Saturday, September 29, 2012

Wild Iris seed pods starting to open in Fairbanks

The wild iris (Iris setosa) flowers are long gone and soon the stalks will be bending under the weight of the coming snow. However, right now this years crop of  seed pods are lovely (at least in my opinion). I never really realized what colors could be found in the pods themselves.

Friday, September 28, 2012

Beautiful Fall day in Fairbanks

It turned into a lovely afternoon and I hiked downtown. Here is the view from the Steese Expressway bridge looking northwest towards Farmers Loop. No real reason for the photo except it is a pretty day.

The Chena River runs under the Wendell Street Bridge in the center of the photo. To the left is the edge of downtown Fairbanks. As Fairbanks grew, the community expanded across the river. The old city area known as Graehl (settled in the early 1900s) is to the right of the  river and the Wendell Street bridge.

The river bends to the left and Noyes Slough takes of to the right just on the other side of the Wendell Street bridge. Just beyond that is Slaterville, a subdivision developed in the 1930s on the old Charles Slater homestead.

Environmental art - rock out along the road

I was walking through town this morning and discovered this art object near a stop sign at an intersection. Some one obviously had some extra time and decided to improve the landscape. I like it. Where every you are, what ever you have at hand, make art!

Thursday, September 27, 2012

Creamer's Dairy an iconic part of Fairbanks history and landscape

The farmhouse and barns at Creamer’s Dairy (constructed between 1905 and 1950) could easily have been lost. The dairy closed in 1966, the victim of changing market conditions and new health regulations brought about by statehood. At the same time, the city of Fairbanks was butting up against the formerly rural area and developers were eying the land for city expansion.

However, some people rallied to save the farm from being subdivided. They saw the value in open space and enjoyed watching the annual waterfowl migrations. (The migrating birds were attracted to the grain found in the cow manure spread on the fields and also left in the fields after harvest.)

Local residents were able to convince state legislators and Alaska Gov. Walter Hickel to obtain state funding to purchase the land, but until funding was approved, the people of Fairbanks had to fend off eager developers.

Even in the wake of the devastating 1967 flood, the people of Fairbanks (through The Alaskan Conservation Society) were able to raise $7,000 as earnest money toward the purchase price of the farm. Charles and Don Creamer signed a purchase agreement in December of 1967 for 259 acres of the farm’s land, but not the 12 acres that the farmhouse, barns and other buildings sat on, since the amount the Creamers were asking was more than the buildings’ appraised worth.

A combination of state and federal funds was finally approved in the spring of 1968 and used to purchase the land for the state of Alaska. In May 1968, the farm was put under the Alaska Department of Fish and Game’s jurisdiction as the Fairbanks Wildlife Management Area. In 1970, an additional 1,520 acres of adjacent state land was added, bringing the total to about 1,800 acres.

The Creamers sold their remaining property to a land investment company in 1970. According to “A Place for the Birds,” a University of Alaska Fairbanks master’s degree thesis, the new owners did little to maintain the buildings, using them primarily for storage. In fact, borough land records indicate that at one point they planned to tear down the farmhouse, which was in poor condition.

Fortunately for everybody, that did not happen. In 1977, the farm buildings were placed on the National Register of Historic Places, which emphasized the buildings’ importance. In 1979, the wildlife management area became part of the state refuge system and was renamed Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge. State funds were used to purchase the farm buildings and the 12 acres they sat on in 1982, adding the parcel to the refuge.

The farmhouse was renovated between 1988 and 1992, and the building is now used as an environmental education center. In 2001, the roofs of the barns and creamery were replaced, and a multi-year project was begun this year to renovate the barns and creamery.

Integral to the running of the education center and renovation of the buildings is the nonprofit group Friends of Creamer’s Field. Established in 1990, the organization has worked with the Department of Fish and Game for more than 20 years to utilize the Creamer’s Field refuge for environmental education and help preserve the farm’s history. The organization is spearheading the current restoration project and hopes that, except for initial start-up funds from the state, all funding will come through private or corporate fundraising.


  • ·         A Place for the Birds, The Legacy of Creamer’s Field Migratory Waterfowl Refuge, Jessica A. Ryan, 2003, University of Alaska, Fairbanks Master's thesis
  • ·         The History of Creamer’s Dairy, Robin Lewis, 1989, Tanana-Yukon Historical Society

Tuesday, September 25, 2012

A walk down Cowles Street in Fairbanks is a stroll through history

 If you want to get a feel for Fairbanks history, a good place to start is by walking down Cowles Street from 1st Avenue at the Chena River to the Noel Wein Library. Cowles runs perpendicular to the Chena River, and is an old residential district on the edge of downtown. Within the first ten blocks there is a wonderful variety of historic structures. Here are a few:

Above is the George C. Thomas Memorial Library at the corner of 1st Avenue and Cowles street, it was built in 1909. It is on the National Register of Historic Places

To the right is the 1st Avenue Bathhouse on the opposite corner of 1st Avenue and Cowles Street. It was built in 1907 and is now on the National Register of Historic Places

To the left is 113 Cowles Street, built in 1910

To the right is 212 Cowles Street, built in 1915

To the left is 302 Cowles Street, built in 1928

To the right is 402 Cowles, built in 1929.

