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Seward History

How Seward Was Founded

Community History and Character


Seward's destiny as an ice free port and the hub of commerce and transportation began as long as two million years ago with the advent of the Pleistocene Epoch.

The Seward side of the Kenai Peninsula provides some of the best evidence of Pleistocene glacial activity. Most of the valleys are U-Shaped with steep sides and a broad flat bottom. River cut valleys tend to be V-shaped. The valley in which Seward is situated was formed by a main valley glacier.

From several miles north of its head to the mouth of Resurrection Bay, a river of ice hundreds of feet thick flowed south. To get an idea of how far it filled this valley, note the terrace it formed halfway up the side of Mount Marathon. Then look across the valley and pick out the highest peak, Mount Alice ..... the U-shaped valley just below Mount Alice is hanging above the main valley floor. The base of the ice was not at today's shoreline. Judging from the soundings in Resurrection Bay, the ice scored up to 900 feet below current sea level.---All the ground you walk on in the Seward area has in some way been shaped by glacial activity. (Testarmata)

Viewed from across Resurrection Bay or from the air it is easy to see the alluvial fan caused by the abrupt change in gradient of a loaded stream which once flowed out of what is now known as Lowell Canyon and the flood plain and delta at the mouth of Resurrection River. Though it looks to be barren soil, in fact this age old alluvial fan was once densely covered with coniferous forest. (Ross)

Early Native Influence

Legend and history confirm that humans used this area for many centuries. In prehistoric and early historic times, the bays around Seward sheltered Unixkugmiut settlements. (Barry). Nearly all of these settlements were abandoned by the 1880 census, although a village called Yalik, in Yalik Bay south of Seward was inhabited by 32 people in 1880. It was abandoned by the 1890 census. (Barry) Several significant indigenous camps or settlements survive along the coast. In 1993 archeological surveys in Kenai Fjords National Park reconfirmed the presence of these and uncovered several new sites used by both prehistoric and early historic man. (Kenai Fjords National Park)

Explorations and Settlement

Unlike other countries who came north largely to chart and explore the vast new territory, the Russians came to Alaska to explore and to establish firm claim to the land by building permanent settlements. Grigor Shelikhov, a Siberian merchant, built the first Russian settlement on Kodiak in 1784. Shelikhov hired Alexander Baranov and in 1792 ordered the building of ships in the new colony. Baranov entered the inlet he chose for the shipbuilding site on Easter Sunday, 1793 and named it "Voskrensenskaya Gavan," - Resurrection Bay. Storehouses, living quarters, and a palisade were constructed somewhere in the Bay area. The PHOENIX, the first Russian ship built in what was to become America, was launched in August, 1794. (Barry I: 17-19) No confirmed artifacts from this historic shipbuilding site in Resurrection Bay have been found to date.

Captains Portlock and Dixon, of the British Royal Navy, charted portions of Prince William Sound in 1786 and 1787. Portlock's chart gave the name "Port Andrews" to the site now known as Resurrection Bay. (Barry I: 15)

A small party of the United States Geological Society (USGS) which was exploring Alaska from Cook Inlet northward to discover a route from tidewater to the Tanana River, landed at Resurrection Bay on May 30, 1898. It was lead by Lt. H.G. Learnard. Also in the party were Mr. Bagg and Walter C. Mendenhall of the USGS. One of the routes to the Turnagain Arm gold fields at Sunrise and Hope, founded in 1895, began at the head of Resurrection Bay.

Several results of this 1898-1899 exploration were significant for Seward's future. This party mapped the trail from Resurrection Bay to Turnagain Arm and the Crow Creek to Eagle River route. The reports influenced the development of the railroad route from Resurrection Bay to the head of Turnagain Arm and along the north side of the Arm, and also lead to the establishment of the Iditarod dog team trail.

The official reports also mention the agricultural possibilities of the Matanuska Valley and the extensive and valuable Matanuska coal fields. These findings, together with the mining activities at Hope and Sunrise encouraged promoter John Ballaine to organize the first railroad out of Seward. (Barry 1986)

Although the founding of Seward is dated from the August 28, 1903 landing party headed by the Ballaine brothers, the founders of the Alaska Central Railway, there were early settlers prior to 1903. Mail and supplies for the gold fields in the Hope-Sunrise area were landed here as early as the 1890's. Later this included Nome and Iditarod.

Frank Lowell and his family settled on Resurrection Bay in 1884. Mrs. Lowell, who was of Russian and Native extraction, and several children and their spouses, had homes in what became part of the original townsite. Frank Lowell decamped to Kodiak and remarried prior to the coming of the Ballaines and the railroad. Nothing of Lowell homesite remains, but sites such as Lowell Point, Lowell Canyon, Lowell Glacier, Mt. Alice and Mt. Eva commemorate their place in Seward's history.

