Look Up, Juneau! A Walking Tour of Juneau, Alaska
by Doug Gelbert
There is no better way to see America than on foot. And there is no better way to appreciate what you are looking at than with a walking tour. Whether you are preparing for a road trip or just out to look at your own town in a new way, a downloadable walking tour from walkthetown.com is ready to explore when you are.
Each walking tour describes historical and architectural landmarks and provides pictures to help out when those pesky street addresses are missing. Every tour also includes a quick primer on identifying architectural styles seen on American streets.
If you are sailing to Alaska to join the gold rush in the 1880s there are two strategies to employ in your quest for riches - hit the ground and start looking or pay someone to tell you where the gold is. Mining engineer George Pilz took the latter tack; he offered a reward to local Tlingit Indian chiefs who could lead him to gold. Chief Kowee of the Auk Tlingit tribe produced some nuggets he claimed came from the Gastineau Channel, a traditional fishing ground. Pilz sent prospectors Richard T. Harris and Joseph Juneau to check out the streams in August of 1880. At first they found nothing but eventually they explored all the way to the head of now-named Gold Creek where they scooped up nuggets “as larges as peas and beans.” The Alaskan Gold Rush was on.
By October of 1880 a 160-acre town had been staked out. At first it was named for Harris and then called Rockwell after a military man named Charles Rockwell and finally, after a vote by the miners in 1881, Juneau. In boomtown fashion Juneau attracted fortune-seekers from around the world but after the loose gold in streambeds ran out most of the prospectors moved on and the town settled into the business of hard-rock mining. Before the last mines closed in 1944 the Juneau area would produce more than $80 million in gold.
In 1900, Juneau was incorporated into a city. Six years later after Sitka, the original capital of Alaska, suffered a population drain with the decline of its whaling and fur industries the government picked up and moved to Juneau. It has remained ever since, fending off repeated re-location bids from more centrally located towns like Fairbanks and Anchorage. There have been votes to move the capital in 1984 and 1996 and as recently as 2002 a movement to abandon Juneau was squelched. Luckily for Juneauites there are two powerful pretenders to the throne whose interests tend to to cancel one another out, lest the other gain an advantage.
In the meantime Juneau, which can only be reached by water or air, hums along on the backs of the government that employs four out of every ten workers and the tourist industry which serves a million guests a year from arriving tour boats. The Juneau streetscape still resembles a frontier town with low-rise wooden buildings, about 60 of which remain from before 1900. There is no more spectacular state capitol setting than beside the Gastineau Channel at the foot of Mount Juneau and our explorations will begin on the docks where we are met by a very special greeter...
- Doug Gelbert, March 2013
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