Pre-1887 – Skaqua or Shgagwéi, as it is known by the Tlingit, a windy place with “white caps on the water,” is used by Chilkoots and Chilkats for hunting and fishing. A few of these Native Americans settle in the quieter areas of Smuggler’s Cove, Nahku Bay and Dyea, head of the Chilkoot trail, a centuries-old Indian trading route becoming popular with early prospectors heading into the Yukon. In the 1880s, U.S. Navy and Army patrols establish federal presence in the area.
1887 – In June, Skookum Jim, a Tlingit packer from Dyea and Tagish, leads Capt. William Moore, a member of Canada’s Ogilvie survey party, over a new pass up the Skaqua river valley. It is later named White Pass for the Canadian Interior minister. In October, Moore returns with his son, Bernard. They lay claim to 160 acres in the valley floor and begin work on a cabin and dock. They call the place Mooresville.
1894-95 – Northwest Mounted Police patrol lands in Skagway and Dyea on way to Yukon to establish Canadian presence in area. First group of prospectors hike Moore’s crude trail over White Pass.
1896 – On Aug. 16-17, gold is discovered by Skookum Jim, George W. Carmack and Dawson Charlie on Rabbit Creek, later called Bonanza, a tributary of the Klondike River, 600 miles from Skagway. They stake their claim to history.
1897 – Moore opens trail on July 14, just before steamships Excelsior and Portland arrive in San Francisco and Seattle with famed “Ton of Gold,” setting off Klondike Gold Rush. On July 29, the steamer Queen lands at Moore’s wharf, the first of many stuffed with hundreds of gold seekers. The Moores are overrun: Mooresville is re-platted by surveyor Frank Reid as Skaguay. Later that fall, a post office, and the first church (Union), and newspaper (Skaguay News) are established. Many pack animals perish on crude White Pass, which will be dubbed “Dead Horse Trail.” George Brackett builds toll road to White Pass City, a tent city 15 miles up the valley. Canadian Mounties begin to guard the passes, although their government is claiming territory including Skagway, where they briefly establish a post.
1898 – Skagway booms to 8,000 to 10,000 population. Daily Alaskan newspaper appears. Chamber of commerce and volunteer fire department organize. Construction begins in May on White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad after an agreement is secured by Close Brothers of London to purchase Brackett’s road for a right-of-way. Unofficial city government forms and allows railroad tracks up Broadway. First school opens in Union Church in June. Criminal element led by Soapy Smith reigns until he is shot and killed by an angry mob led by Frank Reid on July 8, four days after he stood on the podium with Gov. John Brady at Skagway’s first Independence Day celebration. U.S. Army, stationed in Dyea, restores order. Reid dies from wound and is given a hero’s funeral at the town cemetery on the outskirts of town. Spelling changed to Skagway by post office, and most businesses reluctantly follow. Townspeople are called Skagwayans.
1899 – City has two more newspapers, the Daily Budget and Alaska Traveler’s Guide. Railroad contractor Mike Heney’s crews advance the line to the summit in February and Lake Bennett in July. Building boom continues with construction of prominent city structures like Arctic Brotherhood Hall, and McCabe College, which is built on land donated by Capt. Moore. He builds his own showplace home nearby. Some buildings are shipped over from declining Dyea. School moves into new building on 11th. But the city becomes fire-weary after seven downtown buildings are destroyed in May, and a forest fire destroys Army post near Dyea. The troops, most of them black Spanish American War vets, move to Skagway.
1900 – Census is taken in Skagway, recording 3,117 residents. On June 28, Skagway becomes the first incorporated city in Alaska on a vote of eligible property owners, 246-60. It beats Juneau by a day. On July 29, the WP&YR is completed between Skagway and Whitehorse with a golden spike ceremony at Carcross, Yukon. Ornate WP&YR administration building completed next to rail depot at Second and Broadway. Railway also builds a hospital.
1901-02 – McCabe College closes and building is sold to federal government for courthouse. H.D. Clark farm established across river. Charley Walker sends vegetable display to Portland Exhibition. Moore townsite claim settled, Moores get 60 of original 160 acres and compensation. Harriet Pullen leases and then purchases Moore’s stately home and opens hotel called Pullen House. Herman Kirmse organizes first garden show in 1902. On Sept. 14, a man attempts to rob the Canadian Imperial Bank of Commerce branch on Fifth and blows himself up by accident, along with cash and gold dust, some of which is recovered after mining the street. The man is never identified. Dentist L.S. Keller ends up with skull. Troops begin work on Fort Seward near Haines, where they will be transferred permanently in 1904.
1903-05 – International Boundary dispute finally settled in 1903 with borders set at tops of mountain passes. Skagway News closes in 1904, leaving only the Daily Alaskan. Bobby Sheldon, 14, builds first automobile in Alaska for 1905 Fourth of July parade. He will later drive first car and run tours over Alaska’s first highway between Valdez and Fairbanks, where the Skagway car will end up in the University of Alaska museum. In December, a meeting is held in Skagway about building a road from here to eventually connect with the Valdez road.
