Skagway, Alaska

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Skagway
Borough
view of downtown Skagway from a nearby hillside
Seal
Official name: Municipality of Skagway Borough
Name origin: Skagua or Shgagwèi, Tlingit for "a windy place with 'white caps on the water"
Nickname: "Gateway to the Klondike"
CountryUnited States
StateAlaska
Elevation33 ft (10 m)
Coordinates59°28′7″N 135°18′21″W / 59.46861°N 135.30583°W / 59.46861; -135.30583
Area464 sq mi (1,202 km2)
 - land452 sq mi (1,171 km2)
 - water12 sq mi (31 km2)
Population920 (2010)
Density2.0 / sq mi (1 / km2)
Founded1897
 - Incorporated (city)June 28, 1900
 - Unincorporated (city)June 5, 2007
 - Incorporated (borough)June 5, 2007
MayorStan Selmer
TimezoneAKST (UTC−9)
 - summer (DST)AKDT (UTC−8)
Zip code99840
Area code907
FIPS code02-70760
GNIS feature ID1414754, 2339479
Location of Skagway within Alaska
Website: www.skagway.org
 
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Coordinates: 59°28′7″N 135°18′21″W / 59.46861°N 135.30583°W / 59.46861; -135.30583
Skagway
Borough
view of downtown Skagway from a nearby hillside
Seal
Official name: Municipality of Skagway Borough
Name origin: Skagua or Shgagwèi, Tlingit for "a windy place with 'white caps on the water"
Nickname: "Gateway to the Klondike"
CountryUnited States
StateAlaska
Elevation33 ft (10 m)
Coordinates59°28′7″N 135°18′21″W / 59.46861°N 135.30583°W / 59.46861; -135.30583
Area464 sq mi (1,202 km2)
 - land452 sq mi (1,171 km2)
 - water12 sq mi (31 km2)
Population920 (2010)
Density2.0 / sq mi (1 / km2)
Founded1897
 - Incorporated (city)June 28, 1900
 - Unincorporated (city)June 5, 2007
 - Incorporated (borough)June 5, 2007
MayorStan Selmer
TimezoneAKST (UTC−9)
 - summer (DST)AKDT (UTC−8)
Zip code99840
Area code907
FIPS code02-70760
GNIS feature ID1414754, 2339479
Location of Skagway within Alaska
Website: www.skagway.org

Skagway (play /ˈskæɡw/) is a first-class borough in Alaska, on the Alaska Panhandle. It was formerly a city (urban Skagway located at 59°27′30″N 135°18′50″W / 59.45833°N 135.31389°W / 59.45833; -135.31389) first incorporated in 1900 that was re-incorporated as a borough on June 25, 2007.[1] As of the 2010 census, the population of the city was 920. However, the population doubles in the summer tourist season in order to deal with more than 900,000 visitors.[1]

The port of Skagway is a popular stop for cruise ships, and the tourist trade is a big part of the business of Skagway. The White Pass and Yukon Route narrow gauge railroad, part of the area's mining past, is now in operation purely for the tourist trade and runs throughout the summer months. Skagway is also part of the setting for Jack London's book The Call of the Wild.

Skagway (originally spelled Skaguay) is from the Tlingit name for the area, "Skagua" or "Shԍagwei" meaning "a windy place with white caps on the water."[2]

Contents

History

The area around present-day Skagway was inhabited by Tlingit people from prehistoric times. They fished and hunted in the waters and forests of the area and had become prosperous by trading with other groups of people on the coast and in the interior.

One prominent resident of early Skagway was William "Billy" Moore, a former steamboat captain. As a member of an 1887 boundary survey expedition, he had made the first recorded investigation of the pass over the Coast Mountains, which later became known as White Pass. He believed that gold lay in the Klondike because it had been found in similar mountain ranges in South America, Mexico, California, and British Columbia. In 1887, he and his son Ben claimed a 160-acre (650,000 m2) homestead at the mouth of the Skagway River in Alaska. Moore settled in this area because he believed it provided the most direct route to the potential goldfields. They built a log cabin, a sawmill, and a wharf in anticipation of future gold prospectors passing through.

The boundary between Canada and the United States along the Alaska Panhandle was only vaguely defined then (see Alaska boundary dispute). There were overlapping land claims from the United States' purchase of Alaska from Russia in 1867 and British claims along the coast. Canada requested a survey after British Columbia united with it in 1871, but the idea was rejected by the United States as being too costly, given the area's remoteness, sparse settlement, and limited economic or strategic interest.

