Thursday, April 28, 2016

Minnie Street Bridge and Northside Grocery and Gas brought Slaterville into the modern age during 1950s

Northside Grocery as it looked in 1969

After 1939, when construction began at Ladd Field, and well into the 1950s, Fairbanks experienced a population explosion. Terrence Cole’s report, “Historic Resources of the Minnie Street Corridor,” states that between 1939 and 1950 the area’s population increased by 240 percent, and between 1950 and 1953 the population doubled to about 31,000 people.

Residential areas developed around the city’s edges, including Slaterville, which is north of the Chena River and across from downtown Fairbanks. The city’s burgeoning population, along with military activities and renewed mineral extraction in the area, severely taxed the area’s transportation system. The Minnie Street Bridge across Noyes Slough, along with the Wendell Street Bridge across the Chena River, were constructed in 1953 as part of the city’s efforts to modernize its outdated road system.

The only bridge across the Chena River before completion of the Wendell Street Bridge was the Cushman Street Bridge, built in 1917. The old two-lane steel-truss Cushman bridge was narrow, allowing only passenger vehicles to pass. Busses and trucks had to straddle the bridge’s central beam to cross.

The Minnie Street and Wendell Street bridges diverted traffic from Cushman Street. When completed, they became part of the first intentionally designed truck route through an Alaska city.

One of the most recognizable landmarks along Minnie Street is the old concrete-block Northside Grocery. Located at 140 Minnie St., it was, according to Cole’s report, built in 1952 by longtime Fairbanks resident, Carl Heflinger, in anticipation of the opening of the new bridges.

Heflinger was better-known as a miner than a merchant. Moving to Fairbanks from Anchorage in 1934, Carl worked as a drift and open-cut miner until World War II intervened and he joined the Army. Stationed at Ladd Field during the war, he met and married Dorothy Brady, and they built a home in Slaterville.

After the war and a few unsuccessful mining seasons, Dorothy convinced Carl to get a “real” job rather than return to mining. He went to work for Mitchell Truck and Tractor as a mechanic and eventually helped found GHEMM contacting. It was also during this period that he and his wife decided to put up a new building at the corner of Minnie and Clara streets next to their house.

According to Carl’s son, Dave, the gas station was more of an afterthought that a calculated plan. Carl and Dorothy wanted to build an apartment house. However, a friend suggested cutting the corner off the building at the Minnie and Clara intersection so gas pumps could be installed, and Carl decided that was an excellent idea.

Dave told me that his mother often rued the change in plans, saying it would have been much easier running just an apartment house. However, Carl, having fueled aircraft during the war, and working as a mechanic afterward, thought running a service station made sense. In addition to selling gas, he operated a towing business and repaired vehicles in a garage at the back of the building.

The Heflingers also rented out apartments in the basement and on the first floor, and later added a small grocery to the operation.

Carl eventually tired of city work and returned to mining in 1958, but he and Dorothy owned the grocery and gas station until the 1980s. After Carl left the day-to-day operation of the business, it became the first self-serve gas station in Fairbanks. Also, the ground under the garage was excavated and more basement apartments added, as well as the garage itself being converted into apartments. In The grocery, which had occupied a tiny corner of the building, also expanded.

The service station and grocery eventually closed. For a period the building was used as a religious outreach center, but has now reverted to its original purpose as an apartment house.


  • Carl Heflinger obituary. Fairbanks Daily News-Miner. 12-30-2014
  • Carl Heflinger presentation to the Pioneers of Alaska on 4-17-2000. Oral History Collection at the University of Alaska Fairbanks
  • Conversation with Dave Heflinger, one of Carl’s and Dorothy’s sons
  • “Historic Resources of the Minnie Street Corridor.” Terrence Cole. Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities. 1989
  • Property records at the Fairbanks North Star Borough

Sunday, April 17, 2016

Marge Gull painting of the second Richardson Roadhouse

This is the second of three roadhouses that operated at the former town of Richardson, about 75 miles south of Fairbanks—295 miles from Valdez. The first roadhouse, built by Jacob Samuelson near the Tanana River, washed away (with most of the town) in 1915. 

When the town re-located farther from the river, J. W. McCluskey and his wife built a roadhouse just south of Banner Creek. That roadhouse was called McCluskey’s at first—later called Richardson Roadhouse. As travel along the improved Richardson Highway increased, McCluskey added a trading post and sold gasoline and automotive supplies. 

Anticipating even better business he eventually doubled the size of the roadhouse. That is the structure shown in the painting.  However, even though he built it, the anticipated traffic did not come and by the end of the 1920s the roadhouse lay vacant. The log structure was eventually taken apart and moved to Fairbanks.

The third roadhouse at Richardson was built by Fred Wilkins, who homesteaded in the area and operated a general store at the town's second location. After the town washed away a second time, Wilkins moved his operation farther from the river, to the north side of Banner Creek, which is where the remains of his roadhouse still stand.

Genevieve Marguerite (Marge) Gull (who died in 2013) came to Alaska with her husband in 1938, living first in Fairbanks and then Anchorage. She was an amateur painter and painted 49 of the roadhouses along the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail.

I assume that at least some of the paintings were done from photographs since many of the roadhouses disappeared long before Marge came to Alaska. This painting is in the collection of the Valdez Museum.

