I gotta quit talking about how beautiful everything is – how picturesque and pretty and majestic and blah blah blah. After a while, it just sounds routine. So, you all may appreciate it when I tell you that Haines is a dump. A real dive. An ugly blemish on Alaska’s big nose.
I’m staying at the Sheltered Harbor B&B that overlooks Haines’ crappy little harbor and the northern end of the Lynn Canal, the deepest, longest fjord in North America (big deal):
Okay, enough of that silliness. Let’s get into why this place is just as cool as all the others…
Heading into town, I pulled over to look at this contraption:
Here’s how it works:
Fish get scooped up in the nets and rotate over until, at the top of the revolution, they slide through a hole in the net into the two cone-shaped contraptions on the sides:
It’s brilliant – requires no gas, no electricity, no fisherman. Me and a couple of bikers stood and watched it work for about 15 minutes and didn’t see it catch a single fish – continuing my belief that there is no such thing as a salmon and the whole migrating upstream, feeding bears etc. is just a myth done to allow them to charge you God-awful prices for something they’re probably just raising on a fish farm. So there.
When I first got into Haines, I drove down the main street (quaintly called ‘Main Street’) and saw some lovely homes:
Actually, those are just some restored original buildings from Haines’ illustrious past. See, Haines was originally just a little native fishing village until the local missionaries deeded land to the U.S. government to build an army base.
Now, you all have studied your history and you know that William H. Seward was the U.S. Secretary of State who negotiated the purchase of the Alaska territory from Russia in 1867. (I know you all know all this – just bear with me so I can cover it for anyone graduating from Glen Este High School (Ohio) or anywhere in Kentucky). Anyway, there was some problems in the area with gold rush miners getting all ‘likkerd’ up and causing issues with the Canadian Mounties and other law enforcement people. There were also some issues between Canada and the U.S. concerning the actual boundaries of Alaska.
In 1902, an Army Captain named Wilds P. Richardson (really, ‘Wilds’?) was dispatched to establish a fort on the land given by the locals. Once he got it done, the Army named it in honor of Seward which really torqued others since there was already a city called Seward on the Kenai Peninsula (you ‘member?) and the chunk of land that Nome was built on was also named for him. This caused great confusion and hilarity with shippers, post offices, and anyone else who was unfamiliar with the new base. So much so, that they renamed the base Chilkoot Barracks after the local tribe here.
Anyhoo, the base was used during WWI and WWII for training recruits and much of the original buildings remain today. I know – I was there:
The history of the place is pretty fascinating. At the height of the base’s life, there were over 400 enlisted men and 20 officers. The officers had it rough. Even the junior lieutenants lived in large duplexes that had indoor flush toilets, 6-ft claw-footed bathtubs, and marble-topped wash stands. There were stoves in each room for warmth and the living and dining rooms each had coal-burning stoves set into a tile front fireplace complete with an oak mantlepiece. Enlisted men were assigned to keep the fires going, clean out the ashes, keep the kitchen clean, and cook the meals. The wives of the enlisted men did the laundry for the officers to earn extra money and the road where this was done is still called ‘Soapsuds Alley’.
The biggest problem with the base was – there was nothing to do. They practiced marching on skis, they shoveled snow, and they danced. Dancing was a big deal and the base really livened up when a steam ship pulled in with a band onboard and fresh women to dance with. As it was, the base was the main source of entertainment for the women of the town where the average ratio was 6 men for every woman. There was a quote something to the effect: “No matter how well armed a man can be – you can’t kill boredom in Fort Seward.”
Okay, let’s wrap up the history. Army base in dumb place. Everyone bored to tears. Base is closed and Army bales out in 1947. Bunch of military vets buy the property and turn it into commercial enterprises. Whole thing merges with Haines to create a city. Yada Yada Yada.
Let’s look at pictures:
I know I’ve rambled on here, but I won’t be back for a few days and I want to make sure you all get your money’s worth.
See you in Washington on Friday.