Tuesday, June 23, 2015

Meier's Lake - A roadhouse chapel and a wife's civilizing influence

Meier's Lake Chapel in 2014

Charles Meier got his start in the roadhouse business working for Alvin Paxson. Meier, a mail carrier between Valdez and the Interior, hired on as cook when Paxson opened Timberline Roadhouse in early winter of 1905.

Timberline was located on the upper Gakona River near Isabel Pass, along the original route of the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail. In 1906 the Alaska Road Commission rerouted the trail up the Gulkana instead of the Gakona River, so after only one winter’s use, Paxson built a new roadhouse along the upper Gulkana in 1906.

Meier built his own roadhouse that same year near a small lake along the trail about 20 miles south of Paxson's.  The roadhouse was on the east side of the trail, across from where Meier’s Lake Roadhouse is now located.

According to the book, Roadhouses of the Richardson Highway, the long one-story log roadhouse he erected initially had room for 29 guests, but by 1910 had expanded to accommodate about 50 travelers. Hallock Bundy’s 1910 guide for the trail reported the roadhouse provided comfortable accommodations.  But then, Bundy had glowing recommendations for most of the roadhouses he described. 

Frank Glaser, who hiked from Valdez to Fairbanks in May of 1915, was less favorably impressed. A biography of Glaser records him as saying, "the bedding in the roadhouse was so dirty it looked shellacked." During his stay at the roadhouse Glaser slept outside using his own blankets. 

Meier also developed a homestead at the south end of the lake, and raised vegetables to feed his guests, advertising “fresh vegetables entire winter.” He also grew hay for his own animals and those of packers and stage drivers passing through. Bundy’s trail guide reported that Meier harvested five tons of hay and three tons of vegetables in 1909. Photos from this period show the roadhouse, a barn and corral, several outbuildings, the garden and a large hayfield.

The roadhouse location proved to be fortuitous, since it was a convenient take-off point for pack trains heading west to the Valdez Creek Mining District. The pack trains ascended the Middle Fork of the Gulkana River and Lake Creek to Tangle Lakes, then turned westward towards Valdez Creek. Meier maintained a small inventory of merchandise at the roadhouse for miners and other passing through, and also rented pack animals and provided guiding services.

Accounts of the roadhouse appearing during the first two decades of the 1900s just mention Charles Meier as proprietor. However, by the 1920s he was married, (although his wife’s first name is never mentioned).  William Beach, in his book, In the Shadow of Mt. McKinley, wrote about a 1922 trip up the Richardson Highway, and of staying at Meier’s Roadhouse. He did mention Mrs. Meier as a gracious hostess, saying the food was excellent and the beds clean and comfortable. His party whiled away an evening’s stay listening to opera and jazz on the phonograph, and enjoying Charles’ tales of his Alaska adventures.

The drawing shows the tiny log chapel, about 24’ long by 16’ wide with a low-pitch shed roof, located across the highway from the present roadhouse. According to the Meier’s Lake Roadhouse website, the single-room chapel, which is still there, was built in about 1920.  Perhaps Mrs. Meier’s civilizing influence not only improved the decorum of the roadhouse, but also prompted the chapel’s construction.

The Meiers were Catholic, but Jim Murray, who has cooked at Meier’s Lake Roadhouse since 1989, told me the chapel eventually became non-denominational. The chapel is still used for occasional services, and for special events such as weddings.

The roadhouse was razed in a 1925 fire, but the Meiers rebuilt. Later it was operated by Al Norwood, a local trapper and renowned moonshiner, and then by Harry Newman. Adler and Maude Tatro ran it from 1943 until 1950 when it was once-again destroyed by fire.

The site then remained vacant until the new Meier’s Lake Roadhouse was built in the early 1980s by Galen Atwater. It is now owned by Harvel Young, and still offers hospitality to highway travelers. 

  • Alaska’s Wolf Man; The 1915-55 Wilderness Adventures of Frank Glaser. Jim Rearden. Pictorial Histories. 1998
  • Conversation with Jim Murray, longtime cook at Meier’s Lake Roadhouse
  • Roadhouses of the Richardson Highway. Walter Phillips. Alaska Historical Commission. 1984
  • The Trail, the Story of the Historic Valdez-Fairbanks Trail. Kenneth Marsh. Trapper Creek Museum. 2008
  • In the Shadow of Mount McKinley. William N. Beach. The Derrydale Press. 1931
  • The Broad Pass Region, Alaska. Fred H. Moffit. U.S.G.S. 1915
  • The Valdez-Fairbanks Trail : the story of a great highway. Hallock Bundy. Alaska Publishing Company. 1910


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