Skagua, as it is known by the Tlingit, meaning windy place, is used by Chilkoots and Chilkats for hunting and fishing. A few of these Native Americans settle in the quieter areas of Smuggler’s Cove, Nahku Bay and Dyea, head of the Chilkoot trail, a centuries-old Indian trading route becoming popular with early prospectors heading into the Yukon. In the 1880s, U.S. Navy and Army patrols establish federal presence in the area.
In June, Skookum Jim, a Tlingit packer from Dyea and Tagish, leads Capt. William Moore, a member of Canada’s Ogilvie survey party, over a new pass up the Skaqua river valley. It is later named White Pass for the Canadian Interior minister. In October, Moore returns with his son, Bernard. They lay claim to 160 acres in the valley floor and begin work on a cabin and dock. They call the place Mooresville.
Northwest Mounted Police patrol lands in Skagway and Dyea on way to Yukon to establish Canadian presence in area. First group of prospectors hike Moore’s crude trail over White Pass.
Moore opens trail on July 14, just before steamships Excelsior and Portland arrive in San Francisco and Seattle with famed “Ton of Gold”, setting off Klondike Gold Rush. On July 29, the steamer Queen lands at Moore’s wharf, the first of many stuffed with hundreds of gold seekers. The Moores are overrun: Mooresville is re-platted by surveyor Frank Reid as Skaguay. Later that fall, a post office, and the first church (Union), and newspaper (Skaguay News) are established. Many pack animals perish on crude White Pass, which will be dubbed “Dead Horse Trail.” George Brackett builds toll road to White Pass City, a tent city 15 miles up the valley. Canadian Mounties begin to guard the passes, although their government is claiming territory including Skagway, where they briefly establish a post.
Skagway booms to 8,000 to 10,000 population. Daily Alaskan newspaper appears. Chamber of commerce and volunteer fire department organize. Construction begins in May on White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad after an agreement is secured by Close Brothers of London to purchase Brackett’s road for a right-of-way. Unofficial city government forms and allows railroad tracks up Broadway. First school opens in Union Church in June. Criminal element led by Soapy Smith reigns until he is shot and killed by an angry mob led by Frank Reid on July 8, four days after he stood on the podium with Gov. John Brady at Skagway’s first Independence Day celebration. U.S. Army, stationed in Dyea, restores order. Reid dies from wound and is given a hero’s funeral at the town cemetery on the outskirts of town. Spelling changed to Skagway by post office, and most businesses reluctantly follow. Townspeople are called Skagwayans.
City has two more newspapers, the Daily Budget and Alaska Traveler’s Guide. Railroad contractor Mike Heney’s crews advance the line to the summit in February and Lake Bennett in July. Building boom continues with construction of prominent city structures like Arctic Brotherhood Hall, and McCabe College, which is built on land donated by Capt. Moore. He builds his own showplace home nearby. Some buildings are shipped over from declining Dyea. School moves into new building on 11th. But the city becomes fire-weary after seven downtown buildings are destroyed in May, and a forest fire destroys Army post near Dyea. The troops, most of them black Spanish American War vets, move to Skagway.
Census is taken in Skagway, recording 3,117 residents. On June 28, Skagway becomes the first incorporated city in Alaska on a vote of eligible property owners, 246-60. It beats Juneau by a day. On July 29, the WP&YR is completed between Skagway and Whitehorse with a golden spike ceremony at Carcross, Yukon. Ornate WP&YR administration building completed next to rail depot at Second and Broadway. Railway also builds a hospital.
McCabe College closes and building is sold to federal government for courthouse. H.D. Clark farm established across river. Charley Walker sends vegetable display to Portland Exhibition. Moore townsite claim settled, Moore’s get 60 of original 160 acres and compensation. Harriet Pullen leases and then purchases Moore’s stately home and opens hotel called Pullen House. Herman Kirmse organizes first garden show in 1902. On Sept. 14, a man attempts to rob the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce branch on Fifth and blows himself up by accident, along with cash and gold dust, some of which is recovered after mining the street. The man is never identified. Dentist L.S. Keller ends up with skull. Troops begin work on Fort Seward near Haines, where they will be transferred permanently in 1904.