Friday, April 15, 2016

1950s-era Tamarac Inn in Fairbanks being renovated

The Tamarac Inn, a small motel that was built in the early 1950s, is currently undergoing renovation.
The building was actually pieced together from surplussed military housing units from Ladd Field that weren't needed after the end of World War II. With roofing and some of the siding stripped off, you can actually see where the units were stitched together. Neat  way to view history.

Thursday, April 14, 2016

Hi-Yu Mine was one of the Fairbanks area's most successful hard-rock gold mines

The Hi-Yu mine as it looked in the 1990s

About 25 miles northeast of Fairbanks sits one of the area’s most successful lode mines, now abandoned and decaying.

The Hi-Yu mine is located in the Fairbanks Creek valley, which was one of the richest gold-producing areas in the Fairbanks Mining District. Mining activity along the creek represented all the major forms of gold recovery used during the early 20th century: open-cut mining, drifting, dredging and hard-rock (lode) mining.

The second-largest lode mine in the Fairbanks area during the first half of the 1900s, the Hi-Yu, producing 110,000 ounces of gold, was on a tributary of Fairbanks Creek. Clarence Crites and Harry Feldman discovered a rich gold-bearing quartz vein on Moose Creek in 1912, about a half-mile upstream from its confluence with Fairbanks Creek. It was one of the last significant lode discoveries during that time period.

According to a 2002 article by Curtis Freeman in Alaska Miner magazine, Crites and Feldman had put the word out that they were looking for new lode-gold prospects in the Fairbanks area, and two local Athabascan residents informed them of a likely site on Moose Creek. The mine’s name, “Hi-Yu,” is supposedly an approximation of the Athabascan words for “white rocks,” referring to the gold-bearing quartz found at the site.

The book, Historic Resources in the Fairbanks North Star Borough, states that the two partners quickly built a cabin and sank several prospecting shafts (what we called “coyote holes” in California). By the next year they had begun tunneling into the hillside. In 1914, the mine was in full production, and they moved a five-stamp mill from Chatham Creek (on the opposite side of the ridge) to the Hi-yu site to process their ore. The stamp mill, which had a capacity of processing 15 tons of ore every 24 hours, crushed the ore with heavy, vertical pistons called stamps, allowing the gold to be removed.

By 1930, the partners had acquired several new claims adjacent to the mine site and erected a building to house the stamp mill equipment. They also added an assay office the same year. Four years later they built a larger-capacity five-stamp mill on the site of the old mill.

In 1934, a mess hall was constructed on the hillside above the mill, and a 30-man bunkhouse was added a year later. The millhouse was expanded in 1936 with the construction of a new power plant, office, and the addition of five more stamps (10 total), doubling the mill’s capacity. By this time miners had blasted four main tunnels into the hillside, and a small railway system was installed to transport ore from tunnel to mill.

By 1941, the millhouse had again been enlarged to include a garage and a sauna for the workers. Several ancillary buildings such as coal storage shed an explosives cabin had been added, and two residences for the mine superintendent and engineers had been constructed.

Unfortunately, the advent of World War II forced the closure of the Hi-Yu mine, as well as almost every other gold mine in the United States. In 1942, under War Production Board Limitation Order No. 208, the federal government closed gold mining as a non-essential war-time activity.

The Hi-Yu, like many mines, never re-opened. Low gold prices and increased production costs made re-opening the mine uneconomical. Except for a few brief periods of activity, most of the facilities have sat abandoned and deteriorating for over 50 years. The bunkhouse burned in 1969. The 3 ½ story wood-frame millhouse is still in remarkably good condition. However, it is considered dangerous, and has been enclosed by a chain-link fence to deter the curious.

The site is now owned by the state of Alaska Mental Health Trust Authority.


  • Fairbanks North Star Borough property records
  • Historic Resources in the Fairbanks North Star Borough. Janet Matheson & F. Bruce Haldeman. Fairbanks North Star Borough. 1981
  • “History of lode mining, Fairbanks district.” Curtis Freeman. In Alaska Miner magazine, Vol. 30, No. 8, August 2002
  •  “Hi-Yu; Crites and Feldman Mine.” from the website, an outreach project of the Hudson Institute of Mineralogy. 2015
  • Lode Deposits of the Fairbanks District, Alaska. James M. Hill. U.S.G.S. Bulletin 849-B. book,

Wednesday, April 13, 2016

Successful launch party for new book, "Interior Sketches II."

This is a belated post about the launch party for my new book, "Interior Sketches II. More ramblings around Interior Alaska historic sites. The launch party was held at my favorite books store, Gulliver's Books. out by the university. We had a pretty good attendance at the launch. I signed some books, met and talked to some new acquaintances and some old friends. It was very casual and low-key and very enjoyable.

The winner of my original pen & ink drawing  of the Experiment Farm at the University of Alaska was James Rogan of Fairbanks. James is the proprietor of Alaskana Raven, a lovely little shop in the Co-op Plaza downtown that sells old and collectible books about Alaska and other Alaskana.

Friday, April 1, 2016

Icy puddle art - Fairbanks on April 1, 2016


I was out this morning taking photos of old buildings when I came across a large ice-filled puddle. Since I had knee boots on I waded in to take photos of ice that had formed on the puddle surface overnight. Being an artist just gives me license to act like a kid.