Seward's footprint was determined by a survey drawn up by C. M. Anderson, Civil Engineer, and signed by Frank Ballaine on behalf of his brother John Ballaine, founder of the Alaska Central Railway. The plan laid out city blocks divided by wide streets and bisected by alleys as neatly and precisely as a railroad surveyor could make them.

The original townsite proceeded from the waterfront to seven lots beyond Monroe Street and from First Avenue at the foot of Mount Marathon and Bear Mountain to the sea. There were 40 blocks and 1211 lots (some were truncated by the curve of the shoreline.) Each lot within this townsite was 30' wide by 100' long. The street bordering the south side of town was named Railway Avenue and each of the other east-west streets were named for the first Presidents: Washington, Adams, Jefferson, Madison, and Monroe. The North/South avenues were named First, Second, Third, Fourth, Fifth, Sixth, and Seventh (now Ballaine Blvd).

Frank Ballaine dedicated the streets and avenues to public use, reserving the right to construct and operate railways, telegraph and telephone lines, gas and water mains, and tunnels or other excavations on the streets. The plat was recorded on June 7, 1905 and with a few exceptions continues to this day. (Barry 1986)

By the time the plat was recorded, Seward's earliest settlers, many of whom had arrived on the steamer SANTA ANA in 1903, had built a thriving town. Millionaire's Row, a series of larger homes on Third Avenue, were built and occupied by Alaska Central Railway officials by 1905. Many of these early homes and apartments such as the Ballaine House, Hale House, Cameron House, Holland House, Winter, Stewart and Williams Houses and Harborview Apartments still stand in Seward today.

Home Brew Alley, a collection of small houses on lower Second Avenue, housed several of the early settlers. This area fell victim to urban renewal after the 1964 earthquake and there are no extant buildings from this unique area of town.

With the exception of Anchorage, which also began as a railroad terminus, Seward is unique in Alaska for its conformation and compact downtown business section. In many ways Seward resembles small railroad towns in the rest of the United States rather than its sister cities in Alaska which often have meandering streets and spread out business sections.

Military and Government

The first attempt at city incorporation was an election held in May 1911, but the proponents failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed. The incorporation was delayed until May of 1912 when Seward residents voted 160 for and 31 against incorporation. (Barry 1986)

One of the reasons given for Seward's survival as a town during the discouraging years between the first boom accompanying the building of the Alaska Central Railway and the excitement related to the beginning of the Alaska Railroad was the stability of the town's institutions.

Unlike many early Alaskan settlements, Seward had a planned layout and most of the amenities found in Stateside towns of the same size. Legal procedures were immediately available, a school system began during the founding and grew with the town, and churches were established, with permanent buildings to accommodate them. (Barry 1986)

Seward developed some industries which helped it survive the hiatus between the railroad activities. The largest source of jobs was the mining industry on the Kenai Peninsula. The transportation point for travel into the interior began in Seward, and the town became the headquarters for many who followed the various gold rushes. The community also had an aggressive booster organization in the Seward Commercial Club and an optimistic newspaper. (Barry 1986) The Alaska Central Commission Building served as City Hall until it was razed in 1964 and replaced by the current city hall building.

An early jail and magistrate's office was located at the corner of 3rd and Adams but was moved to the rear of the fire hall in 1917 and into the Harriman (Ray) Building in 1919 (the vault was used as a cell). In 1920 the jail was moved to the Commission Building, then into the fire hall located on Third Avenue where the Tot Lot is now located. In 1948, the firemen built a firehall at the present location next to the Civic Center. This building burned, along with the Civic Center in 1962, and a new one was built in 1963. When the new city hall was built in 1964 the jail was relocated to the basement where it remains.

Alaska was not much affected by the World War I era in terms of Federal spending. (Alaska Historical Commission). However, the decision in 1914 by the Federal Government to purchase the Alaska Northern Railway and build the Alaska Railroad had a significant effect on Seward. By 1916, 600 men were working out of Seward on the railroad, and in 1917 this had increased to 888 men, creating a housing shortage. (Barry 1993)

Polk's Directory for 1917-18 shows a population of 1500, a sharp rise from previous surveys. Many of the workers were affiliated with the Alaska Engineering Commission, the U.S. Government agency engaged in the construction of the Alaska Railroad.

After the United States entered World War I, the armed forces drew off people to work outside of Alaska. However, work continued on the railroad and on September 10, 1918 the gap which existed between Seward and Anchorage was closed, and three trains per week began running between the two towns. The railroad headquarters moved to Anchorage in 1917 taking higher ranking personnel and causing much resentment in Seward. (Prince) All sectors of the economy suffered and the population dropped. The 1920 census lists fewer than 700 people in Seward. (Barry 1993) In 1930 train service to Seward was reduced to one train per week. Economic doldrums continued throughout the decade with declining population and no growth.

