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.

Sources:

  • 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


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