Thursday, January 22, 2015

R. C. Wood, a neglected city father of Fairbanks

R. C. Wood's house in the mid 1980s

Richard Crowther “Dick” Wood, a pioneer Fairbanks banker and civic leader, was born in Winnemucca, Nevada in 1876. He spent much of his childhood in Tombstone, Arizona where his father built the city’s water system and first natural gas plant, and ran a bank.

In 1898, after finishing school, Wood moved to Dawson City as a clerk with the White Pass and Yukon Railroad. (Construction of the railroad wasn’t completed until 1901).

He sought richer diggings in 1903 and moved to Fairbanks, securing a job with the Northern Commercial Company as a bookkeeper. During his early years in Fairbanks, Wood also served as City Clerk and was on the board of directors of the “Fairbanks Daily News-Miner.”

In 1906 Wood built a one-story, hipped-roof frame cottage at 927 First Avenue (on the corner of First and Kellum Street). It was a distinctive structure—in a style the book, Fairbanks, A Historic Building Survey, calls “Decorated Pioneer House,” with a bay window topped by a small gable, and large open porch facing First Avenue. I think this type of architecture, with its asymmetrical design, fish-scale shingles in the bay-window gable, and large front porch could also be classified as a simplified "Queen Anne" style cottage. Early photos show the house surrounded by an extensive garden.

It wasn’t long before Wood followed his father’s footsteps into the banking business, becoming a cashier in E.T. Barnette’s Fairbanks Banking Company. He left Barnette’s employ in 1908, and in 1909 Wood and several other partners purchased a competing bank, the First National Bank of Fairbanks. He was the major shareholder and eventually assumed the bank presidency.

Wood became an aviation enthusiast in 1915 after taking a ½ hour demonstration flight in a Loughead Hydro-aeroplane at San Francisco’s Panama Pacific International Exposition. (The pilot, Allan Loughead, become one of the founders of Lockheed Aircraft Company.)

His interest in flying was still high when school teacher and aviator Ben Eielson moved to Fairbanks in 1922. Eielson had temporarily given up aviation, but soon convinced a group of Fairbanks businessmen to purchase a plane for him. The Farthest North Airplane Company, with Wood as president, was formed in 1923 and bought Eielsen’s first Alaska plane, a Curtiss-Wright JN-4 “Jenny.”

The next year the Fairbanks Airplane Corporation, also with Wood as president, was formed. Noel Wien was the pilot, and Noel’s brother, Ralph, was the company mechanic (referenced as a “mechanician” in a newspaper article. (The Wiens established Wien Alaska Airways in 1927.)

Wood sold the bank in 1924, and in 1926 moved to Seattle. He returned to Fairbanks in 1934 as owner of the Fairbanks Agency Company, a brokerage firm. During this latter period he was on the Board of Regents of the Alaska Agricultural College and School of Mines. He died during a fire in 1944 and is buried at Birch hill Cemetery.

C. W. Snedden and then Gordon Wear owned the First Avenue residence after Wood. They expanded the house by building an attached shed-roofed garage and adding a 1/2 story with gable roof.
 (The drawing depicts this house.) During that time they continued to maintain the elaborately landscaped yard.

When Gordon Wear died in 1997, Snedden’s widow, Helen, re-purchased the property. Inspections showed the structure was too badly deteriorated to renovate so Mrs. Snedden had the building demolished, and a new building roughly following the original floor-plan and in the original style was built.

The new structure is slightly longer than the original and has a full-height second story, but otherwise remains faithful to the original design, including the front porch (now enclosed), bay window and other exterior details. The current owners, Cowell and Christmas Fuller, still maintain a beautifully landscaped yard and the house remains one of the highlights of the downtown Fairbanks walking tour.