The imminence of a second world war made a significant impact on Seward in July, 1941 when the Army stationed 171 officers and 3,278 enlisted men at Fort Raymond, an Army Post established just outside the townsite limits. Fortifications, including a 6 inch "en barbette" battery named Fort McGilvery, were built at Caines Head and several of the islands south of Seward. Seward was ringed with 155 MM, and 75 MM gun emplacements, remnants of which still exist in various places around the area. The airport was cleared and made ready for planes by August 30 of 1941.

The initial encampment consisted of a vast array of tents. Later, Quonset huts and wooden barracks were built. The 420th Coast Artillery Corps soon joined the Army. They were located on Seventh Avenue (now Ballaine Blvd.) between Jefferson and Monroe Streets.

One can only imagine the impact an Army of this size had on the small city, as well as the financial benefits derived from the $6,641,495 in construction costs of these defense units.

The entire camp and the gun emplacements were abruptly dismantled in March, 1944. Some Quonset huts were converted to dwellings after the war and are still occupied. Many of the Fort Raymond buildings were bought by local people, moved, and converted to other uses. For example, the Cedarside Apartments building on Third Avenue began its life as a military barracks and the Methodist Church, which was destroyed by fire in 1994, once served as the Chapel at Fort Raymond. Remnants of Fort McGilvery still exist in the Caines Head State Recreation Area south of Seward.

Commerce and Economic Development

The gold mining strikes at Sunrise and Hope on Turnagain Arm in 1893 turned into a gold rush in 1896. One of the routes to Turnagain Arm started at Resurrection Bay. Other gold producing areas on the Kenai Peninsula developed: Russian River, Palmer Creek, the Moose Pass district, and Nuka Bay. Seward became the principal supply point of the Kenai Peninsula mining operations. (Barry 1986)

Alfred Lowell and others located mining claims in and near Seward on Tonsina Creek, Humpy Cove, Falls Creek, Sunny Bay, Thumb Cove, and the head of Fourth of July Creek. These unprofitable mines were soon abandoned, leaving little in the way of buildings or other indications of their existence.

While no coal deposits were found in the Seward area, it was the coal fields located in the interior that lead Ballaine to believe that a railroad was economically feasible and ultimately led to the founding of Seward as a debarkation point for coal from the northern fields. The withdrawal of development and mineral rights of these coal fields by the Federal Government in 1906 led to the bankruptcy of the railroad and the cessation of railroad construction. Today that interior coal is moved by rail and shipped to overseas markets.

Fur trade in the area was limited. After Frank Lowell settled on Resurrection Bay in 1884 a ship would come in once a year to pick up furs, perhaps obtained from pelagic hunters who sought otter and other sea mammals, and to leave supplies. (Barry 1986)

While fur hunting was not a major part of Seward's economy, by 1923 Seward functioned as headquarters for outfitters and guides on the Kenai Peninsula and Fox Island was the site of a fox farm. Fox Island was also the home of noted New York artist and book illustrator, Rockwell Kent and his son during the winter of 1918-1919. Kent's book, Wilderness (1920), was written about his life on Fox Island.

With the establishment of dairy herding in 1904, Seward residents were supplied with fresh milk as early as 1904. In 1915, the Seward Dairy was established at Mile 3 (the McPherson Homestead) by Adelman and Quilty. Mr. Adelman, later sole owner, moved the business to what is now called Dairy Hill, formerly Chamberlain Hill (Barry 1986). Purchased in 1924 by Henry Leirer, the Dairy operated until 1956. The present residence was built in 1929 and is still occupied by the Leirer family.

The fisheries industry began when San Juan Fisheries and Canning Company established the first cold storage plant in Seward in 1917. It was located offshore on pilings between Monroe and Van Buren Streets as was the subsequent salmon saltery, halibut processing plant, and salmon cannery. Remains of the pilings are still visible. (Williams)

The Halibut Producers Co-Op (now Seward Fisheries-Icicle Seafoods) was the first business to rebuild in Seward after the 1964 earthquake, following complete destruction of the original processing plant on the waterfront. At one time it was the nation's largest halibut processor. It is still in operation and processes salmon, halibut, cod, and crab in season. This operation has been expanded several times and has an active dock area.

Since the townsite and the surrounding area had an abundant timber growth of spruce and hemlock, cottonwood, birch and alder (much used to smoke fish) small scale logging was part of Seward's industrial development from its founding. Sawmill operations were opened at Mile 3-1/2 and logging was opened up in 1923 at several sites around the Bay, at Fourth of July Creek, and at Bear Lake. A sawmill operated at Bear Lake by the Tressler Brothers until 1973 when it was acquired by Louisiana Pacific and was moved and enlarged. It closed and left Seward in the 1970's.

