Seward, Alaska

An excerpt from Alaska & The Klondike

A new feature for all Alaskan History Magazine subscribers is excerpts from the books published by Northern Light Media. This week’s excerpt is from Alaska & The Klondike, which includes a chapter from Frank Carpenter’s Alaska: Our Northern Wonderland, published in 1923 by Doubleday, Page & Co., Garden City, New York.

Frank George Carpenter (1855-1924) was a traveler, photographer, journalist, and lecturer whose writings helped popularize world geography and cultural anthropology. First working as a journalist for the Cleveland Leader, he became a correspondent for the American Press Association in 1884. By 1878 his writings were being widely syndicated in newspapers and magazines, and in 1888 he and his wife embarked on a trip around the world, describing life in the countries they journeyed through.

The Carpenters traveled 25,000 miles in South America in 1898, and from the mid-1890s until he died, Frank Carpenter traveled around the world almost continuously, authoring nearly 40 books and hundreds of magazine articles about his extensive travels. Carpenter's real estate holdings in Washington made him a millionaire, and he was a Fellow of the Royal Geographical Society, the National Press Club, and numerous scientific societies.

In 1893 The San Francisco Morning Call wrote “He stands at the head of the syndicate correspondents of the United States. What he writes is read every Sunday in twenty of the biggest cities of the Union, and his newspaper constituency must at the lowest amount to a million readers every week.”

With his daughter Frances Carpenter, Frank Carpenter photographed Alaska between 1910 and 1924. The Frank and Frances Carpenter collection at the Library of Congress totals approximately 16,800 photographs and about 7,000 negatives.

Carpenter died of sickness in 1924 while in Nanking, China, on his third trip around the world, at age 69. The Boston Globe obituary observed he "always wrote fascinatingly, always in a language the common man and woman could understand, always of subjects even children are interested in."


In Chapter 31 of Alaska: Our Northern Wonderland he describes a visit to Seward:

Seward is the southern terminus of Alaska’s new railroad and, so the Sewardites say, the country’s chief ocean port of the future. Its citizens are already comparing it with Stockholm, which has almost four hundred thousand inhabitants, and they claim that it will be the gateway to resources equal to those of the four Scandinavian countries. They point out that Norway, Finland, Sweden, and Denmark, which are in the same latitude and have much the same climate, have a population of over fourteen million and say that Alaska will some day have twenty million or more. Seward is situated on the great Gulf of Alaska at about the middle of the southern coast of the territory. It is on Resurrection Bay, a magnificent inlet at the lower end of the Kenai Peninsula, so surrounded by mountains and guarded by islands that within its harbour ships are as safe as alongside the docks of Hamburg or Liverpool.

The city is as far from Ketchikan, where the Seattle steamers make their first stop, as the distance from New York to Cleveland. It is only five or six days from Seattle, although without stops the voyage could be easily made in less than three days. By the new railway line it is within five hundred miles of Fairbanks from which a great part of interior Alaska can be reached by the river steamers.

But come with me as I climb the wall of the great mountain that rises straight up on one side of Resurrection Bay and get a bird’s-eye view of the town. Leaving the wharves and passing through the business and residential sections, we shall make our way through the moss, and after pulling ourselves from one tree root to another, shall finally stand high over the harbour.

The mountain wall rises sheer above Seward to a height of several thousand feet, losing itself in the great range that bounds this side of the harbour and fading away into the snow-capped peaks behind. The first hundred feet is covered with green trees, some of which are two feet in diameter. They cling to the rocks and grow straight up, forming palisades, as it were. Among them are bushes, making a jungle that reminds me of the lower slopes of the Himalayas. There are giant ferns under alder trees and salmonberry bushes, the whole growing out of a deep bed of moss into which our feet sink as though into feathers.

At the left, looking out through the dark spruce, we can see the white glacial waters of Lowell Creek roaring as they rush foaming over the rocks down into Resurrection Bay. They cut their way through the upper part of the town and pass under the railway embankment which circles the harbour.

Turning about, we can see Resurrection River, which comes in at the end of the bay, and across the inlet an- other mountain wall rises before us. Its peaks are of black volcanic rock, and in its hollows nestle glaciers of pale green ice that the sun turns into emeralds. High up on the mountainsides are patches of snow gleaming like silver against the black cliffs, and below, rising a thousand or more feet from the water, is the great blanket of forest green that covers southern Alaska.

This forest-clad wall extends to the end of the harbour where it drops into the sea. Beyond it are the mountainous islands that guard the bay and make it almost landlocked. At first sight the land seems continuous, but there is a narrow passage between Fox Island and the Kenai Peninsula so that the shipping of the world can sail in and out.

The bay itself is about sixteen miles long and is protected on all sides from the gales. Its waters are from six hundred to twelve hundred feet deep, so deep that the only anchorage outside the wharves is at Sunny Cove off Fox Island, where, for an area of about three hundred and twenty acres, the water is shallow enough for ships’ anchors to reach bottom.

