Thursday, December 31, 2015

Patty House in Fairbanks, Alaska is a testament to city's coming of age

Patty House in 2009

The 1¾ story house at 909 Sixth Ave. is very much a product of its time. Referred to as the Patty House, it was built in 1937, several years after Fairbanks successfully emerged from a decade-long economic slump that dated back to the early 1910s.

An area-wide revival began with the Alaska Railroad’s completion in 1923. The Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines opened its doors in 1922, and the Fairbanks Exploration Company commenced gold dredging operations in the late 1920s. Combined with the gradual rise of the price of gold (controlled by the federal government) to almost $35 per ounce by 1935, Fairbanks experienced a new economic prosperity.

Buoyed by the city’s improved fortunes and confident in its future, residents were replacing their log cabins with more expensive wood-frame houses. Many of the more affluent were building period revival homes. The styling of these houses harkened back to earlier classical architectural periods for inspiration.

The Sixth Avenue structure is one such house. With its steeply pitched gable roof, prominently displayed massive chimney, arched entrance doorway, narrow multi-paned windows, and asymmetrical floor plan, the Patty House has many of the elements of Tudor Revival, which was inspired by English architecture from 1500 to 1559. This style was very popular in the United States up through the 1930s.

The house was built by Ernest Patty and his wife, Kathryn. The two had arrived in Fairbanks shortly before the college opened its doors in September 1922. Ernest was the new school’s professor of geology and mining.

Ernest became dean of the college in 1925. In 1935, he resigned from the school (by then the University of Alaska) to become general manager of a private company that as part of its activities developed gold dredging at Coal and Woodchopper Creeks, which are tributaries of the Yukon River.

His business venture was successful and two years later the Pattys built their dream home.
The house was actually constructed around an earlier log cabin that had been owned by Fairbanks resident, George Moody. Current owner, Eric Bergh, told me the cabin was erected or perhaps moved onto the site, which was built up with ash and clinkers from the Northern Commercial Company’s power plant just a few blocks away.

Moody’s cabin was a large multi-room structure — about the size of the present house’s first floor, which is 26 feet by 41 feet. That cabin is still firmly embedded in the walls, invisible to the eye. A 13-foot by 18-foot extension at the rear of the house used to be a garage. Bergh told me the slight width of the garage indicated it may pre-date the 1937 construction.

The 10-foot by 19-foot room to the west under the curved sloping roof was part of the 1937 construction, and originally had a floor that canted away from the house. Bergh thinks that perhaps it was originally a covered side porch, another element typical of Tudor Revival houses.

According to the book, Fairbanks, A Historic Building Survey, Mrs. Patty is supposed to have designed and planted the native species garden that still surrounds the house. The Patty’s new home was featured in a 1937 issue of House Beautiful magazine.

The Pattys only lived in the house until 1943 when they moved to Seattle. It was then occupied by Essie Dale. A year after she died in 1965, Ralph and Kathryn LaSalle bought the house.
The LaSalle’s daughter, Laura, and her husband, Eric Bergh, bought the house in 1999. They have been gradually restoring it, so it should remain a testament to Fairbanks coming-of-age for many years.

  • Conversations with Eric and Laura Bergh, current owners
  • Fairbanks, A City Historic Building Survey. Janet Matheson. City of Fairbanks. 1985
  • “Fairbanks Classic; the Patty House.” in Tanana-Yukon Historical Society Newsletter. Vol. 4, No. 4, April 1999
  • Fairbanks North Star Borough property records
  • North Country Challenge. Ernest Patty. D. McKay Company. 1969

Sunday, December 13, 2015

A modern Alaska artist helps preserve Chitina history

Spirit Mountain Artworks (old tin shop) in the 1990s

Emil Goulet moved to Alaska in 1931 looking for work. He stopped in Chitina on his travels, and in his book, Rugged Years on the Alaska Frontier, wrote of taking “an immediate liking to the little village which nestles in a deep valley. ... The mountainsides were covered with spruce and birch. In the center of town was a small, almost round lake. ... In addition to the drug store and post office, there was a general store, clothing store, depot and roundhouse, two hotels, federal jail, a small one-room school house, government road commission buildings, and a few scattered small homes.” He wrote later that Chitina also boasted electricity and a water system.

