Monday, September 1, 2014

Circle's Rasmussen House a freighting pioneer's legacy

Nels Rasmussen house in Circle

Circle City, with a pre-1900 population of about 800 people, saw its population drop to a few hundred after the turn of the century. The town was established in 1894 as a supply center and winter haven for miners from the Circle Mining District 50 miles to the southeast. However, many of the miners moved on to other gold strikes, and those that stayed increasingly spent winters on their claims.

No longer a winter haven for miners, Circle survived as a supply center. Several companies, including the Alaska Commercial Company, operated stores and had warehouses at Circle, and the town was a regular stop for steamboats.

The first trails from Circle to the mines were rough — simple blazed paths across the rolling hills and muskeg, between the Yukon River and mountains. Josiah Spurr, who toured the mining regions along the Yukon for the U.S.G.S., tramped the trails of the Circle Mining District in the summer of 1896. He slogged along the muddy byways between Circle and the mines, sometimes along poorly blazed paths that disappeared into the muskeg, and always through clouds of mosquitoes. In his book, Through the Yukon Gold Diggings, Spurr wrote of the “Bloodcurdling stories told of the torments of some that had dared to try [the trail] and how strong men had sat down on the trail to sob, quite unable to withstand the pest.”

One of the early freighters along the route was Nels Rasmussen. Nels emigrated from Denmark to the U.S. in 1896 and eventually settled at Circle. His occupation in the 1900 U.S. Census was listed as logger and at one time he owned a small sawmill in the Circle area. (A typical Alaskan entrepreneur, he also owned a saloon in Circle, operated the town’s first telephone company, and had mining claims at Woodchopper Creek to the southeast.)

Nels began freighting with sure-footed mules, but as trails improved and eventually were upgraded to roads, he switched to horses, first in pack trains, and then pulling freight wagons. Nels eventually owned 16 horses, and employed several drivers. To feed those horses he raised oats and grain on a homestead he staked in Circle, and on acreage near Jump Off Roadhouse about 25 miles southeast of town.

In 1901 he married Axinia Cherosky, descendent of a Russian/Athabascan “Creole,” (the progeny of Russian men and Native women). Nels and Axinia had eight children, and to house their large brood, Nels built an expansive two-story log house (shown in the drawing) as his Circle homestead in about 1909. It had a two-story porch on the south end of the house, and a one-story addition on the west side. Early photos show the house surrounded by a picket fence. Located just a few hundred feet from the river, the big house became the de facto social center of town.

According to a 1976 Fairbanks Daily News-Miner article, Nels was injured in a woodchopping accident in 1920 from which he never fully recovered. H died the next fall and was buried in the town cemetery. Axinia continued to raise her family in the house, and it is still owned by their descendants.

The house’s first-floor windows are level with the ground, and Nels’ granddaughter, Mary Warren, told me that just shows how much the structure has settled over the years. While it may have settled and sagged it is still in relatively good condition. Although the house is now vacant, its first floor windows and doors boarded up to prevent vandalism, Nels’ descendants want to keep the property and hopefully fix it up for future generations to enjoy.


  • Conversation with Mary Warren, granddaughter of Nels and Axinia Rasmussen

  • “Rasmussen House stands as memory.” Marjorie J. Hay. in Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. March 20, 1976

  • Through the Yukon Gold Diggings. Josiah Edward Spurr. Eastern Publishing. 1900.

  • Yukon Frontiers—Historic Resource Study of the Proposed Yukon-Charley National River. Melody Webb Grauman. National Park Service. 1977

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