  • “Bank changes its Ownership and Personnel.” In Fairbanks Weekly Times. 5-15-1909

  • Conversations with Chuck Gray, personal friend of Helen Snedden

  • Conversations with Rick Winther, R. C. Wood’s grandson

  •  Fairbanks, a Historic Building Survey. Janet Matheson. City of Fairbanks. 1985

  • Fairbanks North Star Borough property records

  • “Dick Wood is Flying High in San Francisco,” In The Alaska Citizen. 12-20-1915

  • “Our Nome Flyer’s are entertained by Organization.” In Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. 6-23-1925

  • R. C. Wood records in the possession of Rick Winther

Sunday, January 11, 2015

Archived post - 3-4-16

In a world of inexpensive color reproductions, black and white art is a hard sell. That means I have a box full of unsold original pen and ink drawings.

In the interest of trying to make a least a little money from my art I am having a clearance sale on most of my drawings for the next 30 days. Almost ever drawing I have pre-2014 is listed below at half what I would normally charge. And since the art-buying public thinks that black and white art should naturally be drastically less expensive than color, my normal prices were pretty inexpensive in the first place.

These prices are just for the drawings. Matting and framing are not included. I do matting and framing and can give you a matted and framed picture for about half what a frame shop wpuld charge if you are interested.

The prices do include free delivery in the Fairbanks area, but not delivery beyond that. I will ship via the most inexpensive dependable delivery service and won't charge for packing materials or handling.

The links will take you to posts with a copy of each drawing. E-mail me at <> if you are interested in anything.

Here is the list of drawings, arranged by the year they were produced, and showing the image size and sale price.

Fairbanks - Valdez stage at Pioneer Park                               7”x9” oval      
Valdez Creek post office - Denali Hwy                                 7”x10”             
Black Rapids Roadhouse - Richardson Hwy                         7”x10”              
Denali National Park dog feed cache                                     8”x11”             
Rainey Cabin – University of Alask                                   7”x10”             
Richardson Roadhouse - Richardson Hwy                            7”x10”              
St. Mark’s Church – Nenana                                                  7”x10”              
Davidson Ditch U.S. Creek siphon - Steese Hwy                  5”x7”                   
West Coast Grocery warehouse – Fairbanks                          7”x10”              

Cariole dog sled at Central museum - Steese Hwy                5”x7”               
Boundary Roadhouse - Top of the World  Hwy                    7”x10”
Dot Lake Chapel - Alaska Hwy                                             6”x8”  
Eagle Court House - Taylor Hwy                                           7 ½”x10”          
F.E. Company Machine Shop – Fairbanks                             7 ½”x14”         
Nordale Adit - Fairbanks Creek                                             5”x7”     
Palace Hotel—Pioneer Park                                                    7”x10”              
Samppi drift mine - Ruby Creek                                             5”x7”                   
1940s Osgood face shovel used on Alcan - Delta Jct.           8” dia.                


ARC shelter cabin, at Brushkana Creek - Denali Hwy           6 ½”x9”
Bingle Memorial Camp lodge - Harding Lake                       6”x10”
Big Delta Ferryman’s cabin - Richardson Hwy                      5”x7”
Big I Pub – Fairbanks                                                             6”x10”
Blue Crystal Water Company well house – Fairbanks           5”x7”
Bunnell House - University of Alaska                                    7”x10”
Clay Street Cemetery – Fairbanks                                          5”x7”
Claypool House - First Avenue, Fairbanks                             5”x7”
Eagle City Hall - Taylor Hwy                                                 5”x7”
Experiment Farm - University of Alaska                                6 ½’x11”
Fannie Quigley cabin – Kantishna                                          7 ½”x11”
Healy Hotel - Healy, Parks Hwy                                            7”x10"
Livengood garage - Elliott Hwy                                            6”x8”
Mary Davis House - Cowles Street, Fairbanks                       6”x10”
McCarty Stamp Mill - Fairbanks Creek                                  6”x9”
Nenana Railroad Depot - Park Hwy                                       7”x10”
Paxson’s Roadhouse ruins - Richardson Hwy                        6”x10”
Rika’s Roadhouse - Big Delta, Richardson Hwy                   6”x10”
Slana Roadhouse - Tok Cut-off                                              7”x10”
Sullivan Roadhouse - Delta Junction                                     7”x10”
Sourdough Roadhouse cabins - Richardson Hwy                  7”x10”
Tanana River from John Haines homestead - Rich Hwy        6”x10”
Tisha’s schoolhouse - Chicken, Taylor Hwy                           6”x10”
White Seal Dock building - Cowles Street, Fairbanks           5”x7 ½”
1935 Case tractor at Creamer’s Dairy – Fairbanks                 5”x7”
1942 CAA truck near Northway - Alaska Highway              5”x7”