The builders of the Copper River and Northwestern Railroad (CR&NW) established Chitina in 1910 as a junction on the way to the copper mines up the Chitina River. The Valdez-Fairbanks Trail (also called the Richardson Trail) was only 40 miles to the northwest, and developers had visions of those Chitina River tracks being only a branch line, with the main line running from Chitina up the Copper River Valley and on to the Yukon River.

Indeed, according to Lone Janson’s book, The Copper Spike, an Alaska Railroad Commission appointed by President Taft recommended extension of the CR&NW Railroad from Chitina to Fairbanks as a better choice than the alternative Seward-to-Fairbanks route. Political considerations, however, meant that the dreamed-of extension never materialized.

So Chitina made-do with the “Edgerton Cut-off,” a road extension connecting Chitina with the Richardson. The Edgerton was completed by the time the CR&NW reached Chitina in 1910, and most passenger and freight traffic headed out of Valdez for the Copper River Basin and Fairbanks began bypassing the section of the Richardson over Thompson Pass. Stage lines that had run between Fairbanks and Valdez quickly dropped Valdez from their route, shifting to Chitina as their southern terminus.

Chitina quickly became the commercial and governmental center of the Copper River Valley. The Alaska Road Commission (ARC) even made the town its district headquarters.

The town’s glory days lasted until 1938, when the Kennicott mines closed and the CR&NW ceased operations. Chitina didn’t become a ghost town overnight, though. According to U.S. Census reports, the town’s population in 1930 was 116. In 1940, two years after the railroad’s demise, it was 176. By 1950, Chitina’s population had declined to 92, and by 1960 only 31 people resided there.

One of the first permanent buildings in Chitina was Fred Shaupp’s tin shop. Fred came to Alaska during the gold rush period, first setting up shop in Nome, then Fairbanks and then Chitina. According to National Register of Historic Places documents, he erected the tall, narrow wood-frame building over his tent in 1910.

The original shop was a two-story structure, 17 feet by 33 feet, with 12-foot ceilings on the first floor (Fred evidently needed plenty of work space) and rough wood siding. About the time the railroad was abandoned, a 15-foot two-story extension was added at the rear. A new basement was dug utilizing rails salvaged from the railroad as footings for the foundation, and the entire building was resheathed with milled siding pulled from derelict railroad buildings.

Over the years, the tin shop itself became a derelict and was in danger of collapsing until artist Art Koeninger rescued it in 1978. Koeninger purchased the building with thoughts of salvaging some of the lumber to build a cabin. He quickly decided to restore it instead. 

With grants from the State of Alaska,  Art and a crew of volunteers rebuilt the structure. Their first job was putting in a new foundation (Art told me that it was quite a feat extracting the old rails buried underneath the building). They restored the exterior to its original appearance, but gutted the interior, essentially building a modern, energy-efficient structure inside the old shell. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1979

The building’s first floor now houses an art gallery, Spirit Mountain Artworks (named for a prominent peak south of town), and Koeninger’s workshop, with a residence on the second floor. It is one of only three original buildings left on Main Street in Chitina.


  • Art Koeninger interview with Bill Schneider and Dave Krupa. University of Alaska Oral History Collection. 10-22-1993

  • Conversation with Art Koeninger, current building owner of building. 2015

  • “Real Art Thrives in the Shadow of Spirit Mountain.” Mike Dunham. in Anchorage Daily News. 5-32-1996

  •  Rugged Years on the Alaska Frontier. Emil Oliver Goulet. Dorrance & Company. 1949

  •  The Copper Spike. Lone E. Janson. Alaska Northwest Publishing. 1975

  • U.S. Census reports for 1930, 1940, 1950 & 1960

Saturday, December 12, 2015

December sunset in Fairbanks from West Ridge - UAF

I just happened to be up on campus at about 2:30 this afternoon. Can you believe that this photo was taken only four hours after my sunrise photo?