1908-10 – A number of buildings are relocated to Broadway from other parts of the city to develop a business district concentrated around the rail line. Among those moved are the Red Onion Saloon and the Golden North Hotel, owned by the Dedman family. The family later will take over E.A. Hegg’s photo shop.
1912-13 – Fire on hillside above Lower Dewey Lake destroys P.E. Kern’s Castle, a hotel in the woods. J.M. “Si” Tanner, a popular marshal and hardware store owner, is elected to Alaska’s first Territorial Legislature in 1913.
1914 – Major Richardson of Alaska Road Commission approves rough four-mile road up east side of river. Local crews led by Herman Olson and Charlie Nye get a quarter-mile further to the “Rock Wall.”
1915-17 – Alaska Women’s Temperance Union meets in Skagway and writes “Alaska Bone Dry Act,” which Legislature will later adopt ahead of national prohibition movement. Martin Itjen operates first Skagway Hack, doubling as a taxi and coal delivery truck. His business will evolve into the popular Skaguay Street Car Co. Itjen acquires Soapy’s Parlor for a museum; one of his artifacts is the bank robber’s skull which he acquired from Dr. Keller, who has taken over the fledgling Alaskan. Keller coins the term “Garden City of Alaska.” A new bank opens in 1916, the Bank of Alaska. It will pioneer branch banking and grow under the Rasmuson family into the largest bank in Alaska. Itjen’s friend, George Rapuzzi, establishes Pet Cemetery across river where his dog loved to chase rabbits.
1918 – Saloons close. On Oct. 23, SS Princess Sophia leaves Skagway with more than 350 aboard. That evening she strikes Vanderbilt Reef in a blinding snowstorm near Juneau. Captain gambles on tide lifting ship off reef. After two days of weather deemed too rough for a rescue by smaller boats, she breaks apart and all aboard perish. Among them are many of the Yukon’s leading citizens and Walter Harper, a member of the first expedition to ascend Mt. McKinley, who is on his honeymoon.
1920-22 – Skagway Women’s Club forms and establishes Skagway Library in 1921. First airplane lands on beach. Col. Steese meets with Skagway Citizens and secures $95,000 for first leg of road to summit. $5,000 is spent on survey but rest is never spent.
1923- President Warren G. Harding visits Skagway on Navy ship on July 11, 1923. He delivers an address at the Pullen House and is the final inductee into the Arctic Brotherhood. George Rapuzzi, a member of the Alpine Club, climbs the mountain opposite Skagway and flashes presidential party with mirrors from the summit. Peak hereafter is named Mt. Harding for the president who would die shortly after his return from Alaska. Daily Alaskan shuts down after the death of publisher Keller.
1924-30 – Beginning of first tourism boom heralded by visible promoters Itjen and Pullen, along with WP&YR, which convinces ships to stay 36 hours so visitors may ride the train and take a Yukon lake steamer trip from Carcross to beautiful Ben-My-Chree. As a fund-raiser for the hockey club, townspeople hold a variety show for tourists at the White Pass Athletic Club. It will become the Days of ‘98 Show and move to the Eagles after the athletic club shuts down during the Great Depression.
1931 – St. Pius X Mission is established in Skagway under the wing of beloved Father G. Edgar Gallant, who will operate the school for Native children from all over Alaska for almost 30 years.
1932 – White Pass roundhouse burns February 12.
1933-34 – Idea for a Gold Rush National Park in Skagway is first promoted by Chamber of Commerce committee. A proposal to include it as part of Glacier Bay National Monument is pigeon-holed. Prohibition repealed. ARC builds first airfield from 13th to 22nd Avenues along Main Street.
1935 – In a heavily promoted visit, Martin Itjen calls on sexy starlet Mae West in Hollywood, invites her to “come up and see me sometime” in Skagway. Town hosts first convention as Newspaper Institute of America delegates arrive on ship.
1939 – Women’s Club raises $25,000 from Territory and $24,500 from federal Works Progress Administration to build a new school. It opens in 1940 behind the old one at State and 11th.
1942-44 – Skagway is literally invaded by U.S. Army troops, who take over the railroad for a major supply route to build the Alcan Highway. As many as 20 trains a day climb the pass. Over the next three years as many as 3,000 troops are stationed here. Vacant lots sprout rounded Quonset huts and H buildings. A pipeline is constructed along railway for fuel shipments. Army takes over fire department and promises 24-hour service, however major fires devastate ornate Elks lodge and the Pullen House. Army has better luck assisting community when the Skagway River crests its banks twice and floods portions of the city. Without the troops’ help building up the dikes, the town could have been lost.
