"" Writer's Wanderings: Port of Call - Skagway, Alaska

Thursday, September 26, 2013

Port of Call - Skagway, Alaska

Skagway in 1897 was filled with throngs of gold seekers. It began as just a jumble of tents but eventually by the turn of the century became a bustling town. While the Klondike Gold Rush only lasted a few years, it was a time for Skagway to blossom. It was a rough town and boasted 80 brothels the most famous of which was the Red Onion Saloon, a place you can visit today and hear the stories of old.

While there are lots of old looking new buildings there are still a lot of the historic sites left standing. One such is the Arctic Brotherhood Hall built in 1899 and the only remaining example of turn-of-the-century Alaska driftwood architecture.

If you are like us and have done the White Pass and Yukon Railway to the summit of White Pass and the bike ride down the mountain, you have a few other choices to explore that I hadn't remembered from before. There is an opportunity to visit the Yukon wilderness, travel to nearby Haines to see the bald eagles, check out the gold rush history and learn to pan for gold and enjoy some of the other outdoor adventures like horseback riding, hiking, river rafting, etc.

With another beautiful weather day at hand, we opted to just stroll around Skagway and were rewarded with a view of a stream full of salmon still trying to get up it. We found several historical markers and ventured into the Mascot Saloon, a part of the National Park there in Skagway. The Saloon was restored to what it looked like in the early 1900s. There are some interesting museum pieces on display of supplies and tools back in the late 1800s when the gold rush was on.

Skagway also has a small museum linked to its town hall. I was very impressed with the area's obvious push to preserve its history and share it with visitors. Next to the museum we noticed an old chimney standing in among a small grove of trees. Not far from it along the trail was a historical marker telling of its significance.

Harriet Pullen was the wife of a fur trader. She left her husband and four children in the state of Washington and ventured north for the gold rush to make her fortune. She arrived at Skagway with $7 in her pocket and took a job cooking for a crew of men for $3/day. She capitalized on her cooking talents and creativity pounding tin cans into pie tins to make pies to sell. Eventually she made enough money to buy a small cabin and send for her family.

When she fell and broke her arm, her gold prospecting dream ended but not her courage. She sent for the horses she'd left in Washington and used them to haul freight over the White Pass Trail. When the gold rush subsided, she opened a small boarding house.

Harriet met every tourist ship that docked in Skagway, entertained her guests with stories of the north and overwhelmed them with her motherly ways so much that she was dubbed "Mother of the North." With the help of her son and granddaughter, she kept the Pullen House open until her death in 1947. The house was eventually demolished in 1991 but the chimney still stands on the historic property.

Hats off to Harriet! She earned her money without opening a brothel.

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