Facebook Page
AK Day 14 PP


Land of Midnight Sun

Day 14 part B

After boarding the bus the driver talked about the city of Fairbanks and our next stop Pioneer Park.

The people who live along the rivers and coastline of northern Alaska are predominately Native American- Yup'ik, Inupiat, and Athabascan. For most of them, when they "come to town" they come to Fairbanks. "The Golden Heart City."

Low water levels on the Chena River caused the “Lavelle Young,” a riverboat, to run aground in 1901. The captain kicked a trader named E.T. Barnette off the boat – with 130 tons of supplies. Right then, an Italian immigrant prospector, Felix Pedro, came down out of the woods to see what was happening. The next year, Pedro found gold near Fairbanks, and triggered the Fairbanks Gold Rush. More gold has been mined near Fairbanks than any other part of Alaska. So Fairbanks got its start as a trading post, not a mining town.

Pedro’s discovery and the location of Barnette’s trading goods launched a rush to Fairbanks that brought prospectors and merchants from other gold fields such as the Klondike.

Between the 1902 gold discovery and 1910, the Fairbanks camp grew to more than 3,500 souls, according to the 1910 census. But about 11,000 other people lived in small towns scattered amid the gold fields north of Fairbanks.

Fairbanks is named for Charles W. Fairbanks, who represented Indiana in the U.S. Senate and served as vice president under President Teddy Roosevelt. The town was named in his honor as a tribute, proposed by Judge James Wickersham, who had told Barnette that he would locate his courthouse here if Barnette chose that name.

Gold production and the town’s fortunes began to decline after the 1910. It wasn’t until after the federal government finished building the Alaska Railroad in 1923 that Fairbanks enjoyed a resurgence.
It happened because the railroad improved transportation services, allowing access to coal, which replaced wood as the primary fuel. The navy would refuel ships with this coal at southern Alaska ports.

In the late 1930’s Congress created a cold-weather test site in Fairbanks. Ladd Field, now known as Fort Wainwright, was transfer point for nearly 8,000 aircraft delivered to the Russians during World War II as part of the Lend-Lease program. Today there is a presence of thousands of troops at Fort Wainwright and at Eielson Air Force Base. This drives the mean age of the population in the Fairbanks area to around 28 years of age. The city thrums with a youthful vitality that comes with being a college town, home of the University of Alaska Fairbanks Nanooks.

Today the Golden Heart City and its suburbs are home to about 100,000 residents.
Riddle?? Why doesn’t Fairbanks celebrate the 4th of July with fireworks.

Pioneer Park history.

Pioneer Park is Alaska’s only historical theme park and is a 44 acre facility in Fairbanks that is intended to preserve the history of inner Alaska and Fairbanks in particular. It includes numerous museums, shops and restaurants and has no charge for admittance. Many of the seven small museums do have a charge. Pioneer Park began soon after Alaska became a state when in the late 1960 the Pioneers of Alaska requested public lands from the State of Alaska. The plan for the land was to create a tourist attraction that showed historical Alaska exhibits.

To manage the project, the Pioneers of Alaska formed the nonprofit organization Pioneer Memorial Park, Inc. Almost immediately, several historic structures were moved to the property and efforts began to create a historic village explaining the history of Fairbanks.

In 1965, another group known as the Alaska 67 or A67- committee requested that the park be used for the 100th year celebration of Alaska’s purchase from Russia. The A67 committee subleased the property and reopened the facility as the “Alaska 67 Centennial Exposition.”

After the event, the Pioneer Memorial Park returned the property to the State of Alaska who immediately turned over the property to the City of Fairbanks. On May 1, 1968, Mayor Red Boucher of Fairbanks stated that the name for the park was now “Alaskaland.” The name Alaskaland lasted more than thirty years, but there were many complaints that tourists often seemed to expect to find a theme park along the lines of Disneyland. With the theme of history and recreation, a push began in 1999 to rename the park. In October 2001, approval was received to return the park’s name to Pioneer Park and it became official in July 2002.

Leaving the bus after a short ride from Steamboat Landing and entering the park the first thing to visit was the Harding Rail Car.

pp entrance

This is the railroad passenger car used by President Warren G. Harding when he visited the territory of Alaska in the summer of 1923. Harding was the first chief executive to visit the territory when he came to celebrate the completion on the Alaska Railroad. President Harding arrived in Alaska by the USS Henderson on July 7, 1923. Harding and his presidential party arrived at Seward on July 13 and boarded this car to tour the Alaska Railroad.