1945 – After troops leave Skagway, U.S. Health Service opens a 90-patient tuberculosis sanitarium in the army hospital across the river. Nurses come from Sisters of St. Ann in Victoria, B.C. It closes in 1947.
1946-50 – WP&YR takes back operation of railroad and takes over fuel operation. Tracks are removed from Broadway in 1947. A fire almost destroys the Mission School. Dyea Road constructed by Alaska Road Commission. Tourism pioneers Itjen and Pullen pass on. Pullen House eventually closes, but Rapuzzi keeps Itjen’s dream alive at Soapy’s.
1951 – White Pass becomes a pioneer in the shipping industry with containerized cargo: from the docks in Vancouver, loaded on the ship Clifford J. Rogers (first container ship in the world) for the journey to Skagway, then onto trains bound for its destination in Whitehorse.
1952 – Aluminum Company of America (ALCOA) announces plans to build a $400 million smelter in Dyea, powered by the mighty Tyee Project, a proposal to reverse the flow of the Yukon River with a dam in Whitehorse, and thence using that water from Yukon lakes through two tunnels down the old Chilkoot Trail to power the smelter. A “mighty city of 20,000” will be needed to support the plant, which will need 20,000 acres in the valley floor. Juneau Empire starts weekly Skagway Alaskan newspaper. Townspeople are called Skagwayites.
1953 – In July, the Taiya River washes away home of Dyea homesteader Bill Matthews and other cabins are lost along West Creek. Women’s Club sponsors Harvest Fair. Workers strike railroad for 12 days and get 14-cent pay increase. ALCOA dream fades as negotiations fail to convince Canadians they would receive benefits of cheap power from the Tyee project. Company starts looking at Taku alternative and Stewart, B.C. Newspaper promotes road to Carcross. Yukon later builds its own dam.
1954-55 – Railroad takes delivery of first two diesel-electric engines, in addition to 39 new flat cars and six tanker cars. North end of dock collapses under weight of 30 tons of lead and zinc concentrate. Alaskan merges with Haines Herald to become Lynn Canal Weekly. Bid for addition to school comes in at $265,000. Alaska Road Commission approves quarter-mile extension of Carcross Road to Black Lake. But it won’t go further until Canadians support a road from Carcross to the border.
1956-60 – City of Skagway purchases McCabe building from federal government in 1956 for city offices. ALCOA formally abandons smelter plans in 1957. Alaska and Skagway celebrate statehood in 1959, and Morgan Reed is elected to first of four terms in the State Legislature. Monsignor Gallant is transferred to Anchorage that year and the Mission School closes without his leadership in 1960.
1961-62 – Another mile of road is built “to modern standards” to the sheer rock face past Black Lake. Upstairs of McCabe converted into the new Trail of ‘98 Museum, using many artifacts donated by Skagway families. Work begins again on establishing a national park after new State of Alaska shows interest. State selects land in Dyea valley for recreational use. Cy Coyne starts monthly North Wind newspaper.
1963-66 – First Alaska Marine Highway ferry arrives. Rep. Reed teams up with Sen. Elton Engstrom to pass bill to form Yukon-Taiya Commission and revive Tyee Project if state’s Rampart dam doesn’t materialize. Commission meets in 1968 to assess power needs. Chamber of Commerce organizes Clean Sweep.
1967 – Skagway River floods. Dikes breached and Pullen Creek culvert washes out. Gov. Wally Hickel flies up to inspect damage. White Pass Hospital closes after serving community for 69 years, and city begins work on new Dahl Memorial Clinic which opens in 1968.
1968-69 – WP&YR builds new railroad depot next to old one. Plans announced for Cyprus Anvil mine near Faro, Yukon, leading White Pass to upgrade its track and equipment for a huge lead-zinc haul. Company officials convince city council to grant 55-year tidelands lease for a new ore terminal and dock. White Pass roundhouse burns again in 1969.
1970-72 – Road support builds on both sides of border. Canadians build new bridge in Carcross and extend road to B.C.-Yukon border in 1971 with activity at Venus Mine. In February, 1972 Canadians agree to build remaining 33.6 miles to Alaska border, and Alaska agrees to construct their 9.4 miles. It will be called the South Klondike Highway. Park master plan is developed. White Pass donates old depot to National Park Foundation. Yukon-Taiya Commission disbands.
1973 – White Pass sold to Federal Industries. Alaska Congressional Delegation introduces first bills establishing Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. Final road surveys completed. First seasonal park rangers appear on Chilkoot Trail under authority of Glacier Bay National Monument.
1974-75- A $10.9 million contract is awarded to Central Construction of Seattle, a company affiliated with one of Alaska’s new Native corporations, for the Alaska portion of the Klondike Highway. Canadian contracts go to Ben Ginter of Prince George, B.C. (16 miles to Tutshi River) and General Enterprises of Whitehorse (20 miles to border). Construction to take three years.
Photos: Skagway Museum, KGRNHP, Brady collection