Historic Healy Hotel lives on at new location

Healy Hotel, now Princess Tours employee housing, in 2012
Most people driving the Parks Highway through Healy have no idea they can see a historic structure from the road. However, the two-story building just to the north and east of the Healy Spur Road intersection used to be the historic Healy Hotel.

Healy began as a mining and hunting camp in about 1904, during the same period when gold prospectors  made strikes at Kantishna, 70 miles to the southwest; and Bonnifield, 40 miles to the northeast. Prospectors used to ascend into the mountains east of the Nenana River via a trail up Healy Creek, a tributary of the Nenana located across the river from the present townsite.

According to William Brown’s book, Historic Resource Study of Denali National Park and Preserve, a roadhouse and store were established on the bluff across from Healy Creek, and commercial hunters also used the site as a base of operations. This early camp was sometimes called Dry Creek and sometimes Healy Fork.

Outcroppings of coal are common in the area. The Alaska Department of Natural Resources reports that geologists in the early 1900s estimated the area contained about 10 billion tons of coal reserve. Of course, there was no way to get that coal to market, and early residents only mined the easily accessible seams for local use.

Construction of the Alaska Railroad changed all that. The railroad follows the Nenana River from Broad Pass to the Tanana River, and the Alaska Engineering Commission (AEC - tasked with building the railroad) built a construction camp at Healy Forks. By the end of the 1910s the AEC had built a hotel to house train crews and railroad employees, dormitory, mess hall, hospital, warehouse, blacksmith shop, and other facilities.

The Railroad also spurred development of coal mines in the area. Beginning in 1918, several small coal mines were opened along the Nenana River, along Lignite Creek just to the North of Healy, and at Suntrana Creek, about 2.5 miles up Healy Creek. These coal mines found ready customers in Fairbanks, where wood cutting had denuded the hills for miles around the city, and the newly organized Fairbanks Exploration Company needed inexpensive and dependable power for its fleet of gold dredges.

After World War II the townsite of Healy moved about a half mile to the north. This was in part because the old hotel had burned down, but also because river erosion was threatening the community. A new hotel was built in 1946. It was a flat-roofed two story wood-frame structure, similar in appearance to the depot next door.

Suntrana developed into its own little company town, and was eventually absorbed by the Usibelli Company, which began mining coal in the Healy area in1943. Usibelli continued to house workers at Suntrana until the 1970s, when expansion of coal mining nearby forced the company to find alternative employee housing.

Construction of the Parks Highway (connecting Anchorage and Fairbanks) had been completed in 1972, and the community immediately began gravitating towards the highway. In 1978 Usibelli leased a large land tract near the highway from the Alaska Railroad, subdivided it, and subleased lots to its employees. Suntrana was abandoned and Healy grew.

Changing social and economic conditions led the railroad to close many of its Healy facilities, including the hotel. In her book, Buildings of Alaska, Alison Hoagland writes that the hotel building was sold to private investors. In 1986 it was moved to its present location next to the Parks Highway and placed on a new full basement. Aside from new siding and a pitched roof, the old hotel, which now houses Princess Tours employees, looks much the same as it did when railroad crews called it home.


  • “Buildings of Alaska.” Alison K. Hoagland. Oxford University Press. 1993
  • “Healy Creek Trail, RS2477 Casefile Summary, RST 444.” Alaska Department of Natural Resources. No date
  • “Historic Resource Study of Denali National Park and Preserve, Volume 1 - Historical Narrative.” William Brown. National Park Service. 1991,
  • “Mining the Burning Hills: a History of Alaska’s Suntrana Coal Mine and Townsite.” Rolfe G. Buzzell. Alaska Department of Natural Resources, 1994
  • Denali Borough land records