09 November 2010

Ch 16, Pt 1: "DeHaviland Arrives at Chitina"

Legacy of the Chief,
Chapter 16, Pt 1: "DeHaviland Arrives at Chitina-1923"

click on picture for
larger image: some of these images appear in the book for
this chapter.

Chitina, with its small group of false-front
buildings and combination log and frame structures, looks very much like
it came straight out of a page from the Old West. The small Indian
village of Chittyna on the hill to the southwest adds one more element
of charm to the rustic western atmosphere. But it is the busy presence
of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway which dominates the small
town. Until recently Chitina was an important trans-shipment site, with
passengers and goods moving from Cordova on the coast, having arrived in the Territory by means of Alaska Steamship, thence to Chitina by train, and finally  by way of Orr Stage Lines through Copper Center and on to Fairbanks.

Main Street, Chitina, ~1913 --Cordova Museum

President Harding and wife came to Alaska to dedicate the new government
railway with the driving of a golden spike at Nenana. Their original
plans included taking the Richardson route from Fairbanks to Chitina.
Then the Presidential party was to board a special train for the scenic
ride to Cordova. After a full day of sightseeing the party would then
depart Cordova by way of Alaska Steamship and return to the States.
Since Harding canceled this interior Alaska part of the trip in favor of
a quick return to Anchorage by rail, then on to Seward and finally
Cordova for only a very brief visit, this adventurous traveler decided
to take the route, as it was originally planned, to experience what the
Presidential party missed.

President Harding on AKRR observation car during his 1923 visit to the Territory of Alaska

For those of you desiring to take this sojourn from Fairbanks to Chitina
or Valdez, be aware that the Richardson Roadway is in most places little
more than a rough trail. Much of the roadway is subject to delays due to
washouts, slides and other problems with river crossings, such as
missing bridges. Mud and tundra are in abundance, as are hoards of

Although the old horse teams have recently given way to modern motor
buses, all too often the passengers have to assist in pushing the bus
out of the mud bogs which quickly become an all too familiar aspect of
the trail. Those inconveniences aside, the trip is nothing if not
spectacular as long as one keeps his eyes looking upwards toward the
mountains, starting from the very beginning of the journey where one
leaves Fairbanks and immediately encounters the panoramic view of the
northern slopes of the Alaska Range. One of the most recognizable peaks
is Mt. Hayes, which can be seen clearly all the way from
Fairbanks to Donnelly, close to the half-way point.

McCarty Landing ferry on the Tanana River, part of the RIchardson Road, Big Delta,
Rika's Roadhouse in background
. --Laurie Nyman Collection

The traveler will find primitive, mainly one-story log road houses all
the way to Richardson, 204 miles from the Edgerton cutoff to Chitina.
This hamlet rests uncomfortably along the east bank of the Tanana,
justifying its existence as a riverboat landing and a distribution point
for the mining settlements of the area. A large two-story log roadhouse,
two smaller roadhouses, a general store and gas station are all there to
leave the impression that Richardson really is a town. This writer was
not impressed.

Due to very boggy conditions south of Shaw Creek we arrived late in the
afternoon at the Tanana crossing of McCarty. This name is not to be
confused with McCarthy. The cable ferry crossing leads to the U.S. Army
telegraph station near the Big Delta Roadhouse. The roadhouse was until
recently operated by the well-known John Hajdukovich. He transferred the
property to Rika Wallen. We took overnight accommodations at Rika’s
lodge which looks upon a rocky bluff of the Tanana River, but fails to
have a scenic view of the mountains.

From Rika’s, the Alaska Range appears to be very close. We’ve already
traveled about 100 miles, but still have another 200 miles to go before
reaching Copper Center.The most distinctive feature in the area is the
large rounded Donnelly Dome. Just beyond the dome looms the Alaska Range
at its most majestic, with a series of eternally snow-covered peaks. The
boggy trail at the base of the range leaves a high plateau just beyond
the dome and begins to follow the Delta River upwards into the

Black Rapids Roadhouse and trading post at mile 227 is yet another
rambling one-story structure, but it boasts a great view of Black Rapids
Glacier. This stop was once a horse exchange point, but those days are,
thankfully, behind us now. Although there were some spruce trees in the
immediate area, the lodge appears to be near the top of the tree line.
The surrounding rugged valley walls are completely bare and
rust-colored. We heard of numerous placer mining operations in the

Black Rapids RH

Black Rapids Roadhouse on the Richardson Trail

From this point on through the mountains, the stream crossings present
the greatest obstacle, and bridges are non-existent. Fording can be
hazardous, but by mid-summer most the streams run very low water. Many
rock slides cover the trail.

At mile 203 we had reached the summit of the Alaska Range. Yost’s
Roadhouse, also known as McCallum’s, once operated at the high altitude
of nearly 2900 feet Still remaining are a few leaning log structures
through which the cold winds appeared to blow almost without relief.
This is a very desolate, treeless, but surprisingly beautiful area. Old
glacial moraine can be seen everywhere. At this high point,
appropriately called Summit Lake, we were at the headwaters of the
Gulkana River, placing us in the far northern end of the Copper River

Paxson’s Roadhouse at mile 185 was a most welcome sight. It sits in a
location sheltered from the wind and consists of a two-story Hudson Bay
style log building with a 120-foot-long horse barn. The lodge marks the
junction to mining camps at Valdez Creek in the west and Slate Creek
toward the east.

Paxson RH

Paxson Roadhouse on the Richardson Trail

When we arrived at Sourdough Roadhouse at mile 147 we knew we were
getting close to our night-time destination of Gulkana Roadhouse.
Sourdough is a main Orr Stage Line point with numerous outbuildings, but
no view. Another ten miles down the road is Poplar Grove Roadhouse. It
consists of a small two-story structure with a single-story structure
nearby. This area was particularly boggy and mosquito-infested.

At mile 127 is the sizable Gulkana Trading Post and Hotel. It is at the
junction of the Eagle and Susitna Trails. The log building overlooks the
Gulkana River near its confluence with the Copper. It is one of the few
lodges with a spectacular mountain view, looking toward Mt. Sanford and
Drum of the Wrangell Range. Mrs. Griffith, the proprietor, informed us
that she had just purchased Kenny Lake Roadhouse near Chitina.

We passed Dry Creek at mile 117. The roadhouse was one of the many
deserted ones which already seem to exist everywhere along the trail.
This one was a badly-leaning, two-story log structure. Nearby was a
small Native camp.

Not far beyond the road drops down a steep hill into the Tazlina valley.
An abandoned roadhouse near the river served until recently as one of
those obsolete horse-changing stations. James L. Simpson, the last
owner, found more money in trapping the Tazlina valley than working the
lodge. It recently joined a growing list of abandoned lodges as the
summer of 1923 approaches the fall.

J L Simpson

James L Simpson, trapper & horse stable operator, possibly
at Tazlina

The Copper Center Roadhouse and Trading Post at mile 101 is the former
Hotel Holman and Trading Post, also known as Blix’s Roadhouse. It is now
operated by Florence Barnes. We passed by a primitive Indian school and
a dusty Native settlement north of the lodge. The remains of a
government agricultural station and a fox farm just upriver from the
lodge were among the growing number of deserted buildings. On the south
end of Copper Center, the Klutina River crossing consisted of two
bridges with an island in the middle of the river.

Continue with
Chapter 16, Pt 2:  "DeHaviland Arrives at Chitina"

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