Wednesday, December 24, 2014

Fortymile Roadhouse and the Taylor Highway, gateway to the historic Fortymile country

Fortymile Roadhouse in 1998
The 160-mile long Taylor Highway was constructed between 1947 and 1951 to connect the Alaska Highway with the Fortymile River region (often referred to as “Fortymile country”) and the city of Eagle on the Yukon River.

When the road was first proposed and during construction, it was referred to as simply the “Fortymile Road.” It was later named the Taylor Highway in honor of Ike Taylor, Alaska Road Commission (ARC) president from 1932 to 1948.

During the early 1900s, the ARC constructed a road from Eagle as far south as Wade Creek, about 60 miles. At the same time, Canada’s Yukon Territory extended its road system westward from Dawson City to serve miners in the Sixty Mile River area. In the 1930s the ARC and Yukon Territory linked their two roads, and the Top of the World Highway (Yukon Highway 9) was born.

According to articles appearing in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner in November and December of 1938, the Fairbanks Chamber of Commerce began pushing for a road from Fairbanks to Fortymile country soon after completion of the Top of the World Highway. Chamber members believed that such a road would relieve the “shut-in” atmosphere of the Fortymile area and open up opportunities just as the Steese and Elliott highways had done.

Although the ARC was in favor of the road, budget restraints kept the road on the drawing board until World War II intervened and construction efforts were diverted to the Alcan Highway. However, construction of the Alcan accomplished part of what the ARC wanted to do anyway; build over 100 miles of road to the edge of Fortymile country.

The gateway to Fortymile country turned out to be just a few miles east of the new community of Tok. When the Alcan was built, land ownership was not a prime consideration, and the section of highway just east of Tok ended up passing through the northern edge of the Tetlin Native Reserve, one of the few reservations ever established in Alaska. The new junction of the Alcan Highway and the Fortymile Road was about 13 miles north of the Athabascan village of Tetlin, so it was naturally called Tetlin Junction.

Seizing the opportunity to be the first business serving the new road, Ray and Mable Scoby, along with their partner, Clarence “Red” Post, decided to build the Fortymile Roadhouse at the junction. According to a Bureau of Land Management report, "Indians, Traders and Bureaucrats in the Upper Tanana District; a History of the Tetlin Reserve," they leased land from the Bureau of Indian Affairs and began building in 1948, before the road was even completed.

Roy David Sr., an Athabascan who grew up in Tetlin, said in a 2013 interview that when he went to work for the Scobys in 1952, only the café was open. Over time the Scobys added a bathhouse, numerous tiny rental cabins located in front of the bathhouse, and a service station with garage to repair vehicles. The drawing shows the café and bathhouse. Ray Scoby also operated a small sawmill processing timber he harvested under permit from the Tetlin reserve.

Tok is only about 12 miles away, and as highway conditions improved and new visitor facilities were built in Tok, there was less need for the roadhouse at Tetlin Junction. The roadhouse finally closed in about 1985 but opened again briefly in 1992 for the 50th anniversary of the Alaska Highway.

The drawing shows the roadhouse in 1998 when the buildings were still in decent shape. Now, the rental units have disappeared and everything else is boarded up, weathering away amid obscuring trees.


• “Chamber of Commerce endorses Fortymile Road.” in “Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.” 11-15-38
• “Driving along Alaska highways.” in “Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.” 5-25-73
• “Indians, Traders and Bureaucrats in the Upper Tanana District: A History of the Tetlin Reserve.” C. Michael Brown. Bureau of Land Management. 1984
• “Lack of Fortymile Road gives rich district dim, shut-in atmosphere.” in Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. 12-7-1938
• “Roy David Sr. Oral History.” interview by Barbara Cellarius and Leslie McCartney. University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Program. 2013
• “Tok-to-Border folks feel like second-class citizens.” in Fairbanks Daily News Miner. 4-11-1963

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