International Boundary dispute finally settled in 1903 with borders set at tops of mountain passes. Skagway News closes in 1904, leaving only the Daily Alaskan. Bobby Sheldon, 14, builds first automobile in Alaska for 1905 Fourth of July parade. He will later drive first car and run tours over Alaska’s first highway between Valdez and Fairbanks, where the Skagway car will end up in the University of Alaska museum. In December, a meeting is held in Skagway about building a road from here to eventually connect with the Valdez road.
A number of buildings are relocated to Broadway from other parts of the city to develop a business district concentrated around the rail line. Among those moved are the Red Onion Saloon and the Golden North Hotel, owned by the Dedman family. The family later will take over E.A. Hegg’s photo shop.
Fire on hillside above Lower Dewey Lake destroys P.E. Kern’s Castle, a hotel in the woods. J.M. “Si” Tanner, a popular marshal and hardware store owner, is elected to Alaska’s first Territorial Legislature in 1913.
Major Richardson of Alaska Road Commission approves rough four-mile road up east side of river. Local crews led by Herman Olson and Charlie Nye get a quarter-mile further to the “Rock Wall.”
Alaska Women’s Temperance Union meets in Skagway and writes “Alaska Bone Dry Act,” which Legislature will later adopt ahead of national prohibition movement. Martin Itjen operates first Skagway Hack, doubling as a taxi and coal delivery truck. His business will evolve into the popular Skaguay Street Car Co. Itjen acquires Soapy’s Parlor for a museum; one of his artifacts is the bank robber’s skull which he acquired from Dr. Keller, who has taken over the fledgling Alaskan. Keller coins the term “Garden City of Alaska”. A new bank opens in 1916, the Bank of Alaska. It will pioneer branch banking and grow under the Rasmuson family into the largest bank in Alaska. Itjen’s friend, George Rapuzzi, establishes Pet Cemetery across river where his dog loved to chase rabbits.
Saloons close. On Oct. 23, SS Princess Sophia leaves Skagway with 343 aboard. That evening she strikes Vanderbilt Reef in a blinding snowstorm near Juneau. Captain gambles on tide lifting ship off reef. After two days of weather deemed too rough for a rescue by smaller boats, she breaks apart and all aboard perish. Among them are many of the Yukon’s leading citizens and Walter Harper, a member of the first expedition to ascend Mt. McKinley, who is on his honeymoon.
Skagway Women’s Club forms and establishes Skagway Library in 1921. First airplane lands on beach. Col. Steese meets with Skagway Citizens and secures $95,000 for first leg of road to summit. $5,000 is spent on survey but rest is never spent.
President Warren G. Harding visits Skagway on Navy ship in July 1923. He delivers an address at the Pullen House and is the final inductee into the Arctic Brotherhood. George Rapuzzi, a member of the Alpine Club, climbs the mountain opposite Skagway and flashes presidential party with mirrors from the summit. Peak hereafter is named Mt. Harding for the president who would die shortly after his return from Alaska. Daily Alaskan shuts down after the death of publisher Keller.
Beginning of first tourism boom heralded by visible promoters Itjen and Pullen, along with WP&YR, which convinces ships to stay 36 hours so visitors may ride the train and take a Yukon lake steamer trip from Carcross to beautiful Ben-My-Chree. As a fund-raiser for the hockey club, townspeople hold a variety show for tourists at the White Pass Athletic Club. It will become known as the Days of ’98 Show and move to the Eagles after the athletic club shuts down during the Great Depression. The Alaska Road Commission (ARC) builds the Skagway Airfield from 13th Avenue to 22nd Avenue along Main Street.
St. Pius X Mission is established in Skagway under the wing of beloved Father G. Edgar Gallant, who will operate the school for Native children from all over Alaska for almost 30 years.
White Pass roundhouse burns on February 12th, 1932
Idea for a Gold Rush National Park in Skagway is first promoted by Chamber of Commerce committee. A proposal to include it as part of Glacier Bay National Monument is pigeon-holed. Prohibition repealed.
In a heavily promoted visit, Martin Itjen calls on sexy starlet Mae West in Hollywood, invites her to “Come up and see me sometime” in Skagway. Town hosts first convention as Newspaper Institute of America delegates arrive on ship.
Women’s Club raises $25,000 from Territory and $24,500 from federal Works Progress Administration to build a new school. It opens in 1940 behind the old one at State and 11th.