December dawn in Fairbanks from Wendell Street bridge

I took this photo at about 10:30 this morning. Temperature was about 0 degrees F.

Monday, November 30, 2015

Painting of Murray's Roadhouse near Fairbanks by Marge Gull

This is one of the paintings by Genevieve Marguerite (Marge) Gull that is in the collection of the Valdez Museum. Marge was an amateur painter who did paintings of the old roadhouses along the Richardson Highway.

This painting is of Murray's Roadhouse, which, as far as I know does not exist any more. Murray's was an early roadhouse located about 8 1/2 miles from Fairbanks. It was also sometimes called Eight-Mile or Nine-Mile Roadhouse. By the late 1920s it had been converted to a farmhouse.

Sunday, November 29, 2015

Wire, Snow & Sky - Late November 2015 in Fairbanks

Some close-ups of the fence around the community garden behind our house on a cold, snowy November day.

Friday, November 27, 2015

Outside on Black Friday - A snowy November day in Fairbanks

I took the opportunity today to go for a walk in the woods behind my house.There was 8-10" of fresh snow, most of it still unspoiled by snow machines. Partly cloudy with a temperature of about 28 degrees. By the way, that's the noonday sun on the horizon.

Thursday, November 26, 2015

Haydon cabin evokes memories of homesteading days along Chena Slough near Fairbanks

Cliff and Orea Haydon's cabin pm Chena Slough in 2014

The Badger Road area was settled by homesteaders beginning in the early 1900s.  However, before homesteaders started clearing land there was just Chena Slough snaking through the birch- and spruce-covered lowlands.

The Alaskan definition of a slough is a river side-channel, and Chena Slough used to be such a waterway. It exited the Tanana River southeast of present-day Fairbanks, upstream from Moose Creek Bluffs, and meandered about 40 miles before rejoining the Tanana where the Chena /Tanana River confluence is now. The Chena River emptied into Chena Slough about 18 miles (as the fish swims) upstream from Fairbanks—a few miles downstream from the modern Nordale Road bridge.

In 1901 E. T. Barnette tried ascending Chena Slough to avoid  Bates Rapids on the Tanana River. Unsuccessful, he and his party were forced to disembark on a bank of the slough. Thus was Fairbanks born.

Low water in Chena Slough plagued Fairbanks-bound steamboats. According to the book, Steamboats on the Chena, workers attempted to divert more water from the Tanana River into the slough by opening additional channels at the slough’s upper end. Their efforts did little to alleviate low-water levels, and perhaps contributed to the severity of floods that inundated Fairbanks on a regular basis.

Those frequent floods were one of the banes of early Fairbanks, and residents eventually decided that less Tanana River water running through Fairbanks was desirable. In 1945 the flow of water into the slough was curtailed when Moose Creek Dike was constructed, severing Chena Slough into two segments. (Moose Creek Dike is not to be confused with the later Moose Creek Dam and Chena Flood Control Project.)

The slough’s upper segment became Piledriver Slough—probably named after Piledriver Roadhouse, located where the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail crossed the slough. Piledriver Slough, conjoined with Moose Creek, found a new outlet to the Tanana River.

The lower segment of the slough remained Chena Slough. Now it is commonly called Badger Slough. It only has an outlet into the Chena River, and its water source is groundwater seepage from surrounding lowlands.

Chena Slough used to be much wider and deeper. However, without the inflow of Tanana River water, the slough’s channel and the Chena River channel itself have shrunk over the years. Chena Slough shrank more drastically though. Boats could once ply the entire length of the slough, but now only portions are navigable.

