The birth of a town and the cultures that preserve its history today – Juneau, Alaska
Across Gastineau Channel in the community of Douglas, the Treadwell and Ready Bullion mines operated from 1882 to 1917. Before a cave-in and flood closed the mine, the Treadwell produced $66 million in gold in its 35 years of operation. In 1916, the Alaska-Juneau gold mine was built on the mainland and became the largest operation of its kind in the world. Fishing, canneries, transportation services, and a sawmill contributed to Juneau’s growth through the early 1900s.
Before the Alaska-Juneau (A-J) mine closed in 1944, when mining was declared a non-essential wartime activity, it produced more than $80 million in gold. Mining was replaced by the expansion of government during the war and afterwards, when Alaska became the 49th state in January 1959.
Juneau’s prospector heritage and incredible scenery began drawing visitors in the early 1900s. As a popular cruise ship port and a favorite destination among adventure travelers, Alaska’s capital continues to draw visitors from around the world today.
The City and Borough of Juneau is the capital city of Alaska. It is a unified municipality located on the Gastineau Channel in the Alaskan panhandle, and it is the second largest city in the United States by area. Juneau has been the capital of Alaska since 1906, when the government of what was then the District of Alaska was moved from Sitka as dictated by the U.S. Congress in 1900.
The municipality unified on July 1, 1970, when the city of Juneau merged with the city of Douglas and the surrounding Greater Juneau Borough to form the current municipality, which is larger by area than both Rhode Island and Delaware.
Downtown Juneau Fairbanks, however, is the second most populous metropolitan area in the state, with more than 99,000 residents. Juneau’s daily population can increase by roughly 6,000 people from visiting cruise ships between the months of May and September.is nestled at the base of Mount Juneau and across the channel from Douglas Island. As of the 2010 census, the City and Borough had a population of 31,275. In 2014, the population estimate from the United States Census Bureau was 32,406, making it the second most populous city in Alaska after Anchorage.
Long before European settlement in the Americas, the Gastineau Channel was a favorite fishing ground for local Tlingit Indians, known then as the Auke and Taku tribes, who had inhabited the surrounding area for thousands of years. The native cultures are rich with artistic traditions including carving, weaving, orating, singing and dancing, and Juneau has become a major social center for the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian of Southeast Alaska.
The first European to see the Juneau area was Joseph Whidbey, master of the Discovery during George Vancouver’s 1791-95 expedition, who explored the region in July–August 1794. Early in August he saw the length of Gastineau Channel from the south, noting a small island in mid-channel. He later saw the length of the channel again, this time from the west. He said it was unnavigable, being filled with ice.
In 1880, Sitka mining engineer George Pilz offered a reward to any local chief who could lead him to gold-bearing ore. Chief Kowee (Tlingit Kaawa.ée) arrived with some ore and several prospectors were sent to investigate. On their first trip, to Gold Creek, they found deposits of little interest. However, at Chief Kowee’s urging, Pilz sent Joe Juneau and Richard Harris back to the Gastineau Channel, directing them to Snow Slide Gulch (the head of Gold Creek) where they found nuggets “as large as peas and beans”, in Harris’ words.
On October 18, 1880, the two men marked a 160-acre (650,000 m2) town site where soon a mining camp appeared. Within a year, the camp became a small town, the first to be founded after Alaska’s purchase by the United States. During this time period, prospector and placer miner John Lemon operated in what is today the Lemon Creek area. The neighborhood that grew around where he prospected and several other landmarks there have been named after John Lemon.
Other mining operations in the Juneau mining district prior to World War II included the Treadwell Mine, The Alaska-Juneau Mine and Alaska-Gastineau Mine.
The town was originally called Harrisburg, after Richard Harris; some time later, its name was changed to Rockwell, after Lt. Com. Charles Rockwell. In 1881, the miners met and renamed the town Juneau, after Joe Juneau. In 1906, after the diminution of the whaling and fur trade, Sitka, the original capital of Alaska, declined in importance and the seat of government was moved to Juneau. Juneau was the largest city in Alaska during the inter-war years, passing Fairbanks in the 1920 census and being displaced by Anchorage in 1950.