The Alaska Railroad supplied the presidential party a full train for their tour of Alaska. The train consisted of a baggage car; business cars A1 and B1; sleeper cars “Fairbanks”, “Talkeetna” and “Anchorage”; diner car “Seward”; and compartment observation cars “Kenai” and “Denali.”

Harding made a number of appearances between his arrival at Seward, his dedication of the railroad at Nenana and his visit to Fairbanks on July 15, 1923. In poor health, Harding returned to Seward on the 17th and then returned to Portland via Vancouver, Canada (becoming the first president to visit Canada). At 7:35pm on August 2nd , Harding died suddenly in the middle of conversation with his wife while in San Francisco.

Pullman built this car as a Compartment Observation Car in 1905 (Lot 3205, Car 760). It contained four staterooms, one drawing room, a buffet room, card room and observation room. The car was sold to Great Northern Railway on September 21, 1905, and it operated between Saint Paul and Seattle. GN sold the car to the Alaska Railroad in 1923 and renamed it “Denali”.

It is believed that the buffet room and card room were removed to expand the observation room resulting in the change of two window configurations on the left side of car.

In 1945, the car was converted into outfit car #003 and retired to a siding near Nenana. During the 1967 Alaska Centennial Exposition in Fairbanks, it was installed at the park.

I toured the car and looked in on the rooms in the back. An old car from a time long ago. If the walls could talk, think of the many exciting stories we would hear.

The display boards were new, very nice with lots of information with photos on them. These were donated by the NRHS.

I then proceeded across the street to Judge Wickersham’s House that is listed on the National Register of Historic Places and was moved to Pioneer Park in 1968.

Upon entering the Judge’s house I was meet by a nice lady docent. We chatted for a while and she gave me a short history of the house and the Judge.


James Wickersham (August 24, 1857 - October 24, 1939) was born in Illinois and married Deborah Bell in 1880, the same year he passed the Illinois Bar exam. They moved to Tacoma, Washington Territory in 1884 where Wickersham practiced law, in part as attorney for the city of Tacoma, and served in the Washington State House of Representatives.

Gold and Law in Alaska

The gold discoveries of the Klondike and Nome had attracted hordes of prospectors and, along with them, corruption and claim jumping. By 1900, new criminal and civil codes, as well as the expansion of the U.S. District Court system brought the first law and order to the Interior. The 3rd Judicial Division, comprised of 300,000 square miles, was the responsibility of the new District Court Judge, James Wickersham.

In 1900, Judge Wickersham was appointed by President McKinley to head the newly created Third Judicial District of the Alaska territorial court. He brought the first law to Interior, Alaska, a district that covered 300,000 square miles.
Eagle City, a town on the Yukon River, was the official headquarters for the 3rd Judicial District. Here, after building his modest log home, Wickersham began settling mining claim disputes and collecting saloon license fees. He presided over judicial proceedings, traveling by foot, steamer, dog team and revenue cutter. Wickersham held "floating court" in the Aleutians and elsewhere along the coast aboard U.S. Revenue cutters.

In 1903, he moved the headquarters to the newly formed town of Fairbanks and completed seven terms as U.S. District Court Judge (1900-1907).

Climbing McKinley
He took time in 1903, at age 45 to become the first white man to attempt to climb Mt. McKinley. He was thwarted by a sheer rock wall that now bears his name, Wickersham Wall. He had climbed every major peak of the Olympic Peninsula before coming to Alaska. While a delegate to congress, Wickersham won legislation creating Mt. McKinley National Park.


The new Tanana Valley gold strike had started a stampede in 1902, and gold seekers poured into the area surrounding Barnette’s Cache. Wickersham struck a bargain with Barnette that if he would rename the town site Fairbanks, after the senator from Indiana, he would move the district headquarters from Eagle to Barnette's Cache. In 1903, the headquarters were moved to Fairbanks.

court house

Delegate to Congress (1909-1920 and 1931-1933)

During his seven terms as Alaska's non-voting delegate to Congress, he was able to persuade an uninterested Congress to pass legislation of major importance to Alaska.

  Home Rule 1912 - Wickersham prized most of all his accomplishment of winning an elected legislature for Alaska. As part of the Organic Act of August 24, 1912 (Wickersham's 55th birthday), Home Rule brought to Alaskans a privilege that had been denied for 45 years.

 Alaska Railroad 1914 - In the face of bitter opposition from powerful private corporations, Wickersham, an eloquent speaker, delivered a 5 1/2 hour successful speech to Congress, which appropriated funds for construction.