President Theodore Roosevelt established the Chugach National Forest on July 23, 1907. Today it is one of the oldest national forests in America. The original boundaries included what is now Anchorage all the way to, and including, Kodiak. It is currently the second largest national forest in the country. (Allen)

Tourism was a part of the economy even before there was a town of Seward. Steamships landed passengers and freight at the head of the ice free bay and from there they headed north to the gold fields by horse, dog team or on foot. As the work on the railroad progressed, more traffic was generated and early Seward boasted the Coleman House, Hotel McNeiley, Seward Hotel, Hotel Overland and others. The Van Gilder, built in 1916 as an office building and meeting rooms, was converted to a hotel in 1921. Only the Van Gilder survives today as the others were victims of fires.

With the creation of the Kenai Fjords National Monument by President Carter in 1978, tourism began to occupy an important place in Seward's economy. It became a national park in 1980 and visitation has since grown to 170,000 visitors in 1993. (U.S. National Park Service). There are numerous fishing charter boats, tour boats, buses and cruise ships all catering to the visitor industry. This trend is expected to increase with cruise ship dockings growing each year. Numerous bed and breakfast operations have joined the hotels and motels and new restaurants have opened each year.

Development of the small boat harbor waterfront between Third and Fourth Avenues, outside the original townsite, has resulted in a second commercial district with restaurants, motel, art gallery, shops, charter/tour boat operations, etc. Several of the businesses are housed in relatively small buildings designed only for summer use. Many of the businesses, even in more substantial buildings, close for the winter. Commerce in the boat harbor is particularly busy in the summer tourist months. The U.S. National Park Service has established the headquarters for Kenai Fjords National Park in the boat harbor area.

General Commerce began in Seward even before the town plat was recorded in 1905. By October, 1904 there were over 40 businesses established in town. These included two barbershops, a dairy and a delivery service, three restaurants, four saloons, and three hardware and furniture stores.

Brown & Hawkins, the oldest businesses in Seward, and the oldest business in the state still run by the same family, is still housed in the original building. The Yukon Bar occupies another of the earliest buildings. Other early structures are the Orlander, Osbo, and Seward Commercial Buildings, all on Fourth Avenue.

There were two machine shops, one of which housed the Ford dealership. Lechner's Seward Machine Shop still remains, albeit abandoned. The Buick Building on Third Avenue, once a car dealership, survives and is now used as a laundry and apartments.

The shrinking number of banks, from two in 1915, (the Harriman National Bank of Alaska at Seward and the Bank of Seward,) to one in 1923 (Bank of Seward), reflected a decline in population and commerce as Anchorage grew. The old Harriman bank building, now known as the Ray Building, serves as a adjunct to the Seward City Hall. A new bank building was erected in 1979 on the site of the Bank of Seward on the corner of Fourth and Adams.

Polk's Alaska Yukon Gazetteer and Directory for 1911-12 recorded Seward's population as 500. It noted that 6 steamers a week plied the waters between Seward and Seattle. Many of the residents recorded were classified as miners. Their homes located on Second and Third Avenues between Washington and Jefferson Streets, constructed during the 1903-1906 building boom, were "a step down from the Railroad owners' houses (on Millionaire's Row) and a step up from the shacks on Home Brew Alley." (Williams)

Longshoring at the port of Seward was one of the main occupations during the early and mid-1900's, and during the 1940's, 50's and early 60's, employing over 250 men. Most of the freight to interior Alaska came through Seward. The city also supplied the needs of western Alaska. As the transportation industry changed, fewer men were needed. Anchorage built a dock and began shipping. The Alaska Railroad decided to use rail barges and Whittier became the base for this traffic, primarily for economic reasons. (Seward Phoenix Log) By 1950 the population in Seward had soared to 2,114. But by 1960 reduced commerce had left Seward with a population of only 1,891.

The Alaska Marine Highway ferry M/V TUSTUMENA was stationed in Seward beginning in 1960 bringing a total of 35 new jobs to the area. The ferry used Anderson's dock first and then utilized the remains of a City owned dock at the end of Fourth Avenue that was damaged in the 1964 earthquake. They established their offices in the old Alaska Railroad Depot. There were no new buildings associated with the ferry.

The establishment of The Alaska Skill Center, now called the Alaska Vocational Technical Center (AVTEC), in 1969 brought employment for 65 to 70 state workers. AVTEC started with only two training programs in food service and mechanics and has expanded to include 55 to 60 training programs today. Annually 1,600 to 1,800 students from throughout the state attend training courses varying in length from a week to 14 months.

