Wednesday, April 10, 2013

Eagle City Hall reflects city's pioneer days

Eagle City Hall as it looked in the 1990s
The City of Eagle sits beside the Yukon River six miles west of the Canadian border. It was established by disappointed miners returning from the Klondike, but mining is only part of the area’s history.

Eagle is located along the Yukon’s west bank, south of Mission Creek. In 1874 a French-Canadian fur trader, Moses Mercier, started a trading post called Belle Island about three miles to the north near a Han Athabascan village. 

A few years later he moved the trading post to the mouth of Mission Creek. Han called the creek Tototlindu, but an Episcopal mission (only lasting a few years) next to Mercier’s trading post led to the creek’s renaming. The trading post itself only operated intermittently.

Han have occupied the Upper Yukon region from Charley River (55 miles downriver from Eagle) to the Klondike River (60 miles upriver at Dawson City) for generations. (Eagle Native village is still located just upriver from Eagle.) Archaeological excavations at the Eagle courthouse in 1975 uncovered evidence of Native occupation hundreds of years prior to Western contact.

Gold had been found in Alaska's Upper Yukon region many years before the 1897 Klondike Gold Rush. A strike was made along the Fortymile River in 1886, and in 1895 it was discovered on American Creek (a tributary of Mission Creek). However, when the fabulous strikes along the Klondike River were publicized, most of these miners left Alaska for the Yukon.

A few popular histories place Eagle’s beginning in 1897. While some miners may have camped at Mission Creek in 1897, period documents indicate the town actually began coalescing in 1898.
U.S. Army Captain P.H. Ray, who travelled to Alaska in 1897 to investigate rumors of civil unrest and scout out locations for Army posts, traveled up the Yukon River as far as Canada’s border in Fall 1897. In an Oct. 6 letter he described the Mission Creek area as an excellent location for a military post, but did not mention any settlement there. He also recommended that posts be established away from mining towns so that “troops, if required to act will not be biased by local influence” — hardly the recommendation he would give if a settlement already existed there.

Much changed over the winter of 1897-98. When Ray mushed up the Yukon River from Fort Yukon to Dawson City at the end of February 1898, many disgruntled Americans (unable to find stakeable claims and unhappy with Canadian regulations) were headed back to the U.S.. Ray found miners camped at Mission Creek and Seventymile River (about 10 miles downriver from Mission Creek). Because of the beneficial attributes of the Mission Creek site, he still recommended building a military post there.

In May of that year a group of 28 miners laid out a townsite at Mission Creek, calling their new town Eagle City (because of eagles nesting on the bluffs just to the north). By summer there were about 500 cabins and 1,700 residents.

A sawmill quickly sprang up and three commercial companies built stores: Alaska Commercial, North American Transportation and Trading, and Alaska Exploration Company. The new city soon boasted a hospital, newspaper, several churches and numerous saloons.

Eagle became the first incorporated city in Interior Alaska in January 1901, and residents designated the log cabin pictured in the drawing as City Hall. Located at 1901 Chamberlain Street near St. Paul’s Church and the river, it was built with round logs saddle-notched at the corners, and has a corrugated metal roof. A 1986 addition to the rear is also constructed of logs and blends nicely with the older structure. Still used as City Hall, it is typical of many Eagle buildings.

For more history of Eagle check out these posts:
Fort Egbert at Eagle, Alaska brought order to Alaska-Canada border
Old Eagle Courthouse dates back to days of Territorial justice

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