Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Nagley's Store in Talkeetna - legacy of a frontier merchant

Nagley's Store in the 1970s when it was the B & K (Barrett & Kennedy) Trading Post


Horace Nagley (1875-1966) was one of the first merchants to establish a store in the Susitna Basin. He came to Alaska from Washington in 1905, working summers on a freighter plying Alaska waters, and spending winters in Seattle. In 1907, with the financial backing of two partners,  he opened a general store at Susitna Station, a Dena’ina Athabaskan village on the east side of the Susitna River, about 1 ½   miles below the confluence of the Susitna and Yentna Rivers.

A year later his partners sold out to the Alaska Commercial Company and Nagley found himself without a store. Determined to remain in business at Susitna Station, he erected a second store building and bought goods on credit from the Knik Trading Company.  His new store opened in August of 1908.

He met his future wife, Jessamine, who was a teacher, at Susitna Station. They were married in the summer of 1912. In 1914 they opened a second store at McDougal, a small settlement at the mouth of Lake Creek on the Yentna River that served the Cache Creek Mining District. McDougal was a short-lived community that only lasted until a more direct trail to Cache Creek was blazed from Talkeetna in 1917.

In 1917 Nagley was able to buy back his original Susitna Station store from the Alaska Commercial Company.  That same year the Nagleys built a small cabin at Talkeetna and began spending increasing amounts of time there, letting an employee, Roland Healy, manage the Susitna Station store.

In 1920 the Nagleys decided to open a store at Talkeetna.  Some histories state that Nagley moved his store building from Susitna Station to Talkeetna. However, Coleen Mielke, in a 2014 biography of Nagley, states that Horace continued to have Mr. Healy operate his store at Susitna Station, while he built a new store at Talkeetna.

The Susitna Station store operated at least into the 1920s. No one is sure when it finally closed. When Mielke's family visited Susitna Station in the 1950s, Nagley's abandoned store was one of the few buildings that had not been claimed by the Susitna River.

In Talkeetna the Nagleys built a 1 ½ story, 25' x 35' log structure with squared corners. The modern building's distinctive first-floor windows, with diamond-shaped panes across their tops, were part of the original construction.
             
The Talkeetna store originally sat next to the Susitna River, at the corner of Main and B Street,  However, severe flooding in 1945 forced the Nagleys to relocate their business away from the river, and they moved the store to its present location—lock, stock and building.

George Weatherell (a miner in the Cache Creek area) pulled the building with his tractor, inching it three blocks to the east over a three-day period. Old-timers reported that the store stayed open during the entire move.

After the move, Nagley built a 14' x 35' wood-frame shed-roofed addition on the store's west side. At a later date he built two log additions, end to end, at the rear of the store. The first is 20’ x 25', and the second is 29' x 25’.

Horace sold the store in 1947 and it was rechristened the B & K Trading Post.  At some time later two smaller additions were built on the west side, an 8' x 11' one facing Main Street, and a smaller 8’ x 6’ addition behind it. (I first saw Nagley's in the 1970s when it was still the B & K Trading Post.)

The Nagley’s retired in Anchorage after selling the store. Jessamine died in 1955 and Horace died in 1966. Both are buried in Anchorage.

The store's name was changed back to Nagley's in 1994, honoring the contribution Horace and Jessamine made to Talkeetna. On New Year’s Day in 1997 the building was almost lost when a fire broke out. Fire fighters battled for almost four hours before bringing the blaze under control. Like many early Alaska structures, the store was insulated with sawdust and moss, and smoldering insulation re-igniting was a continuing problem. Vigilant lookouts watched the store for several days to ensure the fire was completely out. Using as much of the original materials as possible, the store was rebuilt and back in business by that spring.

Nagley’s Store is still in business and is a central fixture in Talkeetna. 


Sources: 

  • Dictionary of Alaska Place Names. Donald J. Orth. U.S. Geological Survey. 1971
  • “Horace Willard Nagley, Alaska Pioneer Merchant at Sustina Station, McDougal and Talkeetna.” Coleen Mielke. Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Alaska website. 2014
  • “Susitna Station.” Coleen Mielke. Matanuska-Susitna Valley, Alaska website. 2012
  • “Talkeetna Historic District – National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.” Fran Seager-Boss & Lawrence Roberts. National Park Service. 1992
  • Talkeetna. The Talkeetna Historical Society. Arcadia Publishing. 2013


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