Floods in Skagway 1919

This major flood happened in Skagway in September 1919. This is when the train tracks crossed the Skagway River and ran on the west side of the river and then crossed back to the east side up the way.

“Passenger Trains Between Skagway and Whitehorse Stopped by Flood

Last Friday rain started to fall in torrents in the mountain surrounding Skagway and by the following morning the Skagway river was a raging flood, filled with trees and driftwood, that carried all before it. Four bents were washed out of the railroad bridge near the car shops and eleven bents out of the railroad bridge at four mile post. The weather reached the decking of the first bridge and the driftwood pilling up against it threatened at one time to cause the whole structure to go out, but a flat car with a derrick aboard was put into operation and the trees and logs hoisted over the bridge and dropped into the stream below. The government bridge across the Skagway river at Twenty –Second street was damaged to the extent of having the center span carried away.

At the height of the flood there was a White Pass train stranded between the first and second bridges, but since then the first bridge has been repaired sufficiently to get the train into the yards shops.

After the rain started to fall it continued to pour down almost without cessation until yesterday afternoon, when it commeneed to let up, and the weather was reported to be clearing and river falling.

Section men from Carcross, Pennington, Bennett, Log Cabin, Summit and Glacier were rushed over to Skagway to assist in the work of controlling the flood and are still there.

Yesterday afternoon a telephone message was received here from General Manager II. Wheeler at Skagway, saying that the Skagway river was threatening the track near Boulder and asking that a work train be made up here and rushed over with a load of sacked gravel to use in checking water’s inroads. The train, consist of an engine and three flat cars left here at 7 o’clock this morning to load 500 sacks of gravel at the 98 mile post.
A train was run from Whitehorse Tuesday and the passengers and mail transferred at the washout. They connected with the Princess Alice, which sailed from Skagway Wednesday night. There have been no train since then and it now seems probable there will not be until Saturday or Sunday.

There is a lot of perishable and other freight for the interior now in Skagway which cannot be moved until regular train service is resumed, which will likely be first of next week.

Whitehorse Weekly Star, Friday, September 19, 1919

No Smoking!

So, on Thursday we had an election to decide whether to ban smoking in Skagway. It passed overwhelmingly as similar such elections have passed in other Alaskan towns. More people turned out to vote than in any other past election to anyone’s memory. So, now you cannot smoke in buildings that employ people or in any government facility, or within ten feet of any doorway or window of such. You can still smoke in your car or in the privacy of your home. So far “No Smoking” signs have not popped up, but they will I’m sure. The city’s trash cans still have little ashtrays on top labeled “Butts” which I always thought just encouraged people to stand next to them and light up. In case you wondered, yes, there have been little fires that have started on and under the boardwalks and in the flower planter boxes. So perhaps this will prevent any fires in downtown.


It has been raining off and on for several days here in Skagway. Grrrrrrr! So we check the River gauge to see if it will reach flood stage:


When I worked at White Pass I saw in the vault a very old map of town that showed the areas that flooded in 1912, I think. I saw that the creek overflowed and so did the Skagway River, but there were certain houses that did not flood. It was then that the river took out part of the Gold Rush Cemetery. Many graves were washed away and people did not replace the headstones or headboards. When you look at it today you will see a definite earthen bench where it is nearest the railroad tracks. I believe that in that section there were more babies buried, as I know of one, whose descendant in town here told me about. The other graves in that lower section are of babies, so that is my conjecture.

The scene above is from the lower Chilkoot Trail July 14, 2003… Yikes, that’s cold!

AB Hall renovation

Locals will remember the winter that Jeff Mull took down the facade of the front of AB Hall and then replaced the back board and then cleaned and replaced the driftwood front. This photo was taken of the temporary structure and plastic sheeting which helped to keep him out of the weather during the work. The wood was coated with Cabot’s bleaching oil and so when the project was completed it all looked lighter than before.