In 1911, the United States Congress authorized funds for the building of a capitol building for the Alaska Territory. Because of World War I, construction was delayed, and there were difficulties purchasing the necessary land. Local citizens of Juneau donated some of the required funds, and construction began on September 8, 1929. Construction of the capitol took less than two years, and the building was dedicated as the Federal and Territorial Building on February 14, 1931. The design of the building was drawn up by Treasury Department architects in the Art Deco architectural style. The building was originally used by the federal government to house the federal courthouse and post office. Since Alaska gained statehood in 1959, the building has been used by the state government.
The Alaska Governor’s Mansion was commissioned under the Public Building Act in 1910. The mansion was designed by James Knox Taylor in the Federal Style. Construction took two years and was completed in 1912. The territorial governor at that time was the first governor to inhabit the mansion, and he held the first open house to the citizens on January 1, 1913. The area of the mansion is 14,400 square feet (1,340 m2). This is where the governor resides when he or she is in Juneau for official business. The mansion contains ten bathrooms, six bedrooms, and eight fireplaces. In June 1923, President Warren G. Harding became the first president to visit Alaska. Harding visited the Governor’s Mansion while Governor Scott Bone, who was appointed by Harding, was in office. Harding spoke from the porch of the Governor’s Mansion explaining his policies and meeting the people.
Robert Atwood, then publisher of the Anchorage Times and an Anchorage ‘booster,’ was an early leader in capital move efforts—efforts which many in Juneau and Fairbanks resisted. One provision required the new capital to be at least 30 miles (48 km) from Anchorage and Fairbanks, to prevent either city from having undue influence; in the end Juneau remained the capital. In the 1970s, voters passed a plan to move the capital to Willow, a town 70 miles (110 km) north of Anchorage. But pro-Juneau people there and in Fairbanks got voters to also approve a measure (the FRANK Initiative) requiring voter approval of all bondable construction costs before building could begin. Alaskans later voted against spending the estimated $900 million. A 1984 “ultimate” capital-move vote also failed, as did a 1996 vote.
Alaskans thus several times voted on moving their capital, but Juneau remains the capital. Once Alaska was granted statehood in 1959, Juneau grew with the growth of state government. Growth accelerated remarkably after the construction of the Alaska Pipeline in 1977, the state budget being flush with oil revenues; Juneau expanded for a time due to growth in state government jobs, but that growth slowed considerably in the 1980s.
The state demographer expects the borough to grow very slowly over the next twenty years. Cruise ship tourism rocketed upward from approximately 230,000 passengers in 1990 to nearly 1,000,000 in 2006 as cruise lines built more and larger ships—even ‘mega-ships’, sailing to Juneau seven days a week instead of six, over a longer season, but this primarily summer industry provides few year-round jobs.
In 2010, the city was recognized as part of the “Playful City USA” initiative by KaBOOM! created to honor cities that ensure that their children have great places to play.
Juneau is larger in area than the state of Delaware and was, for many years, the country’s largest city by area. Juneau continues to be the only U.S. state capital located on an international border: it is bordered on the east by Canada. It is the U.S. state capital whose namesake was most recently alive: Joe Juneau died in 1899, a year after Otto von Bismarck (North Dakota).
According to the United States Census Bureau, the borough has a total area of 3,255 square miles (8,430 km2), making it the third-largest municipality in the United States by area (the largest is Yakutat City and Borough, Alaska) 2,716.7 square miles (7,036 km2) of it is land and 538.3 square miles (1,394 km2) of it (16.54%) is water.
Central (downtown) Juneau is located at. The City and Borough of Juneau includes Douglas Island, a tidal island located to the west of mainland Juneau. Douglas Island can be reached via the Douglas Bridge.
As is the case throughout Southeast Alaska, the Juneau area is susceptible to damage caused by natural disasters. In 2014, an earthquake caused widespread outages to telecommunications in the area due to damage to a fiber optic cable serving the area. In April 2008, a series of massive avalanches outside Juneau heavily damaged the electrical lines providing Juneau with power, knocking the hydroelectric system offline and forcing the utility to switch to a much more expensive diesel system.