The Klondike gold rush changed everything. In 1896, gold was found in the Klondike region of Canada's Yukon Territory. On July 29, 1897, the steamer Queen docked at Moore's wharf with the first boat load of prospectors. More ships brought thousands of hopeful miners into the new town and prepared for the 500-mile journey to the gold fields in Canada. Moore was overrun by lot jumping prospectors and had his land stolen from him and sold to others.[3]

Gold Rush-era advertisements made on one of the mountains forming the eastern wall of the valley

The population of the general area increased enormously and reached 30,000, composed largely of American prospectors.[citation needed] Some realized how difficult the trek ahead would be on route to the gold fields, and chose to stay behind to supply goods and services to miners. Within weeks, stores, saloons, and offices lined the muddy streets of Skagway. The population was estimated at 8,000 residents during the spring of 1898 with approximately 1,000 prospective miners passing through town each week. By June 1898, with a population between 8,000 and 10,000, Skagway was the largest city in Alaska.[4]

One of the effects of the sudden rush of people was that some of the more experienced offered miners transportation services, often at highly inflated rates. A group of miners, upset with the treatment, organized a town council to help protect their interests. It can be surmised that the most influential members of the group were named H.F. Battin, Keiser, David McKinney and Marshall Bond.[5] The town council included their names in the naming of the streets. The outcome was that as the miners in the council moved north one by one the control of the town reverted to the more unscrupulous among the newcomers and locals organized by Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith.

Broadway Avenue, Skagway, in the early 1980s

Between 1897-1898, Skagway was a lawless town, described by one member of the North-West Mounted Police as "little better than a hell on earth." Fights, prostitutes and liquor were ever-present on Skagway's streets. The most colorful resident of this period was bad man Jefferson Randolph "Soapy" Smith. He was a sophisticated swindler who liked to think of himself as a kind and generous benefactor to the needy. He had gracious manners and he gave money to widows and stopped lynchings, while at the same time operating a ring of thieves who swindled prospectors with cards, dice, and the shell game. His telegraph office charged five dollars to send a message anywhere in the world. Prospectors sent news to their folks back home without realizing there was no telegraph service to or from Skagway until 1901.[6] Smith also controlled a comprehensive spy network, a private militia called the Skaguay Military Company, the newspaper, the Deputy U.S. Marshall and an array of thieves and con-men who roamed about the town. Smith was shot and killed by Frank Reid and Jesse Murphy on July 8, 1898, in the famed Shootout on Juneau Wharf. Smith managed to return fire — some accounts claim the two men fired their weapons simultaneously — and Frank Reid died from his wounds twelve days later. Jesse Murphy was actually the one who killed Smith.[7] Every summer daily productions of the Days of 98 Show portray Smith's criminal antics and death in Skagway.

Smith and Reid are now interred at the Klondike Gold Rush Cemetery, also known as "Skagway's Boot Hill."[8]

Broadway Avenue, in the summer during the tourist season

The prospectors' journey began for many when they climbed the mountains over the White Pass above Skagway and onward across the Canadian border to Bennett Lake, or one of its neighboring lakes, where they built barges and floated down the Yukon River to the gold fields around Dawson City. Others disembarked at nearby Dyea, northwest of Skagway, and crossed northward on the Chilkoot Pass, an existing Tlingit trade route to reach the lakes. The Dyea route fell out of favor when larger ships began to arrive, as its harbor was too shallow for them except at high tide.

Officials in Canada began requiring that each prospector entering Canada on the north side of the White Pass bring with him one ton (909 kg) of supplies, to ensure that he didn't starve during the winter. This placed a large burden on the prospectors and the pack animals climbing the steep pass.

In 1898, a 14-mile, steam-operated aerial tramway was constructed up the Skagway side of the White Pass, easing the burden of those prospectors who could afford the fee to use it. The Chilkoot Trail tramways also began to operate in the Chilkoot Pass above Dyea. In 1896, before the Klondike gold rush had begun, a group of investors saw an opportunity for a railroad over that route. It was not until May 1898 that the White Pass and Yukon Route began laying narrow gauge railroad tracks in Skagway. The railroad depot was constructed between September and December 1898. This destroyed the viability of Dyea, as Skagway had both the deep-water port and the railroad.

Construction of McCabe College, the first school in Alaska to offer a college preparatory high school curriculum, began in 1899. The school was completed in 1900.