An active downtown merchants association bolsters the downtown business section of Seward. Several of the older buildings are empty. However, the construction of a $50 million marine research and visitor center, the Alaska SeaLife Center, at the base of Third Avenue at Railway is revitalizing the area. Several lots and buildings have sold, some new businesses have opened, and a new gift shop has been built Many buildings have been upgraded from new paint to major remodeling. The upstairs of the Alaska Commercial (Sauer) Building has recently been restored as a bed and breakfast. Prior to the SeaLife Center funding, only one new building, the Apollo Restaurant, had been constructed since just after the 1964 earthquake when two new buildings were erected. The Fourth Avenue business district is configured today as the original layout in 1903 and is lined with one and two story buildings.



"... the steamers had been in and out of Resurrection Bay before the town of Seward began. It was BERTHA in 1902 that dropped a survey party led by F. G. Bleckly and John G. Scurry near where the old dock stood.

Another party under William G. Atwood had left Seattle in February 1902 for the Nenana area. From there they headed south toward Broad Pass where they were to meet up with the group landed by BERTHA.

Both expeditions had been sent by the newly formed Alaska Central Railroad Company to scout out and survey the starting point and route.

It was also the steamer SANTA ANA that landed the first party of permanent settlers here on August 28, 1903.

In the fall of 1904 there were two steamship companies servicing Seward on a regular basis.

Alaska Pacific Navigation Company had its headquarters in Seattle. E. R. Gray was the local Seward agent. They ran the SANTA CLARK, the SANTA ANA, and the DORA.

The Alaska Commercial Company, with home offices in San Francisco, ran the steamers BERTHA and PORTLAND. BERTHA sailed from Seattle via Juneau on the 10th of each month. She left Seward on the 22nd.

By 1905 steamer traffic and service to Seward was to increase considerably. By May 1906 it wasn't unusual to read reports of five boats arriving within two days. In fact, Seward was averaging 20 to 30 steamers a month." (Capra)

Trails and mail routes formed Seward's early transportation routes. In 1902 Anton Eide contracted to carry mail from Resurrection Bay to Sunrise and Hope. This contract brought a monthly steamer into the bay. (Barry 1986) A series of trails existed from Resurrection Bay to the gold fields of Nome. In 1908 the Alaska Road Commission surveyed a new trail from Seward to Nome to provide more direct winter transportation by dog sled. Nearly 1,000 miles were cleared and marked in 1910-1911. Heavy traffic continued over the trail until the 1920's when mining declined. Seward is Mile "O" of the Iditarod National Historic Trail System. An informational sign marks the start. The bike path that begins at Fourth Avenue and Ballaine Boulevard and continues along the shoreline is considered to be the beginning of the Iditarod Trail. (Seward Iditarod Trail Blazers Pamphlet)


"It was five o'clock on that August 7th morning in 1905 when the steamer VALENCIA docked in the port of Seward; aboard were 443 men to work on the railroad, 25 horses, several tons of cargo for the railroad commissary, one determined woman, and an adventurous 14-year-old boy." (Capra)

Frank and John Ballaine built the Alaska Central Railway to transport coal from interior coal fields. While construction of the railroad precipitated the birth and early growth of Seward, the line itself only extended to Mile 76 prior to the arrival of the Federal Government in 1914 and completion of the line to Anchorage and beyond.

A gasoline driven auto car was put on the railroad for passenger traffic in 1909. Passengers took the railroad to mile 34, went over the trail by packtrain to the gold mining area at Sunrise, and then traveled by boat across Cook Inlet to Susitna. This shortened the trip from Seward to Susitna to two days. Even though the railroad had built a $55,000 headquarters building on the corner of Adams and Fifth Avenue (replaced by the present City Hall after the 1964 earthquake) Seward's rail system did not become a major part of the Southcentral Alaska transportation system until after the completion of the government railroad to Fairbanks.

The Alaska Railroad Depot, constructed in 1917 at what is now Adams Street and Ballaine Boulevard, was moved to its present location on Railway Avenue following a damaging flood down Jefferson Street. A craftsman style building, it was used as the depot until 1964, when the railroad was destroyed in the earthquake and more recently as headquarters of the Alaska Marine Highway ferry Tustumena for over twenty years. The depot was entered on the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.

Alaska Central Railroad Tunnel No. 1 is located just north of Seward and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The highway from Seward to Anchorage was completed in 1951. However, various segments of the road were constructed to Moose Pass and Hope and it was possible to drive to Hope in 1928 - if one first took the train to Moose Pass. An 18 mile segment from Seward to Kenai Lake was finished in 1923, but the Mile 18 bridge, which was referred to as the "missing link," was not completed until 1946, allowing access by highway from Seward as far north as Hope, and as far west as what is now the Russian/Kenai River Confluence (Henton's Lodge or Sportsman's Lodge).