Skagway is literally invaded by U.S. Army troops, who take over the railroad for a major supply route to build the Alcan Highway. The tracks are moved off Broadway and as many as 20 trains a day climb the pass. Over the next three years as many as 3,000 troops are stationed here. Vacant lots sprout rounded Quonset huts and H buildings. A pipeline is constructed along railway for fuel shipments.
Army takes over fire department and promises 24-hour service, however major fires devastate ornate Elks lodge, the Pullen House and the Mission school. Army has better luck assisting community when the Skagway River crests both years. Without the troops’ help building up the dikes, the town could have been lost.
After troops leave Skagway, U.S. Health Service opens a tuberculosis sanitarium in the army hospital across the river. Nurses come from Sisters of St. Ann in Victoria, B.C. It will hold as many as 90 patients before closing in 1947.
WP&YR takes back operation of railroad and takes over fuel operation. Railroad Tracks were removed from Broadway Street in 1947. Dyea Road constructed by Alaska Road Commission. Tourism pioneers Itjen and Pullen pass on. Pullen House eventually closes, but Rapuzzi keeps Itjen’s dream alive at Soapy’s.
White Pass becomes a pioneer in the shipping industry with containerized cargo: from the docks in Vancouver, loaded on the ship Clifford J. Rogers for the journey to Skagway, then onto trains bound for its destination in Whitehorse.
Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) announces plans to build a $400 million smelter in Dyea, powered by the mighty Tyee Project, a proposal to reverse the flow of the Yukon River with a dam in Whitehorse, and thence using that water from Yukon lakes through two tunnels down the old Chilkoot Trail to power the smelter. A “mighty city of 20,000” will be needed to support the plant, which will need 20,000 acres in the valley floor. Juneau Empire starts weekly Skagway Alaskan newspaper. Townspeople are called Skagwayites.
In July, the Taiya River washes away home of Dyea homesteader Bill Matthews and other cabins are lost along West Creek. Women’s Club sponsors Harvest Fair. Workers strike railroad for 12 days and get 14-cent pay increase. ALCOA dream fades as negotiations fail to convince Canadians they would receive benefits of cheap power from the Tyee project. Company starts looking at Taku alternative and Stewart, B.C. Newspaper promotes road to Carcross. Yukon later builds its own dam.
The MV C J Rogers was the first newly built container ship in the world, thus inaugurating the container system to the Yukon. Railroad takes delivery of first two diesel-electric locomotives, in addition to 39 flatcars and 6 tank cars, more were to follow. North end of dock collapses under weight of 30 tons of lead and zinc concentrate. Alaskan merges with Haines Herald to become Lynn Canal Weekly. Bid for addition to school comes in at $265,000. Alaska Road Commission approves quarter-mile extension of Carcross Road to Black Lake. But it won’t go further until Canadians support a road from Carcross to the border.
City of Skagway purchases McCabe building from federal government in 1956 for city offices. ALCOA formally abandons smelter plans in 1957. In 1959 congress grants statehood to Alaska – Skagway has a large impromptu celebration on July 4th. Morgan Reed is elected to first of four terms in the State Legislature. Monsignor Gallant is transferred to Anchorage that year and the Mission School closes without his leadership in 1960.
Another mile of road is built “to modern standards” to the sheer rock face past Black Lake. Upstairs of McCabe converted into the new Trail of å98 Museum, using many artifacts donated by Skagway families. Work begins again on establishing a national park after new State of Alaska shows interest. State selects land in Dyea valley for recreational use. Cy Coyne starts monthly North Wind.
Skagway River floods. Dikes breached and Pullen Creek culvert washes out. Gov. Wally Hickel flies up to inspect damage. White Pass and Yukon Hospital closes after 69 years of operation. City assumes responsibility for medical service.
City builds new medical, health clinic. White Pass builds new Railroad Depot and Ore Terminal and Dock. To assess power needs, Chamber of Commerce organizes Clean Sweep. Plans announced for Cyprus Anvil mine near Faro, Yukon, leading White Pass to upgrade its track and equipment for a huge lead-zinc haul. Company officials convince city council to grant 55-year tidelands lease for a new ore terminal and dock. White Pass roundhouse burns again in 1969.