Jeff. Smiths Parlor, Soapy's base of operations

By 1899, the stream of gold-seekers had diminished and Skagway's economy began to collapse. By 1900, when the railroad was completed, the gold rush was nearly over. In 1900, Skagway was incorporated as the first city in the Alaska Territory. Much of the history of Skagway was saved by early residents, such as Martin Itjen, who ran a tour bus around the historical town. He was responsible for saving and maintaining the gold rush cemetery from complete loss. He purchased Soapy Smith's saloon (Jeff Smith's Parlor), from going the way of the wrecking ball, and placed many early artifacts of the city's early history inside and opened Skagway's first museum.

In July 1923 President Warren G. Harding on his historic tour through Alaska visited Skagway. Harding was the first President of the United States while in office to travel and tour Alaska.[9]

The Skagway area today is home to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and White Pass and Chilkoot Trails. Skagway has a historical district of about 100 buildings from the gold rush era. It receives about a million tourists annually, most of whom (about three quarters) come on cruise ships. The White Pass and Yukon Route still operates its narrow-gauge train around Skagway during the summer months, primarily for tourists. The WPYR also ships copper ore from the interior.

Skagway was one of the few towns in Alaska (along with Petersburg and Seward) to endorse the 1939 Slattery Report on Alaskan development through immigration, especially of Jews from Germany and Austria.

Corrington's Alaskan Ivory and Museum is an outstanding private collection that spans the long and surprising history of Alaska (pre-historic times, Russian Period, U.S. Civil War, Gold Rush, through statehood in 1959) that charges no admission fee. It is located at Fifth and Broadway at the far end of the "Old Town" tourist area.

Geography

Skagway is located at 59°28′7″N 135°18′21″W / 59.46861°N 135.30583°W / 59.46861; -135.30583 (59.468519, −135.305962).[10]

Skagway is located in a narrow glaciated valley at the head of the Taiya Inlet, the north end of the Lynn Canal, which is the most northern fjord on the Inside Passage on the south coast of Alaska. It is in the Alaska panhandle 90 miles northwest of Juneau, Alaska's capital city.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city had a total area of 464.4 square miles (1,203 km2), of which, 452.4 square miles (1,172 km2) of it is land and 11.9 square miles (31 km2) of it (2.56%) is water. It is currently the smallest borough in Alaska, having taken the title away from Bristol Bay Borough at its creation.

National protected areas

Panoramic photograph of Skagway, c. 1915

Climate

Skagway has a humid continental climate (Köppen Dfb/Dsb) which is very unusual for a place so far north. It is in the rain shadow of the coastal mountains - though not as pronounced as the rain shadow in Southcentral Alaska in the valley of the Susitna River, this still allows it to receive only half as much precipitation as Juneau and only a sixth as much as Yakutat.

Climate data for Skagway, Alaska
MonthJanFebMarAprMayJunJulAugSepOctNovDecYear
Record high °F (°C)52
(11)
60
(16)
59
(15)
76
(24)
82
(28)
89
(32)
92
(33)
91
(33)
77
(25)
68
(20)
59
(15)
52
(11)
92
(33)
Average high °F (°C)26.9
(−2.8)
33.2
(0.7)
39.4
(4.1)
50.1
(10.1)
58.7
(14.8)
65.1
(18.4)
66.9
(19.4)
64.9
(18.3)
57.4
(14.1)
48.0
(8.9)
36.3
(2.4)
32.0
(0.0)
48.24
(9.02)
Average low °F (°C)17.3
(−8.2)
22.3
(−5.4)
27.0
(−2.8)
32.8
(0.4)
40.1
(4.5)
47.1
(8.4)
50.4
(10.2)
48.9
(9.4)
44.2
(6.8)
37.2
(2.9)
26.8
(−2.9)
22.8
(−5.1)
34.74
(1.52)
Record low °F (°C)−15
(−26)
−15
(−26)
−5
(−21)
14
(−10)
14
(−10)
23
(−5)
23
(−5)
23
(−5)
19
(−7)
8
(−13)
−6
(−21)
−14
(−26)
−15
(−26)
Precipitation inches (mm)2.17
(55.1)
1.84
(46.7)
1.55
(39.4)
1.20
(30.5)
1.30
(33)
1.11
(28.2)
1.19
(30.2)
2.19
(55.6)
4.04
(102.6)
4.24
(107.7)
2.89
(73.4)
2.43
(61.7)
26.15
(664.2)
Snowfall inches (cm)14.2
(36.1)
9.7
(24.6)
3.3
(8.4)
1.0
(2.5)
0.1
(0.3)
0.0
(0)
0.0
(0)
0.0
(0)
0.0
(0)
1.2
(3)
8.6
(21.8)
11.1
(28.2)
49.2
(125)
Avg. precipitation days (≥ 0.01 inch)991088891316181312133
Source: Western Regional Climate Centre[11]