White Pass Construction

On this day, May 27, 1898, after years of planning and financial consideration by British investors, White Pass & Yukon Route started building the railroad over the White Pass to Whitehorse. I don’t remember ever seeing a ceremony to commemorate the start on that day, I think they just started. They encountered some difficulty in building the line along the base of the cliff where it is located now, because local landowners and speculators had bought up the land thinking they would cash in. So two weeks later, despite local objections, 500 workers started laying the track down Broadway at night and in the morning of June 15, 1898 the town awoke to find the deed was already done.
This demonstrated two things, that Michael J. Heney was a doer, that local objections were of no concern to him, and second that with enough manpower and money, White Pass was above any minor obstacles. These characteristics would later become evident in their dealings with accidents and local problems (Soapy?).

AB Mountain

At this time of year when the snow is melting off the mountains, you can clearly see the A of the AB Mountain. The B is not as visible as it once was, but you can still see it. Today of course it is overcast and you can’t see anything. This photo was probably taken around 1915 – in the spring.

Today I also updated the blog from April 29, 2010 on Edwin L. Mims.

Harding’s little speech

July 11, 1923 President Warren Harding addressed a small group of folks in Skagway:

“We may wonder what is the greatest end of life. Men make their plans and try to adhere to them. Skagway, a port situated in a mountain pass, was developed and made notable in a rush of men seeking to acquire something of material value.
There is a motive which is inherent in us, but the longer I live and the more I see of communities and human beings, the more firmly is my belief established that the sweetest thing in the world is the friendship of a few dependable friends. This is the happiness that makes a life of contentment.
Apparently you have much of that here, as much as may be found anywhere in the country, and you also live in an atmosphere that tends to cultivate ambition and lofty aspirations. I only hope that the worthy ones came to full realization.”

Shown above with his wife a few steps north of AB Hall before this speech. He passed away a few days later in San Francisco. This was perhaps the last speech he ever gave.

From the Evening Independent July 12, 1923.

Clean Sweep

Today marks the 43rd year that local folks of Skagway showed up in their grubby clothes and extra-toughs to pick up trash bags for project Clean Sweep. I don’t know how many people helped today, but there was certainly a great showing given the fact it was cool and blowing. Although earlier this spring the Chamber of Commerce seemed to be on the ropes, the good directors and members pulled off a great luncheon too.
Reed and I decided to clean Pullen Creek by the Peniel Mission. After the devastation of the “hazard tree removal” action last fall, most of the slash and brush had accumulated in the tiny creek. Plastic bags, pieces of cardboard, aluminum cans, one petrified coconut, and even an ancient car battery were also caught up. We noted some new bear poop and we talked to a few visitors from Whitehorse who came down for the long weekend.
We took naps after the luncheon, and I’m now eating the leftover cupcakes I made for the event. Wish you were here to share one!

Clayton Leslie Polley

Dr. Clayton Polley was the dentist for Skagway. He was born in 1907 in Massachusetts and moved to Skagway in 1934 just after getting married in Juneau. He practiced dentistry in Skagway from 1932 to 1947. Doc opened his dental office in what was formerly the Peniel Mission. He had his dental office upstairs and the family lived downstairs. In 1936, their first child, Ernest Edward, was born.

While in Skagway, the Doc served as the School Board President for six years and three years on the City Council. He was president of the Skagway Chamber of Commerce for two years and secretary-treasurer for three years. During World War II, Polley was captain of the Territorial Guard unit in Skagway. He was president of the Eagles Lodge, and organized and played in a dance band called the Glacier Bugs. Doc was a charter member and helped organize the Alaska Dental Society and served as its first elected president in 1951, and as its secretary-treasurer from 1956-1959.

He died on this day, April 9, 1996 in Juneau.
Seen above is the Peniel Mission building on 6th before restoration by the Park Service, it is now seasonal housing for the park rangers that do the walking tours in the summer.

Dahl book; Juneau P&R site