 Alaska Agricultural College & School of Mining 1917 - Wickersham believed that with a college, railroad and Home Rule, Alaska would move closer to becoming the independent state it deserved to be. Later, the college became the University of Alaska.

 First Statehood Bill 1917 - Wickersham introduced the idea of statehood to congress 43 years before it became a reality.
 house paint
After leaving the Judge’s home, I walked down Sourdough Way thru the town of Gold Rush to the Pioneer Museum. Here you can learn about the early pioneer’s daily challenges living and working in the Far North.




 At the Pioneer Museum, you will discover the early days of Fairbanks. You’ll see relics of the gold stampede, feel the vitality, energy and daring of the miners, merchants, and families who came on the heels of the prospectors and helped establish Fairbanks as thriving center of Interior Alaska trade in 1903.

model a

model 2

model 2

model c

model d


cash register


I was told the next show of The Big Stampede would start in 45 minutes if I wanted to see it. I was interested in seeing it but I wanted to look around outside some more and would think about coming back to see the show.

tanan station

Next it was The Tanana Valley Railroad Museum. It was built and is managed by the Friends of the Tanana Valley Railroad (FTVRR).The FTVRR is non-profit organization of volunteers. Over a period of 8 years the volunteers restored and now operate Engine # 1 at Pioneer Park. The $2.5 million dollar museum building was built in 2005 and opened to the public in 2006. The museum building consists of two parts: a large shop area to work on Engine #1 and other restoration projects, and a smaller area where there are displays and a short track to display #1 and other rail stock. This is a working museum where visitors can see what is going in in the shop and learn something about the engine and the Tanana Valley Railroad.

# 1 was built on January 12, 1899, by H. K. Porter & Co., it was purchased new from company stock on May 5, 1899, by the North American Transportation and Trading Company. Its purpose was to haul coal from mines up Cliff Creek to the Yukon River 1.75 miles away. To haul passengers, the railroad has several small bench cars which sit approximately twenty adults each.

I was able to secure a empty seat among the few left and then we departed the station for the ride on the 0.6 mile route around Pioneer Park. It was a fun ride in the open air cars behind the steam engine.


After the train ride I decided to go watch the Big Stampede to the Northern Gold Fields. It is a 50-minute journey consisting of 15 mural-sized paintings with a narrated history of the Yukon and Fairbanks gold rushes. I heard the story of the hearty miners who traveled North in search of gold as told through the beautiful paintings.

After the show it definitely was time to find that All-You-Care-To-Eat dinner place.

m golf

Mini-golf wth Pioner Air Museum gold dome in background.

The Alaska Salmon Bake is located at the west end of Pioneer Park and is known for fire grilled salmon, slow cooked prime rib & beer battered Bering Sea Cod and rounded out with baked beans, salad and blueberry cake. The Alaska Salmon Bake is surrounded by what is known as Mining Valley, a collection of mining and working replica of a gold rush-era sluice gate.

GPS: 64 50.336, -147 46.447     To see map location, copy and paste in brouser.

I went to the hostess, check-in and received my platter to fill up. First went to the outdoor alder wood fire to get that salmon, then some beef and the Bering Sea Cod. Followed by a swing by the salad bar and last stop at the soda and drink bar. Found a place at one of the long tables and sat down to enjoy a great meal. Then went back for selected seconds. And finally over to the desert cabin for some pan cake with fruit topping.

fire pit

dining room


salad bar

pie cabin



Alaska wildlife.





Walking back through the park the next stop was the Pioneer Air Museum. Housed in the Gold Dome at Pioneer Park, the organization began in 1979 and opened in 1992. The museum chronicles the development of flight in Alaska. The collection included complete aircraft, mechanical parts, and many documents about the history of Alaska air flight.


plane 2

inside a

inside 2

inside 3

inside 4

inside 6

end of inside

After leaving the Air Museum it was getting close to time to meet the bus for the trip to the next adventure in the North. As I was walking back to entrance I notice the shops and stores were closing for the day and shortly for the season. When I arrived at the entrance there were several others waiting for the not here buses. Shortly the bus arrived and we all boarded for the ride to our next venue.

Contact info:

Pioneer Park -
Wickersham House Museum -
Pioneer Museum and the Big Stampede -
Pioneer Air Museum -

Table of Contents

Fountainhead Antique Auto Museum

[ | Rail Travelogues by other Reporters ]