Skagway's Historic Waterfront

Skagway's Historic Waterfront (HM1DQU)

Location: Skagway, AK 99840 Skagway-Hoonah-Angoon
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Country: United States of America
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N 59° 27.007', W 135° 19.426'

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Skagway had a deep-water harbor and was the starting point of the White Pass trail, which began in the river valley and let through the mountains. Skagway was the place where thousands of stampeders started their journey to the Klondike gold mines. Captain William Moore had wisely predicted a coming gold rush stampede and had tried to prepare for its impact by building a wharf and sawmill and making other improvements. In July 1897, almost one year after the discovery of gold in the Klondike, ships jammed with people and supplies began to fill the Skagway harbor. Many stampeders believed that Skagway was the best place to begin the overland journey to the gold fields of the interior.

The arrival of the stampeders quickly turned the wilderness river valley into a city of tents and log cabins. During the fall and winter of 1897-1898, the harbor was a wild scene of chaos and confusion—-jammed with ships, scows and barges unloading passengers, equipment, supplies, freight and animals. Hastily constructed rough frame buildings, along with tents and cabins, became stores, hotels, restaurants and businesses. Frank Reid, the city surveyor, quickly platted the new town site in 360 lots, each 50 feet by 100 feet, and streets 60 feet wide. A city of thousands developed almost overnight. The predication was that Skagway would become the metropolis of the north and the gateway to the interior.

The most pressing need for stampeders going to the Klondike was transportation. The hazards of the White Pass encouraged entrepreneurs to dream of new solutions to the transportation problem. By the winter of 1897-98 the Brackett Wagon Road was in business, with tolls charged for its use. The potential for economic development in the north was so great that it caught the imagination of Close Brothers in England. In the spring of 1898 these investors decided to fund construction of the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad.

For 100 years Skagway and the railroad have enjoyed a common history. It began with tracks on the waterfront. Generations of families have worked together to create a lasting community for their children. Many have worked for the railroad, served as longshoremen to unload ships, and move freight or provided educational and medical services to local families.

(Inscription beside the photo in the upper left)
People, animals and freight jam the Skagway docks c. 1897. Horses were shipped from Seattle and Vancouver for sale to stampeders and packers to move freight over the White Pass Trail. Few animals survived the trail. The early months of the stampede were chaotic and disorderly and Skagway became infamous for being wild and unlawful. _UAF Rasmuson Library Archives.

(Inscription under the photo in the lower left)
Skagway graffiti, c.1930. For the past century, cruise line personnel have commemorated their ship's visit in Skagway by painting the ship's name, logo, and other messages on the face of the rocks above Moore Wharf. The volume of graffiti has increased along with the number of ships.—Alaska State Library, PCA 01-2851. Early Prints of Alaska Collection.

(Inscription under the photo in the center)
Above: Skagway's prime competitor for the stampeders and their freight was the settlement of Dyea, nine miles away. The Chilkoot Trail, the historic route to the interior, began in the Dyea river valley. But Dyea's waterfront was shallow, and all freight had to be lightered onto the beach. Business competition between the two communities was fierce. The completion of the railroad in Skagway caused people to abandon the trails. C.1898—Bancroft Library

(Inscription beside the photo in the lower right)
Wharves on the Skagway harbor, 1899-1900. On the east is Moore Wharf, with the railroad running along the steep cliffs. Skagway's deep-water harbor gave it an advantage over Dyea. -SW 57/1072, Cynthia Taylor Collection, Klondike Gold Rush NHP.(Inscription beside the photo in the upper center)
Left: The Seattle P4. In its edition of July 17, 1897, gave the Klondike Gold Rush its push into history. With the headline "Gold! Gold! Gold! Gold!" the newspaper helped to create the stampede to the north. Ships began to leave Seattle within hours, people quit their jobs, left their families and—often ill prepared—began the race to the Klondike. The first 1000 miles were by boat from Seattle to Skagway or Dyea. Stampeders travelled an additional 600 miles north to the rich gold fields of the Canadian Klondike.— Negative #4093. Special Collections Division, University of Washington Libraries.
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Date Added Thursday, September 11th, 2014 at 9:18am PDT -07:00
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Locationbig map
UTM (WGS84 Datum)8V E 481642 N 6590219
Decimal Degrees59.45011667, -135.32376667
Degrees and Decimal MinutesN 59° 27.007', W 135° 19.426'
Degrees, Minutes and Seconds59° 27' 0.42" N, 135° 19' 25.56" W
Driving DirectionsGoogle Maps
Area Code(s)907
Closest Postal AddressAt or near 314 Broadway, Skagway AK 99840, US
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