Road support builds on both sides of border. Canadians build new bridge in Carcross and extend road to B.C.-Yukon border in 1971 with activity at Venus Mine. In February, 1972 Canadians agree to building remaining 33.6 miles to Alaska border, and Alaska agree to construct their 9.4 miles. It will be called the South Klondike Highway. Park master plan is developed. White Pass donates old depot to National Park Foundation. Yukon-Taiya Commission disbands.
A $10.9 million contract is awarded to Central Construction of Seattle, a company affiliated with one of Alaska’s new Native corporations, for the Alaska portion of the Klondike Highway. Canadian contracts go to Ben Ginter of Prince George, B.C. (16 miles to Tutshi River) and General Enterprises of Whitehorse (20 miles to border). Construction expected to take three years.
Congress passes national park legislation in June 1976 and superintendent and historical architect arrive. A temporary visitor center opens in the old depot, and the park is dedicated in Skagway in June 1977. The park includes four components: Skagway unit, Dyea-Chilkoot unit, White Pass unit, and Seattle-Pioneer Square unit. City forms Historic District Commission.
Modern Skagway News starts up after North Wind retires. Taiya River threatens old Native cemetery in Dyea, and first story the paper covers is controversial removal of remains by National Park Service to an area near the Slide Cemetery. Klondike Highway is punched through to border in September. John Edwards and Bob Bissell are the first to cross, with aid of winches. More locals follow until rough road closes for winter.
News merges with Haines paper. Klondike Highway officially opens in spring. Final cost is $14.4 million on U.S. side and $12.2 million on Canadian side. In July, a scary fire destroys Sourdough Inn, Igloo Bar and a clothing shop, but firefighters prevent it from spreading through historic District. New city barge facility/ferry terminal completed.
State-supported live satellite TV arrives along with public radio on KHNS. Trucks roll on highway temporarily after railroad bridge knocked out by rock slide. Park backs off plans to implement Dyea building codes after getting heat from land owners and National Inholders Association. Skagway becomes base for Disney’s “Never Cry Wolf” crew filming on White Pass. Author Ken Kesey works on project and later sets novel “Sailor Song” in fictional Alaska town invaded by movie crew. Dump pigs and Bigger Hammer Marching Band are mentioned in book published later in the decade. City hires tourism director to promote Skagway. Fish hatcheries started at Burro Creek and Skagway School.
Faro mines shut down in spring, and railroad loses 70 percent of its freight revenue. This doesn’t stop the return of White Pass Steam Engine No. 73 and the Skagway News returns as semi-monthly that summer. Optimism fades in fall as White Pass suspends rail operations on Oct. 8, sending Skagway into a deep depression. Unions picket and stop White Pass in Haines when company tries to truck freight to Yukon on Haines Highway.
White Pass announces it will not operate, even for summers. Winter unemployment estimated at 70-80 percent. Newspaper switches to monthly in winter. First running of Klondike Road Relay. Oil-rich state helps Skagway with $8.5 million to construct a new school. Skagway lands Alaska Visitors Association convention and sees increase in number of cruise ships docking to more than 100. Historic dock deal reached between city, state and White Pass to improve dock facilities to allow more cruise ships. Park’s first restoration project, the old White Pass depot and administration building, is completed and opened for the park’s visitor center and offices. Broadway gets “historic pavement” to cut down on dust. Garden Club forms and establishes competition, Order of Eastern Star starts annual flower and garden show. Voters approve land sale along Dyea Road and houses spring up on hillside. Number of visitors to Skagway tops 200,000.
Curragh, Inc. buys Anvil mine and announces it wants to truck concentrate to Skagway. Mayor Bill Feero breaks a tied city council in February 1986 and city requests state to open highway year-round. Gov. Bill Sheffield and Yukon government Leader Tony Penikett sign historic agreement in April. Trucks operated by Lynden roll in June. White Pass brings back container ship and gets into trucking too. Number of cruise ships surpasses 200. Park finishes restoring two more buildings in 1986-87 and leases them to private businesses. City establishes Centennial Committee in 1987 and park completes restoration of Moore cabin for its 100th anniversary. First Buckwheat Ski Classic joins Windfest as winter event. Prospective railroad buyers appear on scene and say railway would be a viable tourist operation. Skagway’s small cross-country team wins school’s first state title. Tensions rise on waterfront as the Lynden-operated ore terminal replaces striking workers, who fail to organize union and abandon picket lines in new year.