I have visited most of the great harbours of the world, including the Golden Horn, at Constantinople, the land- locked channel of Sydney, Australia, and the wonderful Bay of Rio de Janeiro. The harbour of Seward is as beautiful as any of these, and has wonders that the others know not. Its surroundings of green, mixed with glaciers and snow, are like those of no other harbour on the face of the earth. The whole is a mighty amphitheatre of green lowland and blue waters, of snow-capped mountains and glacier-clad hills, roofed by the clear sky.

It is in the arena of this amphitheatre that Seward has so recently come into existence. On the north side of the bay and running back to the mouth of Resurrection River is a plain giving enough space for a large city, but as yet having houses only on a spit of land that juts out into the sea. There the ships lie at the wharves built upon piles. The business section of the city is back of the wharves, where for perhaps one third of a mile the ground rises, giving excellent drainage. Here the streets climb the hills and then go over a slope that rolls gently on until it reaches the mountain wall in the rear.

The better houses are pretty bungalows and artistic cottages. Nearly all have smooth green lawns with flowers and plants. The houses, though small, are comfortable and well furnished. They have electric lights and all the modem conveniences. Board sidewalks have been built, and a bridge of planks crosses the ravine through which flows Lowell Creek. The new homes of Seward are beyond these bungalows. There the west bank of Resurrection River has been laid out in town lots and real-estate signs are scattered among the tents and shacks. There are many tents with walls and floors of boards. The average board shack, which may form the home of a family of from two to a dozen, is not more than ten by twelve feet in area.

The business section of Seward already fills two or three streets close to the wharves. The main street has been macadamized and concrete sidewalks have been laid. The business buildings are of one and two stories. Some of them are of frame, others are of galvanized iron. Midway in one block I saw a shed consisting only of an iron roof upheld by poles. It had chairs under it and was labelled the “ Royal Bootblack Parlour.”

Seward has a number of restaurants and several hotels. I am living in a hotel facing the harbour, with a half-dozen small glaciers in sight over the way. I have two connecting rooms, lighted by electricity and heated by stoves, the charge for which is two dollars and a half per day. On the same floor is a porcelain bathtub which I can use for fifty cents extra and have hot water therewith if the order is given beforehand. As is common in Alaska, the hotel has no eating accommodations, but I get excellent meals at the restaurants on the main street two blocks away, where I can dine fairly well for seventy-five cents.

The port of Seward is ice-free the year round. Deep-draft vessels can come in on any day of the year. The winter climate of this coastal region is not much colder than that of Seattle or Portland, and it is warmer than either Norfolk or Baltimore. The temperature ranges from fifty to eighty-five degrees above zero in summer and from thirty to fifty degrees above zero in winter. Once the thermometer fell to seven below zero but that is the coldest on record. The rainfall is about the same as that of Ohio and Virginia, the total precipitation being forty- two inches per year.

It seems strange to think of going bare-footed in Alaska, but the children of Seward do that all summer long. They go bathing in the waters of Resurrection Bay, and swimming parties to Lake Kenai, some distance back in the country, are among the features of their picnic excursions. When the Government took over the Alaska Northern company’s railroad there was a big jump in land values. Business property trebled and quadrupled in price, and the same was true of the suburbs. The prices of land are high, but it will not be long before the city will come up to the expectations of its owners. The present additions to the townsite are at the head of Resurrection Bay, where tents have been erected, frame buildings put up, and families located. For ten miles up the valley of Resurrection River men have taken up homesteads, and farms the size of garden patches are being cultivated here and there. Some of the homesteads were applied for ten years ago, but owing to government red-tape as to titles the applicants have not been able to complete their ownership.

Resurrection Bay was named by the Russians, who discovered the harbour on an Easter Sunday. There was a white settlement here when the first public buildings of Washington began to go up on the banks of the Potomac. The first residents were Russians, who had a colony on Kodiak Island about two hundred miles distant. They came here to build ships, choosing the place on account of the harbour and the timber near by. The first ships built on the western shores of North America were constructed here, and one of them was launched when George Washington was still serving his first term as president. Later, when the seat of the Russian administration was transferred from Kodiak to Sitka, the shipyards were given up.

After the Russians left. Resurrection Bay was frequented by the Indians, who came here to hunt and fish; and then, perhaps a hundred years later, a white man named Frank Lowell, a sailor from Maine, settled where Seward now stands. He had a wife of mixed Indian and Russian blood, and was one of the class popularly known as “squaw men.” After he had lived here for ten or twelve years, along about 1890, Lowell deserted his wife and his five children and emigrated to Kodiak. Mrs. Lowell remained and was on the ground and claimed ownership at the time that the Alaska Northern Railway Company selected Resurrection Bay as the southern terminus of its line. She received four thousand dollars in cash and thirty-seven town lots from the company for her claims. ~•~

Alaska & The Klondike: Early Writings and Historic Photographs, compiled and edited by Helen Hegener, is an anthology of selected writings by early explorers and travelers in Alaska and the Yukon Territory of Canada. Published in May, 2018 by Northern Light Media. 320 pages, over 100 b/w photos, ISBN-13: 978-1717401991. $24.95 plus $5.00 First Class shipping.