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
Riddle?? Why doesn’t Fairbanks celebrate the 4th of July with
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
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.
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
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
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
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
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.
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.
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
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.
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.
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
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
After the show it definitely was time to find that
All-You-Care-To-Eat dinner place.
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.
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.
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