 1920s Ford Model T trucks. The 1920s-era Adams grader shown in the drawing was used on the road and is now located at the Circle District Museum in Central.

The Fairbanks to Circle road was officially opened in 1928 although freighters utilized the brushed-out right-of-way between Central and Circle before the road was actually completed. Freighters and mail carriers also continued to travel the old “abandoned” winter trail whenever practicable since it cut 12 miles off the distance between Central and Circle.

The road was later named the Steese Highway in honor of Gen. James Steese, former president of the Alaska Road Commission. It used to be billed as the farthest-north highway in the United States, and is still an important year-round connection between Fairbanks and Circle.


  • Alaska Road Commission map of Steese Highway. In Rare Map Collection at University of Alaska Fairbanks Archives. 1928
  •  History of Alaskan Operations of United States Smelting, Refining and Mining Company. John Boswell. University of Alaska. 1979
  • Old Yukon: Tales, Trails, and Trials. James Wickersham. University of Alaska Press. 2009
  •  Oscar Bredlie interview by Jane Williams. Oral History Collection at University of Alaska Fairbanks Archives. 1983
  • Paving Alaska’s Trails, the work of the Alaska Road Commission. Claus-M. Naske. University Press of America. 1986
  • Tom Long is interviewed by Harrie Hughes. Oral History Collection at University of Alaska Fairbanks Archives. 1961