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Historic Properties

National Park Service, National Register of Historic Places

Tour of National Register Historic Places in Seward

National Register Historic Places in Seward

  • Jesse Lee Home
  • Ballaine House
  • Lowell Creek Diversion Tunnel
  • St. Peter's Church
  • Seward Depot
  • US Cable Office
  • Swetman House
  • Van Gilder Hotel
  • Brown and Hawkins Store

  • THE JESSE LEE HOME FOR CHILDREN
    1824 Phoenix Road

    The Jesse Lee Home for Children is the second of three child welfare institutions in Alaska to bear the name. The first was established at Unalaska in the Aleutian Islands in 1890. The home was moved to Seward on Resurrection Bay in 1926. Following damage to the home in the 1964 earthquake, the Jesse Lee Home was relocated to its present location in Anchorage in 1965.

    Agnes Soule was a territorial teacher assigned by Sheldon Jackson, territorial education superintendent to work in Unalaska. Shortly after her arrival, she took several orphans into her home. Several more children were brought to her and she began to seek aid for the construction of an orphanage. Through correspondence with her father a Methodist bishop in Maine, she organized funding for a two building orphanage. Bishop Soule recommended the name Jesse Lee to honor a pioneer circuit riding Methodist preacher of the colonial northeastern United States. Miss Soule (later Mrs. Newell) and Dr. Newell ran the combination orphanage, school clinic, and welfare post for most of Unalaska’s home history.

    In the late teens and early 1920’s, several factors lead to the closing of the Unalaska Home. The pandemic Spanish influenza wiped out entire Alaskan Native coastal villages during 1918-1919. The Unalaska facility was filled to overflowing. The home was old and in serious need of repair. In addition, transportation of children and supplies had become very unreliable and expensive.

    Seward was elected largely because it was Alaska’s largest port and transportation point. It was believed that the costs of supplying the facility would be lower because of the regularly scheduled freight and passenger links with Seattle.

    The home appears to have averaged 120 children. Although some accounts indicate this number was much higher in the early years. Unfortunately, enrollment records have not been located. Numbers did not remain constant as some children grew up and left, were adopted, or died from tuberculosis. Some children were not orphans but placed in the home because their parents were in the Tuberculosis sanitariums in several locations around the state. Most children came from the Aleutian Islands or the Seward Peninsula (Aleuts or Eskimos) but children from all races and regions were represented.

    A most significant event during the home’s first full year in operation was to have one of their own win a statewide school competition to design Alaska’s flag. John Ben “Benny” Benson, Jr. a seventh grader won over 700 other contestants. Benny Benson of the village of Chignik was first placed in the Unalaska home and later traveled with the other students to the new Seward home. He designed the now familiar flag of eight stats of gold on a field of blue representing the North Star and the constellations the “Dipper” and the “Great Bear.”

    In March of 1964, a massive earthquake rocked south-central Alaska causing widespread damage. Goode Hall, the largest Jesse Lee building was heavily damaged and later condemned and demolished. The Methodist Church decided to close the Seward building and re-open a new home in Anchorage for two reasons. The Seward buildings were not well insulated and the complex was not economical to heat especially for the small number of children. In addition, the state of Alaska was moving away from orphanages and replacing this system with one oriented around foster care. Now known as Alaska Children’s Services, this organization still provides services to children and their families.

    In 1966, the Methodist church deeded the Jesse Lee Home to the city of Seward, who eventually sold the property to the private owners. Today, after being abandoned for nearly 40 years, the property is again owned by the City of Seward.

     

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