Demographics

Historical populations
CensusPop.
19001,800
1910872−51.6%
1920494−43.3%
1930492−0.4%
194063428.9%
195075819.6%
1960659−13.1%
19706752.4%
198076813.8%
1990692−9.9%
200086224.6%
20109206.7%
source:[12]

As of the census[13] of 2000, there were 862 people, 401 households, and 214 families residing in the city. The population density was 1.9 people per square mile (0.7/km2). There were 502 housing units at an average density of 1.1 per square mile (0.4/km2). The racial makeup of the city was 92.34% White, 3.02% Native American, 0.58% Asian, 0.23% Pacific Islander, 0.81% from other races, and 3.02% from two or more races. 2.09% of the population were Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There were 401 households out of which 23.2% had children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.9% were married couples living together, 4.7% had a female householder with no husband present, and 46.4% were non-families. 36.2% of all households were made up of individuals and 6.7% had someone living alone who was 65 years of age or older. The average household size was 2.15 and the average family size was 2.81.

In the city the population was spread out with 20.5% under the age of 18, 5.2% from 18 to 24, 34.6% from 25 to 44, 31.2% from 45 to 64, and 8.5% who were 65 years of age or older. The median age was 40 years old. For every 100 females there were 109.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there were 112.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city was $49,375, and the median income for a family was $62,188. Males had a median income of $44,583 versus $30,956 for females. The per capita income for the city was $27,700. About 1.0% of families and 3.7% of the population were below the poverty line, including none of those under age 18 and 4.5% of those age 65 or over.

Transportation

The port of Skagway provides sea access to cruise ships and ferries.

Skagway is one of three Southeast Alaskan communities that is connected to the road system; Skagway's connection is via the Klondike Highway, completed in 1978. This allows access to the lower 48, Whitehorse, the Yukon, northern British Columbia, and the Alaska Highway. This also makes Skagway an important port-of-call for the Alaska Marine Highway — Alaska's ferry system — and serves as the northern terminus of the important and heavily-used Lynn Canal corridor. (The other Southeast Alaskan communities with road access are Haines and Hyder.)

The Skagway Airport receives service from two bush carriers: Wings of Alaska, and Air Excursions.

Media

Local radio and newspapers

Skagway is served by its local semimonthly newspaper, the Skagway News, as well as regional public radio station KHNS, which has its principal studios in nearby Haines but also has studios and programs based in Skagway. Juneau radio station KINY operates a translator in Skagway which serves the entire town.

Skagway also receives copies of the free regional newspaper Capital City Weekly.

Featured in media

In the Three Stooges short In the Sweet Pie and Pie, Skagway receives a humorous mention: "Edam Neckties, with three convenient locations: Skagway, Alaska; Little America; and Pago Pago."

Skagway is featured in the 1955 Western The Far Country, directed by Anthony Mann.

Skagway is a town featured in the computer game Yukon Trail.

In an episode of Homeland Security USA, the border crossing in Skagway was featured as being the least-used crossing in the United States.

Etymology and the Mythical Stone Woman

Skagway was derived from Shԍagwei, the nickname for Kanagu, a mythical woman transformed into stone who lived at Skagway bay. Through association, shԍagwei also became the name for the rough seas that Kanagu caused and for the river that Kanagu “personified.”