On March 1, White Pass President Marvin Taylor announces the company has reached agreement with its unions to reopen the railroad for a summer tourist operation with three-hour round-trips to the summit. Whistles blow all over town as employees return to work. First train operates with great fanfare on May 12. News goes back to twice-monthly year-round. Alaska State Garden Club holds annual convention in Skagway, and the city is officially proclaimed “Garden City of Alaska” by Gov. Steve Cowper. Year ends on scary note, as high lead levels are recorded in Skagway from past ore movement. School children are tested by state public health officials, and blood levels are below normal. However, a clean-up is coming.
Massive $6 million clean-up by “supersuckers” paid by Curragh and White Pass along waterfront, railroad and highway through town. Battle lines drawn on waterfront as White Pass proposes Broadway Dock west of ferry terminal, and Curragh tries to convince city to lease land for new ore dock and terminal east of ferry terminal. City approves White Pass project, sends Curragh project to voters. Election called off after Curragh polls community and finds little support. Curragh and White Pass begin to work together to improve existing ore terminal, leased from White Pass, on city tidelands. As voters are posed again, to approve a lease to the state’s Alaska Industrial and Export Authority (AIDEA), White Pass announces it will sell the terminal to AIDEA, which wins Legislative approval for $25 million to buy and upgrade the terminal. Broadway dock opens in 1990. Ships have some trouble maneuvering in wind and ore dock is damaged. River rises to near flood stage, prompting push for more flood control. Remains of old Pullen House torn down after long-abandoned relic deemed unsafe. School’s Pullen Creek hatchery program receives national vocational education award.
Ore terminal operates through Curragh strike in Yukon. Island Princess and Regent Sea collide in bay on way into port; miraculously no one is seriously injured. Ships are repaired and return later that summer. New rules for harbor: ships must arrive an hour apart. City does emergency flood control in September 1991, gets state’s attention. Number of visitors tops 300,000 in 1992 during 50th anniversary of the building of the Alaska Highway. Reunions highlight summer, along with war-themed AVA convention.
Yukon government loans Curragh $29 million to stay alive, then Curragh files Chapter 11. Terminal closes. City pushes for winter highway funding, with or without mine, and get assurances from state and territorial leaders. Good year for filming on pass: TV show “Due South” in spring and movie “Snowbound: Jim and Jennifer Stolpa Story” in fall 1993. Yukon log shipments roll to Skagway on highway in spring 1994. Skagway Medical Corporation formed after members split off from Haines -based corporation and win city approval. Clinic affiliates with Bartlett Hospital in Juneau. “Good Morning America” visits in May. White Pass announces plans to expand, revamp and lengthen its Railroad Dock but is plagued by three fuel spills from its pipeline, the last occurring in October, leading to federal charges against two company officials. The company closes the line and sells its fuel business. A worse disaster befalls White Pass a month later when the dock collapses, sending a tidal wave across the bay, uprooting the ferry dock and spinning it into the Broadway dock. One worker is killed in the debris. Disaster declared by Gov. Hickel. Damage to state dock and small boat harbor exceeds $1 million. White Pass vows to rebuild railroad dock in time for 1995 cruise season.
New Anvil Range Corp. buys Faro mine. First cruise ship lands at new Railroad Dock on May 30. Adventure tour craze explodes with new operators and tours in Skagway and Dyea, and city approves more helicopter landings on glaciers. Voters approve extending sales tax to tours and transportation. RCMP Musical Ride performs on beach for Mounties’ 100th anniversary. Visitor numbers surpass 400,000 on 313 ships. Main part of old school was torn down and removed after 10 years of disrepair, but gym is saved for future recreation center. New border station opens on highway. Ore trucks return in the fall, followed by ships. City elects first female mayor, Sioux Plummer. In 1996, White Pass officials are indicted, tried and convicted by a jury for their involvement in the 1994 spill. They appeal: one conviction stands, the other is tossed out. Skagway connects to the Internet . Weak metal prices force Anvil Range to announce pending shutdown.
