Sunday, December 15, 2013

Street widening gives clearer view of historic Noyes House

The Noyes house in the Fall of 2012

For years the historic Noyes House at 407 Illinois Street was obscured by fencing and trees. One of the “benefits” of the recent Illinois Street widening project was the elimination of the fence and trees along Minnie Street, opening up a clearer view of this important piece of Fairbanks history.

The house was built some time before 1911 by Fred Noyes, who owned the Tanana Mill lumber company. According to Terrence Cole’s report for the State DOT, Historic Resources of the Minnie Street Corridor, Noyes was a Michigan lumberman who joined the hordes headed for the Klondike in 1897. He operated a sawmill at Dawson City before moving on to Fairbanks in 1903.

It appears that after arriving in Fairbanks, he built a sawmill at the mouth of Noyes Slough (named after him). However, he soon re-located his mill farther along the slough, about where Golden Valley Electric Association has its offices.

The Tanana Mill became the largest lumber supplier in the Fairbanks area. Noyes was successful enough with his mill and other business interests to have a three-story wood-frame house built at the southeast corner of his property (now the corner of Illinois and Minnie Streets). Called “Essinoye” by its owners, it was probably the first three-story house in Fairbanks, and one of the most impressive homes in early Fairbanks. (It lost its third story after a 1960s fire.)

The first floor (with parlor, dining room, library and kitchen) had nine-foot ceilings and wood-paneled walls. A large wrap-around collonaded porch stretched along its south and east sides. The second floor contained four bedrooms and a bathroom, and the third floor featured a billiard room. The third floor was tucked under a steeply pitched gable roof with its west gable end facing Illinois Street and a large gable-fronted dormer facing south. Essinoye was filled with elaborate Victorian furniture and collectibles, and a 1955 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article recollected that most of the furnishings were imported from Europe.

In 1925 the house was sold to the Fairbanks Exploration Company which initially used it to house visiting employees from U.S. Smelting, Refining and Mining Company (the FE Company's parent company). It was remodeled in 1928 and turned into two apartments for company employees. During the remodel two bedrooms and a bathroom were added to the first floor at the northwest corner of the building.

Up until World War II the Noyes House was used for FE Company employee housing, but the federal government closed down gold mining in 1942 as a “non-essential” wartime activity. The building was temporarily taken over by the U.S. military as part of the Lend-Lease program supplying aircraft to the Soviet Union, and housed the Soviet commander and his staff. A U.S. Army publication on the history of Ladd Field notes that the Soviet-occupied residence gained a reputation as “a big party place.”

After the war the FE Company resumed gold mining, but by the 1950s was winding down its dredging operations. In 1959 it sold the Noyes House to local businessmen to use as a funeral home.     

 The building's interior was severely damaged in a 1961 fire. As a result, the third floor was torn down and replaced with a low-pitched gable roof. The other two floors were rebuilt, but all the original interior detailing was lost. Much of the exterior detailing of the first two floors was saved however, including the wrap-around porch, and the building still has historical significance.

A new funeral home was built next door in 1966, after which the Noyes House was used (again) as employee housing. It is still owned by the funeral home.


  • Fairbanks North Star Borough property records 
  • “Historic resources of the Minnie Street corridor: final report.” Terrence Cole. Alaska DOT. 1989
  • “Illinois Street Historic District National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.” Judith Bittner. National Park Service. 2001 
  • “Oldtimes Recalled During Festivity.” in Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.  July 22, 1955
  • Photographs from the Fred Noyes Collection. University of Alaska Fairbanks, Archives 
  • “The World War II Heritage of Ladd Field, Fairbanks, Alaska,” “Chapter 7, Life at Ladd Field.” Cathy Price. Center for Environmental Management of Military Lands. 2004

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