According to Bureau of Land Management records, Fairbanks residents began staking homesteads along the slough in the 1920s. One of the earliest homesteads was that of Harry Badger, (Badger Road’s namesake) who filed for entry in 1922. His homestead was located about where Nordale Road now crosses the slough.  In a 1993 interview with Margaret Van Cleve, Orea Haydon (another Badger Road homesteader and neighbor of Harry) remembers the large fields of strawberries that Harry and his partner, Walter Crick, grew, and the large community dinners the two hosted.

Orea and her husband, Cliff, homesteaded nearby. Cliff filed for entry in 1941, a year before marrying Orea, but World War II intervened and he couldn’t make the necessary improvements until after the war. Badger Road ran through their homestead and they grew barley, oats and wheat alongside the road. Orea was also well-known for her extensive flower gardens.  Like many homesteaders, the Haydon’s worked in Fairbanks to support what Cliff referred to as the “stump farm.”

Their home, built during the 1940s, is just off Badger Road on Haydon Court.  The original 19’ x 25’ log structure, with dovetailed corners, faces the slough. An 18’ x 21’ log addition with saddle-notched corners extends to the rear. All-in-all it is a picturesque reminder of homesteading along Chena Slough.


  • Bureau of Land Management records
  • Cliff and Orea Haydon interview by Margaret Van Cleve on September 1, 1993. University of Alaska Fairbanks Oral History Collection
  • “Restoration of Sloughs in the Fairbanks North Star Borough (Tanana River Watershed)”. Nancy J. Ihlenfeldt. Alaska Department of Natural Resources. 2006 
  • Steamboats on the Chena. Basil Hedricks & Susan Savage. Epicenter Press. 1988
  • "Transforming the Chena Slough through Fairbanks into a River - 1900 to Present." Bob Henszey.  U.S. Fish and Wildlife Service. 2015

Wednesday, November 25, 2015

"Ode of the North" by Joseph Ulmer (found tacked to the wall of a cabin on Deadwood Creek)

Take a drink with a friend or friends when you have a chance.

When using a man’s cabin and before leaving wash the dishes, leave shavings and kindling and as much wood cut as you used. Also, close the door of the cabin. If barricaded against bears, put the barricade back.

Never ask a man what religion he has for the great outdoors is his place of worship.

Never speak of women disrespectfully; we all had mothers.

Always give a fellow a lift if the going is tough.

Don’t abuse a dog. He is the best friend you have on the trail. Be kind to dumb animals, they remember you.

Don’t kill any game wantonly…only what you have to kill for your need or for someone who is out of meat.

Call the musher in and offer him a mug up or feed and if he is tired give him a shakedown.

Don’t waste any animal by shooting at them for targets. The last cartridge may save your life.

Keep your matches and footgear dry on the trail and never drink whisky or other spirits on the trail; it may be fatal to you.

Don’t wander around when the fog comes in and you can’t see where you are going; wait till it clears up.

Don’t leave any lights or candles burning or heavy fire in the stove when you are away from the cabin.

Don’t set fire to the woods. It will destroy the wildlife and game.

Parboil your bacon before frying; it will not cause you so much rheumatism. Also, be sanitary about the camp so as not to pollute the water and atmosphere.

Don’t tell the other fellow your troubles, especially love or matrimonial affairs. He may have a lot of his own.

Keep off the other fellow’s trapline, both literally and categorically speaking.


Joseph Ulmer (1874-1958) was a resident the Circle Hot Springs area. In addition to mining, he worked as an engineer for the Alaska Road Commission and was a Territorial Road Commissioner. He was an inveterate writer—penning scientific and historical articles, satire, criticism and poetry. Ulmer published newspaper columns under the pen name, “Cassiar Joe.”