Seward was brought into the air age in 1923 when the U.S. Army Air Service began planning an around the world flight. The four planes of the World Flyers arrived in Seward on April 13, 1924 and landed in Resurrection Bay where they were tied to moorings at the San Juan Fisheries dock. The fliers overnighted in the Van Gilder Hotel. This flight increased the interest in commercial air travel in Seward but the first work on an airfield was not done until 1927 when a site at the head of Resurrection Bay was selected and the Alaska Road Commission began work.

The airfield was improved and enlarged in 1929 and again in 1935. In 1940 the Civil Aeronautics Authority took a survey of the Seward Airfield with the objective of turning it into a mile-long field with radio beam station and residences for personnel. (Barry 1993) The Seward Airport was brushed out and completed by the Army and ready for planes by August 30, 1941.

Seward's place as a major port began with the Alaska Central Railway=s development of extensive docking and warehousing facilities at the foot of Fourth Avenue where all water transportation arrived. Nothing except old photographs remain of the early trestles, warehouses, docks, and railroad tracks and facilities.

Following the 1964 earthquake and urban renewal, a new small boat harbor was built in an area created by dredging and filling north of the original townsite. The Seward Small Boat Harbor has 500 slips and 7000 lineal feet of transient boat space. Many businesses have opened up in the harbor since 1970.


In 1905, the Ballaines conveyed one 30 foot lot to the U.S. Signal Corps as a site for a cable station in Seward. In August, 1905 the Washington-Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph Station (WAMCATS) was completed. The two story cable office, now a private home, is located on Sixth Avenue. (Barry 1986) In 1916 the Alaska Communications System run by the U.S. Army took over long distance telephone service to Alaska. Four Alaska Communications System buildings used to house personnel and equipment were constructed on Third Avenue and remain as private homes today.

In April, 1917 President Wilson set aside 40 acres of flatland at the head of Resurrection Bay as a site for a wireless station, first proposed in 1914 to serve military ships and forces. The facilities included an operating station, a six man dormitory, quarters for four families, and a power house. It was in operation by December of 1917. The municipality of Seward acquired the abandoned station in 1931 for a $1.00 a year lease. A fire in 1934 destroyed most of the facility. The remains of the wireless station building are in the vicinity of the Seward airport near the head of Resurrection Bay.

Seward had one or two newspapers from its early beginnings and very complete files are extant in the Seward Community Library. A 1904 to 1910 index of the Seward Gateway has been compiled and published.. Other newspapers include: the Seward Daily Gateway, the Seward Polaris, The Seward Seaport Record, The Seward Tribune, Seward Weekly Gateway, The Petticoat Gazette, and the Seward Phoenix Log. Prior to 1919 the Gateway was housed in various locations. In 1919 it was moved to the basement of the Van Gilder Hotel, and later to the Arcade Building until that building burned in 1941. New papers were started, merged and disappeared leaving the Gateway the survivor until 1941.

Spiritual Structures and Sites

St. Peter's Episcopal Church (1904), which is listed on the National Register, is the only active early religious building still used for religious purposes in the original townsite. Sacred Heart Catholic Church, built in 1909-1910 and replaced by a new A-Frame church building after the 1964 earthquake, burned in 1988.

The original Methodist Church at Third and Jefferson Streets had an important, perhaps predominant role in the town's religious life. (Barry 1986) The church was built in 1906 and with a pastor's residence added in 1907. In 1908 the bell tower was added. At one time high school classes were held in this church. In 1916, a new church was built at Third and Church Street along with a pastor=s residence. (Barry 1993) These buildings were eventually sold to the Lutherans, and in 1967, the pastor's residence burned. The church is currently an art gallery/coffee house. A chapel from Fort Raymond was moved in 1946 to the corner of Fourth and Church and became the new Methodist Church. It was destroyed by fire in 1994.

Since Seward's 1903 founding, there have been a number of cemeteries located within and around the community. In the early years there were burials at the present hospital site, on the beach near the ball diamonds, and on the hillside above the Bayview Addition where there are still a few graves. At the other two sites the remains were relocated and the sites used for other purposes.

In 1916 the city purchased and replatted a parcel of land known as the Woodlawn Cemetery along what is now Salmon Creek Road just before entering Camelot Subdivision. When Salmon Creek changed its course, the water table became too high to continue using the land as a cemetery so it was abandoned in 1926 with most of the remains being relocated to the present cemetery reserve site.

In 1930 the city received patent to USS 1759, known as the Cemetery Reserve, encompassing approximately 40 acres at Coolidge Drive and the Seward Highway. Since a number of local fraternal organizations had initiated the concept of acquiring this land for a cemetery, the city deeded one-acre tracts to each of these fraternal groups. The Jesse Lee Home also used a portion of the cemetery in the dense trees just north of the Oddfellows plot.

Educational and Social Institutions

The Jesse Lee Home was built in 1923, as an orphanage for Alaska=s native children, under the auspices of the Wesleyan Women of the Methodist Church. It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1995.

