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Harriman Expedition Retraced



A century of change
A Century of Change

An Alaskan Gazette
An Alaskan Gazette

Alaskan Tourism
Alaska Tourism

Nature and Art
Nature and Art in Alaska

Anchorage Museum Gallery

Poetry in Alaska
Poetry in Alaska


Alaska Tourism

Tourism was a well-known feature of life along the Alaskan coast in the late 19th century. In 1883, one visitor wrote that "a round trip ticket means more unalloyed enjoyment than can be crowded into a similar two-week trip in this country or any other." Steamships frequented the harbors on the southeastern coast, and during the summer months, wealthy tourists traipsed through Juneau in search of souvenirs. In the 1890s, a wooden walkway had been built across the moraine at Muir Glacier in Glacier Bay, making the hike easier for the several hundred visitors that came each year. At Sitka and Wrangell, the arrival of a steamship turned the town into a temporary but festive market place. Natives quickly produced goods to entice tourists to buy: small carvings, jewelry and baskets were the most popular items.

Tourist Maps and Guide Books

By 1885, the steamship companies were printing up the first of the Alaskan guidebooks. Some Alaskan towns went so far as to print up their own tourist leaflets, complete with walking maps and hotel advertisements -- precursors to the glossy, full-color tourist brochures available today.

A case in point is The North Star Tourist's Special Edition, printed in Sitka in the summer of 1897. The four-page illustrated newspaper opens with an invitation to the visitor:

Knowing, as we well do, that a few suggestions as to what to see and how to see it, are a great boon to a traveler, landing in a strange place, we suggest the following points of interest, and append a schedule as to the easiest way to see them.

russian church

The interior of the Russian church, a popular tourist stop in Sitka, Alaska, photographed by Edward Curtis in 1899.
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The Special Edition encouraged sightseers to visit the Russian Cemetery, the Cathedral of St. Michael, and the Indian River Trail. One hundred years later these same sites are featured in the Sitka Convention and Visitors Bureau Guide.

Sitka brochure

A tourist brochure published in Sitka in 1999.
Click image for a larger view.

A close reading of the two guides uncovers some striking differences. For example, the 1897 guide suggests that tourists take in the "public school for white children," an indication that schools were segregated even before the Nelson Act of 1905 made it law that whites and Alaska Natives attend separate schools. A second notable difference was the US Marine Barracks, which, in 1897, was occupied by forty marines charged with keeping the peace in a territory still controlled by the US Navy.

What's the Weather Forecast for the Tourist?

The modern guide to Sitka tells us that in July the average temperature is a pleasant sixty degrees Fahrenheit. Neither publication mentions the rain, and no wonder. Sitka was, and is, one of the rainier spots in North America. As Henry Gannett of the Harriman Expedition noted, "the annual rainfall is heavy over this entire coast. At Sitka it is more than double that of the Atlantic coast, one hundred and five inches a year being the record.... A description of climate would be incomplete if it did not include the amount of sunshine and cloudiness, since these are important factors in the growth of plant life. At Sitka, it is cloudy two thirds of the time."

Clouds and rain might keep tourists away, but they did not seem to daunt the spirits of Sitka's year-round residents. In his diary, Frederick Dellenbaugh wrote "Sitka people pay no attention to rain. The Indian band came out on the pier and rendered a number of airs as parting salute, the final ones being 'Yankee Doodle' and 'Three Cheers for the Red, White and Blue' as the ship sailed away."




 Members of Harriman Expedition on a camping excursion, July 1899. Note the mosquito nets.

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"A curious feature is a number of sections of boardwalk laid over the top of the moraine near Muir Glacier, probably by some steamboat company that brought tourists in last year or the year before. ... Muir's cabin is a little one, but it has a good roof and it is well built. It has been used by many people since Muir left it."

Frederick Dellenbaugh, commenting on the tourists visiting John Muir's cabin in Glacier Bay, in a diary entry dated June 11, 1899.

"The tourist only gets a glimpse of Alaska."

Edward Curtis, in a letter dated October 10, 1950.

newspaper 1897

A tourist newspaper published in Sitka in 1897.
Click image for a larger view

"The Alaska coast is to become the show-place of the earth, and pilgrims, not only from the United States, but from far beyond the seas will throng in endless procession to see it. Its grandeur is more valuable than the gold or the fish or the timber, for it will never be exhausted."

Henry Gannett, predicting the boom in the tourist industry for Alaska in his essay for The Harriman Alaska Expedition, Volume II.


For information on the Harriman Retraced Expedition e-mail: harriman2001@science.smith.edu

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