Friday, November 13, 2015

"Gold, Steel & Ice" book documents remarkable mining machines used in Yukon-Charley Rivers National Preserve


I just received a fascinating book published this year by the U.S. Department of the Interior. The book is Gold, Steel & Ice, A History of Mining Machines in Yukon Charley Rivers National Preserve. Written by National Park Service historian, Chris Allan; and illustrated with historical photos, as well as modern photos taken by Todd Croteau and Yasunori Matsui, the 113 page, 11” x 8 ½” book documents some of the archetypal mining machines used in the region. 

The book has sections on steam traction engines, donkey engines, steam boilers, gold dredges, prospecting drill, and caterpillar-style tractors. Profusely illustrated, and with an informative but easy-to-read style, the book is a pleasure to read or just peruse. The photos, both historic and modern are remarkable, and as a bonus, the headpiece illustration for each section is a watercolor sketch done by Mr. Croteau. 

It is a well-crafted book and I urge you to check it out if you can. I’m not sure where people outside Fairbanks can find it, but the ISBN is 978-0-692-50483-3. I talked with Chris Allan, the author, and he said there are copies at the Park Service office in the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center here in Fairbanks.

Monday, November 9, 2015

Eureka Lodge has served Glenn Highway travelers since road’s inception

The original cabin at Eureka Lodge in 2013

The Glenn Highway, which stretches from Anchorage 179 miles northeast to the Richardson Highway, should perhaps have been named the Castner Highway. After all, Lt. Joseph Castner, and not his superior, Capt. Edwin Glenn, is credited with being the first Westerner to blaze a trail along the Matanuska River to the Copper River Plateau.

The U.S. Army sent Glenn and his men to Alaska in 1898 to find a route from Southcentral Alaska to Circle City on the Yukon River. However, Glenn spent most of his time in Cook Inlet, delegating much of the exploration to his lieutenants. Lt. Henry Leanard led a party up the Susitna River, and another party, commanded by Castner, traveled up the Matanuska.

Castner’s party faced extreme obstacles, hacking its way through thick undergrowth along the tumultuous Matanuska River, all the while cajoling pack animals across bogs, streams, and steep hillsides. After two months he finally attained the Copper River Plateau. Glenn did eventually follow Castner, but it was the lieutenant who blazed the trail.

Even with an established trail, the route was difficult, and few followed it except prospectors. In the early 1900s some of those prospectors discovered gold along tributaries of the Little Nelchina River in the northern foothills of the Talkeetna Mountains. According to a 1918 U.S.G.S. report, in 1914 about 400 miners swarmed into the area, establishing the gold camp of Nelchina (now abandoned) at the confluence of Crooked Creek and the Little Nelchina.

While some supplies were freighted up the Matanuska River to Nelchina, the primary freight route was from the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail to the east. That changed with construction of the Alaska Railroad. The federal government wanted to develop coal deposits along the Matanuska River to provide fuel for the Navy’s Pacific fleet. A railroad spur was extended from Palmer up the Matanuska to Chickaloon, and the first coal was shipped in 1917.

With a railroad line as far as Chickaloon, most freighting to Nelchina shifted to the Matanuska River route. The Chickaloon coal mine closed in 1922 as the U.S. Navy shifted from coal-fired to oil-fired ships, and the tracks north of Sutton were abandoned. However, the old railroad grade was still utilized by freighters.

With the building of Elmendorf Airfield and Fort Richardson at Anchorage in 1940-41, the federal government decided the area needed a road-link to the Richardson Highway. Work on the Glenn Highway, following the Matanuska River, began in 1941 and was completed by 1945.

The Eureka Roadhouse (now Eureka Lodge), located at mile 128 of the highway (and about 15 miles south of Nelchina mining camp), was one of the first businesses opened along the new road. However, the roadhouse’s existence predated the highway.

