One of Alaska’s most unusual contributions to the list of National Historic Places is a small stone storehouse on the U.S.-Canadian border between Stewart, British Columbia and Hyder, Alaska. One of four such storehouses built in the area in 1896, it is also one of the oldest stone and masonry buildings in Alaska.
Hyder is a small community, established in 1907 at the mouth of the Salmon River, near the head of Portland Canal. Rich gold and silver lodes discovered in the upper Salmon River basin led to Hyder becoming the primary access and supply point for the mines by 1917.
The area around Portland Canal was first explored in 1896 by Captain David du Bose Gaillard of the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers during the American-Canadian Boundary Dispute. Captain Gaillard had been instrumental in the construction of the Panama Canal, being in charge of the central district of the Canal, designing and engineering the Gatun Dam and the notorious Culebra Cut through the backbone of the isthmus.
On August 17, 1896, during an increasingly heated dispute over the boundary between Alaska and Canada, when ownership of the Portland Canal was in contention, Captain Gaillard received orders from Washington, D.C. to build four masonry storehouses at the head of Portland Canal in southeastern Alaska, and to make a strategic military reconnaisance of the area. In Portland, Oregon the Captain requisitioned and fitted the lighthouse tender Manzanita, hired 22 civilian workers, secured all the supplies except masonry, and sailed north.
The nomination form for the National Register of Historic Places notes Capt. Gaillard established his base of operations at Eagle Point and, utilizing the excellent sand at Halibut Bay, proceeded to build storehouses in four locations: Manzanita Cove (Storehouse No. 1), Lizard Point (No. 2), Halibut Bay (No. 3), and Eagle Point (No. 4). When the boundary was changed in 1906 storehouses nos. 1 and 2 became Canadian possessions.
The Eagle Point Storehouse, also known as Storehouse No. 4, has interior dimensions of 10 by 15 feet and its walls are 12 to 18 inches thick, with a hip roof covered in cedar shingles. The NRHP form notes a dressed stone laid in the wall with a neatly cut inscription: “U.S. Property, Do Not Injure.” About 25 feet from the storehouse stood a 35’ spruce flagstaff, upon which was carved, “U.S. Sept. 14, 1896.” The NHRP form says, “….on which date a United States ‘storm flag’ 4 feet 9 inches by 8 feet was first hoisted, which was done with a salute, three cheers, and uncovered heads.” (The flagpole is no longer there.)
The NHRP form also explains: “Although nothing appears in official documents, the timing, placement and massive masonry design of the four structures would suggest a military strongpoint, rather than civilian use. Considerable animosity had generated in Canada’s desire to have a North Pacific seaport; denied them if the U.S. had held fast to the terms of the purchase with Russia.”
“Storehouse No. 4 is significant for the course of history it represents and for its distinguished builder. It offers rare remaining physical evidence of National stress which, fortuitously, was peacefully resolved. Less significant, it is one of four structures which were probably the first masonry structures in Alaska.”
In addition to the construction of the four stone storehouses, Captain Gaillard made meticulous observations which remain a contribution to Alaska science and literature. His 18 page study of the climate, tides, geographic features, natural and human resources of the region was published in the Annual Report of the U.S. Army Chief of Engineers, 1897. In fulfiling his orders the captain travelled 9,000 miles and reported the mission completed only two months after leaving Washington, D.C. ~•~