Cominco purchases Anvil Range shares, but mine shuts and ore terminal closes in April 1997. Voters approve loan package to fund new incinerator up Klondike Highway. Ore terminal reopens in fall after mine opens again, only to close on Christmas after Anvil Range files for protection. However, over next two years, city swells with pride during Klondike Gold Rush Centennial celebrations including “Ton of Gold” reenactment, Dyea to Dawson races, Skagway Centennial Statue and Park completion, dedication of Klondike International Historical Park, and the first-day issue of a Klondike postage stamp. New state license plates also show gold rush trail scene. White Pass also begins three years of centennial events. The company is spun off from Russell Metals (formerly Federal Industries) and becomes part of new Tri-White Corporation. School and organizations celebrate 100th birthdays, and Alaska Power and Telephone’s Goat Lake Hydro project is completed. Skagway is 100 percent hydro and sending power to Haines too. Forest fire burns 85 acres above Dyea, threatening Chilkoot, before being stopped by local and state fire crews. City takes over management of Dyea Flats from Park Service. State releases Juneau Access study, favoring either a highway link up the east side of Lynn Canal to Skagway, or improved ferry service using daily fast ferries. Skagway leans toward the fast ferries, while Haines is adamantly opposed to a new road link. Juneau is split.
White Pass and state settle suit over 1994 dock damage, with railroad to pay $1.875 million. Skagway is 16th most visited cruise destination in the world with nearly 450 cruise calls. As visitor count approaches 750,000, city looks harder at dealing with impacts. Police, fire department/EMS and clinic expand staff. City snuffs “shuttle wars” by offering service to just one company, and then forces independent tour operators to use a single broker. Economic development director is hired, tackles “quality of life” issues to keep locals here in winter. Rec. Center improvements completed, director hired, and use expanded. Airport expansion project begins and is completed in 2001. Like the rest of the world, Skagway enters the new millennium with no bugs in its computers, and enters the cell phone age. Democrat Gov. Tony Knowles delivers decision on Juneau Access in early 2000, favoring fast ferries, but has trouble pushing ferry construction through the Republican-controlled Legislature. National Bank of Alaska is sold to Wells Fargo, which was here during the gold rush. McCabe is restored for city’s centennial, but there are construction delays, much like 100 years before, and the city holds a big birthday party outside in June before it can move in. WP&YR celebrates its 100th birthday in July with great fanfare in Carcross and announces resumption of service to that Yukon community. Next big project is flood control north of town. The rest of Skagway streets are paved in conjunction with the airport project. A Klondike gold dredge is brought to Skagway as a tourist attraction. Yukon abandons dock plans here, saying money would be better spent at home helping people deal with its ailing economy. In 2000 the city erects a statue of an Indian Guide and Prospector ready to climb the pass to the Gold Fields in honor of all the Gold Rush Prospectors. 2001-2004 – In 2001, the city explores building a new dock to handle freight for the proposed Alaska Highway Natural Gas Pipeline, but there’s resistance because the dock would need cruise ships to pay bonding costs over the long run. The concern is Skagway, population 862 in the 2000 census, is close to its cruise visitor capacity in summer, and existing docks can be improved for a pipe haul to the Yukon, if it comes. Skagway enjoys a great summer season until Sept. 11, when virtually all traffic stopped for a few days after the terrorist attacks on the East Coast, but the ships and planes returned and more visitors come in 2002. Republican Sen. Frank Murkowski is elected governor and vows to build a road from Juneau to Skagway. He restarts the EIS process. In 2003, the WP&YR adds on to its railroad dock to handle bigger ships, but Skagway’s industrial position is dealt a blow when corrosion at the ore terminal makes it unsafe and the state decides to tear it down. However, the city asks that the site be preserved for future industrial use, so a new terminal may be built if mining ever rebounds in the Yukon. Skagway residents follow the war in Iraq on their satellite dishes, the internet, and cell phones. As 2004 unfolds, despite pressure from a pro-road movement, the city sticks to its resolution in support of better ferries for improving Juneau Access. The final EIS on the road vs. ferries is due to be released as the state’s first fast ferry, the MV Fairweather, starts running in Lynn Canal and between Juneau and Sitka this summer. Skagway gets a welcome reprieve from winter when the cast of “The Big White” shows up in town to film on the pass. The stars fit right in as Robin Williams bikes around town, and Holly Hunter rings bar bells. Like some residents, they call themselves Skagwegians. On June 25, 2007 the City of Skagway becomes the Munipiality of Skagway Borough.