Juneau hosts the annual Alaska Folk Festival, Juneau Jazz & Classics music festival, and Celebration, a biennial Alaska Native cultural festival.
The city is home to Perseverance Theatre, Alaska’s largest professional theater and the non-profit, Theatre in the Rough. The Juneau Symphony performs regularly. The Juneau Lyric Opera and Opera to Go are the two local opera companies. The JUMP Society hosts screenings of locally made short films two times a year.
Downtown Juneau has many art galleries that participate in the monthly First Friday Art Walk and annual Gallery Walk held in the first week of December. The Juneau Arts & Humanities Council coordinates events and operates the Juneau Arts & Culture Center which features a community center, gallery and lobby shop. The University of Alaska Southeast Campus offers lectures, concerts, and theater performances. Sealaska Heritage, the nonprofit affiliate of the Sealaska Corporation, operates The Walter Soboleff Building which is decorated by carvings and hosts ongoing cultural exhibits.
Notable artists from Juneau include painter Rie Muñoz, printmaker Dale DeArmond, violinists Linda Rosenthal and Paul Rosenthal, Alaska Native carver and painter James Schoppert, playwright and filmmaker Gab Cody, theatre director Molly Smith, filmmaker Chuck D. Keen and Ishmael Hope who wrote Never Alone .
Juneau Access Project
Juneau is the only US city that has no real connecting roads to the rest of Alaska/USA.
Juneau’s roads remain separate from other roads in Alaska and in the Lower 48. However, fast car ferries connect Juneau with Haines and Skagway, needing around 5 hours travel time.
There have been plans to connect Juneau to Haines and Skagway by road since before 1972, with funding for the first feasibility study acquired in 1987. The State of Alaska Department of Transportation and Public Facilities announced in 2005 that the connection was to be provided partly by road, and partly by fast ferry. A 51-mile (82 km) road would be built on east side of Lynn Canal to a new ferry terminal at the Katzehin River estuary.
A ferry would take cars from the terminal to Haines and Skagway, where the cars could then access the rest of North America. In 2006, the project was estimated to cost $258 million, and in 2007, the estimate was increased to $350 million. Annual costs have been estimated from $2.1 million to $12 million, depending on the length of the road. The Western Federal Lands Center estimates the project will cost $491 million. As of 2009, $25 million has been spent on the project.
Local opinions on constructing a road link to the outside world are mixed. Some residents see such a road as a much-needed link between Juneau and the rest of the world which will also provide great economic benefits to the city, while many other residents are concerned about the project’s financial costs along with environmental and social impacts.
This place will definitely fill your day—and then some. Old-growth forest, snow-capped mountains, glaciers, ice caves, spawning salmon steams, prime bear habitat, and migratory whale routes all lie within city limits. A short boat or seaplane ride can bring spouting humpbacks, breeching orcas, and some of the best sport fishing on the planet. Hop in a kayak, jump on a bike, or lace up your (waterproof!) hiking boots for some human-powered exploration.
Of course, there’s more to Juneau than natural beauty. Set against our stunning backdrop are original Gold Rush-era buildings, art galleries, museums, historic and Native heritage sites, restaurants, bars, cafes, shopping, and seafood that doesn’t get any fresher.
Popular attractions and activities easily tackled in a day:
- Historic Downtown
- Mendenhall Glacier and Visitor Center
- Juneau Icefield Flightseeing, Trekking or Dogsledding
- Humpback Whale Watching
- Salmon or Halibut Sportfishing
- Outdoor Activities
- Juneau Museums
For me it was always pretty simple. Once off the ship onto shore, the town was there right in front of you alongwith all the quaint shops from pharmacies to bookstores to clothing/apparel shops. If you have only one day to explore what you can downtown, thats more that enough time to cover it all.
The best times to visit Juneau are during the tourist seasons unfortunately when most of the town is full of people, tourists and all the malls and shops are open for business. During the off-peak seasons, not many shops will open for the obvious reason. I would say that from the Springtime to early Autumn are the best periods of the year to take a holiday there whether it be via a cruiseship or by plane. Remember access via road doesnt exist not unless you’re contemplating taking a very very long trek across the plains and mountains to reach there?.