Eighty children and a staff of six to eight were moved from Unalaska to Seward after construction. This institution was moved to Anchorage in 1964, following the earthquake. The privately owned buildings are currently empty and stripped of all windows, partitions, wiring and plumbing. The original administrator's residence is currently a private home.

In the early days of Seward, school was conducted in the Episcopal and Methodist Churches as money was not available to build a school. However, school was an important aspect of Seward's life and several lots were donated and various buildings were built, beginning in 1904. The earliest school building was constructed on the corner of Second and Jefferson in 1904 but was destroyed by the Lowell Canyon Flood of 1917.

In 1914 eight lots south of the Episcopal Church were purchased for a new school which opened in January 1915 with 48 students. Many residents sent their children Outside to high school as Seward was not accredited for a 12 year program. In 1927-28 high school (without seniors) was held in the Harriman Bank Building (Ray Building). (Williams)

A new elementary/high school building was constructed on the block bounded by Third and Fourth Avenues and Madison and Monroe in 1928. In the early 1950's the high school moved into a new building of its own on Second Avenue. The elementary school continued in use until 1969 when a new elementary school was built on part of the Jesse Lee Home property. In 1979 the Second Avenue high school moved into a new facility adjoining the newest elementary school.

The 1928 school building was torn down in 1982 to make way for buildings associated with the Alaska Vocational Technical Center (AVTEC) facilities. Other AVTEC functions are located in several buildings both old and remodeled in Seward. The dormitories and food service center, library and student services center, are located between Madison and Monroe and Third and Fourth Avenues on the former site of the elementary school which was demolished in 1982.

The administration center is in the remodeled high school on Second Avenue and the building maintenance training area is located in the National Guard Armory, also on Second Avenue. Other shops housing the mechanics department are located along the Seward Highway near the north end of town in newer buildings built by the state.

The University of Alaska established the Institute of Marine Science (IMS) on the waterfront and based its research vessel, the R/V ALPHA HELIX, in Seward. A marine life laboratory, supply warehouse, transient student dormitory, and a new auditorium-marine display building, built in 1981, are part of this campus complex located at the foot of Third Avenue. The SeaLife Center located next door, will allow IMS staff to conduct research at that facility. The IMS campus complex is slated for expansion in 1996 with the addition of an 11,500 sq. ft. mariculture technical center/shellfish hatchery.

Health care came to Seward in 1911, when Dr. J. H. Romig established a hospital in the former Cameron House on Millionaires Row, 423 Third Ave. He became the chief surgeon of the Alaska Railroad.

A major health problem in Alaska, tuberculosis, was detected in the State during WWII and in 1946 a Sanitarium under the auspices of the Wesleyan Ladies Auxiliary was opened in buildings erected at the decommissioned Fort Raymond. The "San" as it was called, could accommodate over 100 patients and was a major employer in Seward after the war. This property is now owned by the City of Seward and occupied by the U.S. Army and Air Force Recreational Camps which were established after the Sanitarium closed in the mid 1950's. The building now housing the Wesley Rehabilitation & Care Center on First Avenue was built in 1958 to house the nurses employed at the "San". (Williams) The present Seward General Hospital was erected in 1957.


Many social organizations formed in Seward in its formative years. An active Arctic Brotherhood chapter (Seward Camp No. 21) constructed a social hall on the corner of Fifth and Washington in 1917. Later used as a gymnasium, theater and garage, it has housed Dreamland Bowl since 1948.

The upper story in Brown and Hawkins was used as a social hall and for dances during the early days of Seward. The Pioneers of Alaska held their first dance there in 1913.

The Masons and Oddfellows held their meetings on the third floor of the Van Gilder Hotel from 1916-1921. Eventually the Masonic Lodge moved its meetings to the upstairs of the McMullen building on Fourth Avenue until they built a new structure on Fifth in the 1960's. The McMullen building was built in 1929 by Gerhard (Stucco) Johnson using concrete blocks made in Seward. The devastating fire of 1941 started in the building next to the McMullen Building and spread south. The McMullen Building prevented the fire from spreading north. When the McMullen Building was remodeled in 1983, the remaining vestiges of the old Masonic Lodge were removed.

An International Order of Oddfellows (IOOF) Hall was built in 1921 on Adams Street and is used today by the Seward Life Action Council.

Seward enjoyed an active Chamber of Commerce, a booster organization called the Seward Commercial Club, a Ladies Aid Society of the Methodist Church, The Women's Auxiliary of the Episcopal Church, and the Altar Society of the Catholic Church during its early history. All had a great influence on Seward and continue today.

