Story time with Aunt Phil: Founder's Day
Seward residents celebrate Founder’s Day on Monday, just like they have for the past 114 years. Which brings us to this week’s Alaska Story Time with Aunt Phil where we find out how and why the little town began growing on Resurrection Bay.
In 1898, an official exploring party that was attempting to find possible railroad routes came into Resurrection Bay. They found four or five houses built along the shore and their report said that a railroad could be built from there to Sunrise, then a busy gold-mining center.
There was little interest in the route at that time, but in the early 1900s, the idea of a railroad to the Interior was conceived.
A party of surveyors and engineers came to Resurrection Bay on August 28, 1903, and disembarked from the Santa Ana steamship with a plan to build a railroad. Brothers Frank and John Ballaine, agents for the Alaska Central Railroad, and W.M. Whittlesey, laid out the city.
Since the surveying chain for measuring had missed the boat, the links were cut from bailing wire, and using a tailor’s cloth measuring tape, the city lots were laid out. When the proper equipment arrived, the measurements were off only a few inches.
These men laid out the present city in a traditional grid of city blocks and wide streets, like small railroad towns across America. Optimimism must have been high for the prospects of this town nestled at the foot of Mount Marathon, as one of Seward’s first streets was named Millionaires Row for the prospectors who were pulling in gold from Alaska’s creeks and streams. Another was called Home Brew Alley, for perhaps obvious reasons.
The town, named after U.S. Secretary of State William H. Seward, was on its way.
The Alaska-Central Railroad started with great plans to connect the coast of Alaska to the Matanuska coalfields and the gold mines in Fairbanks. Railroad workers filled the new town – at one time there were 3,500 people living there.
But the Alaska Central went bankrupt in 1908. It re-emerged as the Alaska Northern in 1910 and construction resumed on the single-track standard-gauge line.
But by 1915 it was hardly in operating condition. Then the U.S. Government stepped in and chose Seward as the saltwater terminus for its proposed Government Railroad. And so began the construction of the Alaska Railroad, which eventually connected Seward to Fairbanks and birthed the town of Anchorage along the way.