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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.
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
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
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
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."
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
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
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
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,
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
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
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
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
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
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
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.