Community Celebrations have always been a part of Seward's history. The Fourth of July has always been an important celebration day in Seward, embellished by the addition of the Mt. Marathon Race. This is the second oldest foot race in the U.S. dating from 1915. Held annually, the race attracts runners and sports enthusiasts from all over the United States and some foreign countries.

In 1956 the Seward Chamber of Commerce started the Seward Silver Salmon Derby. This annual August event continues to draw numerous entrants. The Chamber also has a month long halibut derby which began in 1987.

Reverend Louis H. Pederson, Seward's first Methodist minister, wrote the resolution which led to making Alaska Day an official holiday in Alaska. (Barry 1986)

The Alaska Legislature has designated July 9th a state holiday - Alaska Flag Day. This was the date upon which the Alaska Flag was first flown in Alaska. Benny Benson, an orphan housed at the Jesse Lee Home, created the winning design for the Alaska State Flag in 1927.

The Resurrection Bay Historical Society annually promotes the founding of Seward on August 28th.

Seward has been blessed with many public developed recreation camps, cabins, and trails. Since the late 1960's, the U.S. Army and the U.S. Air Force have utilized the former Fort Raymond as a recreational camping and boating headquarters for Seward and the Resurrection Bay area. The Army is currently rebuilding their portion of the camp retaining few of the buildings. The Alaska State Parks, U.S. Park Service and the U.S. Forest Service supply recreation cabins, well groomed trails, and campgrounds in the area surrounding Seward.

Two Lakes Park, located on the hillside area of Seward includes trails and lakes which are used extensively. Early swimming and ice skating areas were located here. Ice skating is still a popular winter activity.

The Greenbelt Park was developed after the 1964 earthquake demolished the railroad roundhouse, tracks, Standard Oil storage tanks and the docks then located along the waterfront. The bike path follows the designated route of the Iditarod Trail. The park supports pavilions, parking for numerous recreational vehicles, and a tent camping area.


Natural and man made disasters have plagued Seward from its early years. Lowell Creek flooding began in September, 1917 when heavy rains and powerful winds struck Seward. At the time, the creek was located where Jefferson Street is now, and washed out everything in its path - bridges, trees, houses, and the railroad tracks. It tore the school house (Second and Jefferson) from its foundation and toppled the newly constructed Community Christian Church. Every light and power pole along the stream washed into the Bay and Seward was without light, telephones, power and water. Lowell Creek also flooded property south of the stream, between First and Third Avenue. Washouts occurred on the rail line. Subsequent to the flood a citizens committee recommended building a flume 15 feet wide, eight feet high and 3,000 feet long. A second flood in 1918 damaged the old Seward General Hospital at Fifth and Jefferson, then operated by the Catholic Sisters of St. Joseph. (Barry 1993)

The Lowell Creek Diversion Tunnel was constructed by the Corps of Engineers in 1939 to divert the waters of Lowell Creek from its course down Jefferson Street. The tunnel is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.

The devastating fire of 1941 burned 19 businesses from McMullens south on the east side of Fourth Avenue to the Arcade Building on the corner of Fourth and Railway and over to the Seward Hotel on Fifth Avenue. Over 450 persons were left homeless. The Army provided tents to house them. Another fire in 1942 burned the west side of Fourth Avenue from the present day Elks Lodge on the corner of Fourth and Washington south to the Lechner property. One hundred persons were left without homes. (Polk)

The 1964 Good Friday Earthquake and its resultant tsunamis devastated the industrial heart of Seward. It destroyed the San Juan, Army and railroad docks, the tracks leading to the dock, the oil tank farms, fish processors, warehouses and the small boat harbor. The waterfront of downtown Seward was permanently altered.

The destruction of the waterfront led to less emphasis on Seward's role as a rail port facility. The railroad began moving more materials through the port at Whittier and increased the shipping going directly into Anchorage. Economic stagnation resulted from the loss of longshoring jobs.

Although the U.S. Government's post-earthquake Urban Renewal Program built a new city hall, it also wiped out much of an older area of Seward including Home Brew Alley, located behind Second Avenue directly against Bear Mountain, and Alley B a section of small shacks used for many years for various unsavory recreational purposes. The University of Alaska Institute of Marine Science now occupies most of that area, located at the end of Third Avenue.

The 1989 Exxon Valdez Oil Spill, while an environmental disaster in the waters and on the beaches of Kenai Fjords National Park, proved to be an economic boost to Seward. Over 500 persons found employment in the immediate area. Fishermen deprived of their fishing season were able to charter their boats to the oil spill cleanup and many received compensation for lost fishing.

Oil spill litigation settlement monies will also benefit Seward in the funding of the research portion of the Alaska SeaLife Center and purchase land for public use. These include a waterfront tract at Lowell Point to be used as a trail head and access to Caines Head State Recreation Area (Fort McGilvery during World War II) and a parcel located at Mile 7 of the Seward Highway at Grouse Lake.