A Mystery in Nenana
An excerpt from Alaskan Roadhouses: Shelter, Food and Lodging Along Alaska’s Roads and Trails, by Helen Hegener, published in 2016 by Northern Light Media.
The 1923-24 edition of Polk’s Gazetteer and Directory includes an interesting description of the village of Nenana:
NENANA. Pop 1000. Situated on the left limit of the Yukon River near its confluence with the Nenana. 60 m sw of Fairbanks, banking point. With the advent of the U S Government railroad this place has grown from a trading post of a few people to one of the progressive cities of the North. Being the first point in Central Alaska where the Government railroad reaches navigable water, immense docks, which were constructed by the Alaskan Engineering Commission, line the waterfront. Has Presbyterian and Catholic churches and Episcopal church and school. A weekly newspaper, The Nenana News, is published. The opening up and developing of the Nenana coal fields, which lie but a short distance south, means a great deal to this town, as well as the whole Tanana district. The Mount Mc-Kinley National Park lies 75 m sw of Nenana, which is the outfitting point for touring parties into this great natural park. Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System. Am Ry Express.
In the directory section there are listings of trappers, miners, longshoremen, fishermen, dozens of Alaska Railroad officials and workmen, and, oddly, a name identified as the “city scavenger.” What is not included, oddly enough, is any listing for the name of Sizeland, or Sizeland’s Roadhouse. Since the photos of the roadhouse are from 1922, this glaring omission a year later struck me as rather odd.
A search for Sizeland and Nenana turns up some interesting and potentially related records.The 1930 Census Record for Nenana, in the Fourth Judicial District, Alaska, United States, includes the following: “James Sizeland lived in Fourth Judicial District County, Alaska in 1930. He was the head of the household, 54 years old, and identified as white. James was born in England around 1876, and both of his parents were born in England as well. In 1930, James was not married. He immigrated to the United States in 1909.”
Could this be the same Sizeland the roadhouse is named after? The dates align properly, and the name is unusual enough that mere coincidence is unlikely.There’s a short mention of James Sizeland in the Fairbanks Daily News-Miner on January 10, 1930: “James Sizeland, who has a homestead between Fairbanks and Nenana, arrived here on yesterday’s train.”
If this is the same person, his fate seems to have been an unhappy one. In the archives of the Fairbanks Daily News-Minerthere is a brief comment in the April 7, 1932 issue which notes: “With Oscar Luckman in his custody, Deputy TJ. S. Marshal Pat O’Connor left for Seward on today’s train. Luckman, who was adjudged insane yesterday, will be taken to Morningside Sanitarium. At Nenana Deputy H.I. Miler was to board the train with James Sizeland, who also has been committed to the sanitarium. At Seward Luckman and Sizeland will be turned over to Marshal Lynn Smith.”
A 1955 Department of the Interior report still listed James Sizeland as a patient at the infamous Morningside Sanitarium in Portland, Oregon. He would have been 79 years old. A further search, of the hospital’s patient records, shows he passed away the following year.
An excerpt from Alaskan Roadhouses: Shelter, Food and Lodging Along Alaska’s Roads and Trails, by Helen Hegener, published in 2016 by Northern Light Media. 6" x 9", over 100 black/white photographs, 284 pages. $24.95 plus $5.00 for First Class shipping.