According to Tlingit mythology as of 1882, a rock at Skagway bay was a woman transformed into stone named Kanagu.[14] Also according to this mythology, when angry, Kanagu would send strong channeled winds through the Taiya Inlet, from the Skagway River to the area around Haines, Alaska.[15] Further according to this mythology, Kanagu “personified” the Skagway River.[16]

The river which Kanagu “personified” bore the name Shԍagwei.[17] Shԍagwei was also the name for the rough seas caused by the winds attributed to Kanagu.[18] (The Kanagu rock is likely to be Face Mountain, which overlooks Skagway bay.[19])

Shԍagwei was Kanagu’s nickname, describing her as beautiful, before she was transformed into stone.[20] The nickname appears to have been derived from the Tlingit verb theme -sha-ka-l-ԍeí, which means, in the case of a woman, to be beautiful.[21] Specifically, the word appears to have been created by omitting the verb classifier “-l-,” thus rendering a non-verb.[22]

References

  1. ^ a b June 5, 2008, election, Skaguay News, summer edition, 2008. Page 17.
  2. ^ Skaguay Alaskan summer edition, 2008. Page 16.
  3. ^ Skaguay News, summer edition, 2008. Page 16.
  4. ^ Alaska Trekker
  5. ^ http://www.nps.gov/history/history/online_books/klgo/hpd1/chap1.htm
  6. ^ Collier's Weekly, 11/09/1901
  7. ^ Smith, Jeff, Alias Soapy Smith: The Life and Death of a Scoundrel, Juneau, Alaska: Klondike Research, 2009. ISBN 0-9819743-0-9
  8. ^ http://www.southeasttours.com/skagway_sightseeing_tours_yukon_skagway_alaska_tour_info.php
  9. ^ "Skagway, Alaska ... Then & Now". http://www.flickr.com/photos/66733752@N00/2539667749. Retrieved 02-05-2011."Warren G. Harding". http://www.americanpresidents.org/presidents/president.asp?PresidentNumber=28. Retrieved 02-05-2011.
  10. ^ "US Gazetteer files: 2010, 2000, and 1990". United States Census Bureau. 2011-02-12. http://www.census.gov/geo/www/gazetteer/gazette.html. Retrieved 2011-04-23.
  11. ^ "SKAGWAY 2, ALASKA (508528)". Weather Channel. October 2011. http://www.wrcc.dri.edu/cgi-bin/cliMAIN.pl?ak8528. Retrieved 15 January 2010.
  12. ^ "Census of Population and Housing". U.S. Census Bureau. http://www.census.gov/prod/www/abs/decennial/index.htm. Retrieved 2011-05-25.
  13. ^ "American FactFinder". United States Census Bureau. http://factfinder.census.gov. Retrieved 2008-01-31.
  14. ^ Krause, Aurel, and Arthur Krause (1993 [Ger. Ed.: 1984]). To the Chukchi Peninsula and to the Tlingit Indians 1881/1882 (Ger. Ed.: Zur Tschuktschen-Halbinsel und zu den Tlinkit-Indianern 1881/1882) . University of Alaska Press (Ger. Ed.: Dietrich Reimer Verlag). ISBN 978-0-912006-66-6 (Ger. Ed.: 3-496-00756-7)., at pages 195 (two bays [1st bay is now Skagway]), 197-98 (Kanagu lives at 1st bay [Eng. Ed. translation “... in 1st bay” is incorrect]), 230 (note 22).
  15. ^ Id., at page 230 (note 22).
  16. ^ Id., at page 158.
  17. ^ Id., at pages 120 and 202 (Schkaguḗ).
  18. ^ Thornton, Thomas F. (2004). Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park Ethnographic Overview and Assessment. U.S. Dept. of Interior., at page 53 (Most [1995-2002 informants] agreed that the name [Shԍagwei] refers to the effect of the strong north wind on the waters of Lynn Canal, which generates rugged seas).
  19. ^ The Tlingit name for Face Mountain translates to Kanagu’s Image. See, Thornton, Thomas F. (ed.) (2012). Haa Léelk'w Hás Aaní Saax'ú: Our Grandparents’ Names on the Land. Sealaska Heritage Institute. ISBN 978-0-295-98858-0., at pp. 52-53 [Face Mountain = Kanagu’s Image].
  20. ^ See, Emmons, George T. (unpublished, 1916). History of Tlingit Tribes and Clans. B.C. Archives, reproduced in, Thornton, Thomas F. (2004). Klondike Gold Rush National Historic Park Ethnographic Overview and Assessment. U.S. Dept. of Interior., at page 19 (she was simply called Skagway [“the beautiful one”] … the rock wall opened and she disappeared forever. But when the North wind blows down from the White Pass, … it was believed to be the breath of her spirit).
  21. ^ See, Edwards, Keri (2010). Dictionary of Tlingit. Sealaska Heritage Institute. ISBN 978-0-9825786-6-7., at page 107 (This verb is used to describe a beautiful woman).
  22. ^ See, Id., at pages 29-30 (Every Tlingit verb must have a classifier).

External links