Even in the early 1900s the Nelchina region was a destination for caribou hunters. According to a 1990 article in Alaska Business Monthly, Eureka Roadhouse began in 1936 as a hunting lodge. The lodge’s current owner, Jim Fimpel, told me that a couple named Warrick (first names unknown — they were just Ma and Pa) erected the original building (shown in the drawing) on the shore of a small lake.

The log cabin, with squared corners held in place by vertical boards, began as an approximately 15-foot x 15-foot structure, but by 1945 a similarly-sized extension (also of logs) was added to the rear. Except for a new metal roof, and the fact that the cabin has settled considerably, it looks much the same as it does in photos from the 1940s.

A larger lodge building was built in the late 1940s, but the original cabin still stands as a reminder of the Glenn Highway’s early days.


  • “Alaska Roadhouses find New Niches.” Jacques Picard. in Alaska Business Monthly. Vol. 6, No. 6, June 1990
  • “Comprehensive Development Plan, Trails Inventory, Glenn Highway Region.” Matanuska-Susitna Borough. 1987
  • Conversation with Jim Fimpel, owner of Eureka Lodge
  • Lieutenant Castner’s Alaskan exploration, 1898: a journey of hardship and suffering. Joseph Castner. Cook Inlet Historical Society. 1984
  • “The Glenn Highway—From Blazing to Paving.” Mary Cracraft Bauer. in Northern Adventure. Vol. 1, No. 5, Summer 1987
  • The Nelchina-Susitna Region, Alaska, Bulletin 668. Theodore Chapin. U.S. Geological Survey. 1918

Tuesday, November 3, 2015

Circa 1940s drawing of Edgerton Highway and Copper River by Olive Malstrom Carl

I came across this while going through a box of drawings. I bought it at a rummage sale years ago for a few dollars.

The artist is Olive Malstrom Carl, who was a well-know painter in the Pacific Northwest. The following bio is from the book, Women Artists of the American West.

Born in Tacoma, Washington, Olive Carl was a painter in oil and watercolor of landscapes, seascapes, marines, still lifes, portraits, and old buildings of the Northwest such as "Cabin at the Edge of the Mountain', and "Haunted House on the Whiskaw".

She was raised in Tacoma, and while working in her father's drug store, did sketches of customers. At age 18, in 1916, moved to Seattle where she studied at the Seattle School of Art and at the Seattle Art Musuem. She married Emil Henry Carl Jr. in 1924 and took time off from her career to start a family. But in the 1930s, she returned to painting seriously and in 1935 opened the Olive Carl School of Art, which remained in operation until 1974.

Seattle remained her home throughout her life until her death in 1988, but she traveled extensively including 17 trips to Alaska, to Canada, Europe and South America. She exhibited regularly and had 150 one-person exhibits, which included the Frye Art Museum and the Washington State Historical Society.

On the back of the drawing is the notation, "'Biffy' - outside toilet near Lower Road House enroute Chitina & near Liberty Falls." The roadhouse mentioned may have been the Lower Tonsina Roadhouse.

Saturday, October 31, 2015

Friday, October 30, 2015

Roadhouse paintings by Marge Gull


I was doing internet research and came across some roadhouse paintings done by Genevieve Marguerite (Marge) Gull. The image I included is her painting of the Timberline Roadhouse, which was a one-year-only roadhouse that operated during the winter of 1905-06.

According to an obituary I found (Marge died in 2013), she and her husband came to Alaska in 1938, living first in Fairbanks and then Anchorage. She was an amateur painter and “painted all 49 roadhouses that were on the Valdez-to-Fairbanks Trail.”

I assume that many of the paintings were done from photographs since the roadhouses in questions disappeared long before Marge came to Alaska. Still, the paintings are kinda cool.

The Valdez Museum appears to have most of the paintings, and the images are online. Here is the url for the museum’s online collections: 

A description of the image is on the back of each painting (also available online). I think the descriptions come from the book “Roadhouses of the Richardson Highway,” by Walter Phillips.

Check the paintings out.