To the left is the Falcon Joslin House at 413 Cowles Street. It was built in 1904. Joslin was the prime mover in constructing the Tanana Valley Railroad. The house is on the National Register of Historic Places

To the right is the Mary Lee Davis House at 410 Cowles Street. It was built in 1916 by miner Arthur Davis, whose new wife threatened to move to Seattle unless he built a home with all the modern conveniences. it was later bought by author Mary Lee Davis. The house has been restored and is on the National Register of Historic Places

The final building in my little tour is at the corner of 9th and Cowles. This building, the farthest from the Chena River, actually brings us back to the river. It is the White Seal dock, built on the waterfront in the 1920s, and later moved to its present location.

There are many more historic properties in this section of town. If you are interested, find a copy of "Fairbanks, a City Historic Building Survey," produced by the City of Fairbanks in 1985.

Monday, September 24, 2012

View from new Barnette Street Bridge in Fairbanks

Downtown Fairbanks from new Barnette Street bridge

The new bridge across the Chena River in downtown Fairbanks isn't open to vehicles yet, but pedestrians can cross it. Here are a couple of photos I snapped from the middle of the bridge. I haven't been a big fan of the new bridge project, but it does offer some new views of Fairbanks. The view of Immaculate Conception Church s especially nice.

Denali State Bank, Immaculate Coneption Church and the Doyon Building from the bridge

Saturday, September 22, 2012

Old warehouse door - Fairbanks, Alaska

I love taking photos in the Fall.  Architectural details, even whole buildings that were hidden by the leaves of summer, are suddenly visible.

These photes show the side of an old warehouse here in town. Its pretty obvious the door hasn't been unlocked recently. Who knows when the windows hidden behind the birches were last opened.

Thursday, September 20, 2012

Historic Fairbanks home offers glimpse of mysterious Kitty Hensley

Kitty Hensley is a bit of a mystery. No one is quite sure when she came to Fairbanks, when she married, or who exactly her husband was. Some say he was a lawyer from Nome, but no one is sure. We do know from records at the Kitty Hensley House that she was born Katherine Kilway in Michigan in 1867, and that by the 1880s she was in California, working on riverboats and in dance halls and saloons.

When gold was discovered in the Yukon and Alaska, she ventured north. It is unknown whether she came as a working single girl or as Mrs. Hensley. What is known is that by 1903 she was married and living in a small cabin on Eighth Avenue.

Her husband evidently owned the Florence S, a small steamboat. But Mr. Hensley abandoned both his wife and the Florence S in the early 1900s. After Kitty’s husband disappeared, she became owner of the Florence S, but E. J. Smythe, who was captain at the time, maintained control.

A publication titled “Yukon Riverboat Captains,” states that Smythe sailed north from Olympia, Wash., when word of the Klondike gold rush reached the West Coast. He traversed the Chilkoot Trail in July of 1898, and immediately began skippering riverboats on the Yukon River. Smythe spent five years on the upper Yukon before moving to Fairbanks as skipper of the Florence S.

According to folklore, Kitty traveled aboard the Florence S for a time while Smythe was captain, but her eccentric character and headstrong will clashed with that of the crew and captain. Complaints from the crew forced Smythe to banish Kitty from the boat in 1910.

After that Kitty stayed in Fairbanks. Several years later Smythe was returning to Fairbanks on the last run of the season when low water in the Chena River prevented him from reaching safe winter moorage. The Florence S spent the winter frozen into the Tanana River ice, and breakup the next spring damaged the boat beyond repair.

Smythe salvaged lumber and fixtures from the boat, and used some of the salvage to remodel Kitty’s home. Kitty’s original cabin was constructed of logs squared on three sides and mitered at the corners.   Smythe added a second story, replacing the cabin’s simple gable roof with a gambrel roof having two slopes on each side.

A porch and small room were added to the front of the house, topped with a sloping concave roof. The house was roofed with wood shingles, and the front of the house was also sheathed with wood shingles in varying shapes and patterns.

Smythe styled the remodeled house after the Queen Anne cottages popular in the Lower 48. He installed fancy windows (the upper sashes in each window were outlined with red glass squares and frosted-glass rectangles) and topped the bedroom window in the second floor with an arch.

The captain also labored at making the interior just as ornate. The crowning detail was an elegant false fireplace built out of the bench from the wheelhouse of the Florence S.

Kitty lived in the house until her death in 1931. She was eccentric and also a hoarder, stashing money in cans and packages hidden around her house. According to a brochure published by the Pioneers of Alaska, Captain Smythe went through the house after her death hunting for valuables she might have squirreled away. A subsequent owner removed the false fireplace and found, among other items, a package of gold dust worth $350 at the time.

Her house was moved to its present location at Pioneer Park in 1967. It is now operated during the summer as a museum by the Pioneers of Alaska, Auxilary No. 8.

·         Conversation with Joyce Wilson, Kitty Hensley House docent
·         “Kitty and the Captain,” Corrine Smith, Fairbanks Daily News-Miner, Dec. 15, 1996 
·         “Kitty Hensley House,” brochure produced by Pioneers of Alaska, Women’s Auxiliary No. 8, 2010  
·         Letters and other records kept at Kitty Hensley House 
·         “Yukon Riverboat Captains,” Jerry Green, 2011