Tag Archives: chena river

22 August 1907

The south bank of the Chena River, Fairbanks, Alaska 1907


Great Fairbanks Fire of 1906

The fire starts: Note the sternwheeler at dock on the Chena River in front of the Northern Commercial Co warehouse.

The fire started in a dentist’s office at 3pm on May 22, 1906. The source of the blaze has always been disputed: one theory was a candle started the fire, and another has a breeze blowing through an open window, sending a curtain over the flame of a bunsen burner.

Fairbanks was only a couple of years old in 1906, but due to the discovery of gold nearby, it had become a thriving community. The buildings were all constructed out of local lumber, so by the time the horse drawn fire department wagons were on the scene, the blaze was well underway.

Looking upstream at Fairbanks from the river bank

The Northern Commercial Company had installed some fire hydrants in Fairbanks, powered by steam from their plant. Many of those hydrants were positioned to protect NCC property, although they charged the city $600 per month for the hydrants. Firehoses were located in small structures next to the hydrants. In 1906, Fairbanks had six full time firefighters, who were paid $100 per month.

Citizens from the town turned out in droves to help the small fire fighting force. Many manned fire hoses, others tried to save merchandise from businesses and possessions from homes in the fire’s path. Residents hung wet, wool blankets over doors, walls and even the sternwheelers, in an attempt to keep the fire at bay. That effort probably saved the Fairbanks Banking Company.

With the size of the fire, and the sheer number of fire hoses, the NC Co plant struggled to keep water pressure up. The steam driven fire pump was kept at pressure by wood fired boilers. NCC store manager, Volney Richmond, came up with the unique idea to add slabs of bacon to the boilers. The idea worked, and water pressure was increased. By the time the fire was under control, over 2000 pounds of slab bacon was burned in the boilers.

A picture postcard, Say What?!, of the Fairbanks fire from the north bank of the river

By 7pm, the fire was mostly under control, which meant that much of the city was now a field of burning embers. Over 70 buildings were destroyed in the fire.

“With the exception of the Fairbanks Banking Company’s building and the warehouse in the rear nothing is left standing in the four great blocks which comprised the commercial heart of Fairbanks.” – Fairbanks Times

In 1906, merchandise was brought into Fairbanks mostly by boat. Ships traveled up the Inside Passage from Seattle and San Francisco, their loads then came up the Yukon, Tanana and Chena Rivers to Fairbanks by sternwheeler. The process of ordering supplies started right away, including over 1500 feet of firehose lost in the fire. The rebuilding of Fairbanks began immediately. Local lore has the owner of the Senate Saloon contracting a crew by 6:30pm that night, with work beginning on clearing the site of his lost business the next morning.

Photos from the University of Alaska Archives; Sources: University of Alaska – Fairbanks, Retired Fairbanks Fire Captain Jack Hillman


Still Above Zero

Film Friday:

A frosty Chena River, will eventually return

The weather gurus have told us to expect temps to drop below 0F the past few nights, but the expected mercury drop has not occurred. One night, I stoked up a nice fire in the stove, and ended up opening windows.

Now the low temps being forecast are back up into the upper teens. The below zero weather will arrive, but we’ve received a bit of a reprieve.

Camera: Minolta SRT201; Film: Kodak T-Max400


One last Quest Run

Film Saturday:

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Yukon Quest Start 2020

Camera: Leica M3; Film: Fujichrome 35mm, Velvia 100 


Yukon Quest 2020

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A musher and dog team take the Chena River out of Fairbanks

 

The Yukon Quest Sled Dog Race started on Saturday morning.  Fifteen teams left Fairbanks, with the goal of Whitehorse, Yukon Territory in 9 days, give or take.

It was a rather chilly morning to be hanging out on the Chena River to cheer the teams on their way, but several hundred people turned out to do just that.  It was -25F when I left the cabin, and it must have been -30 down on the river ice.  Everyone, including the dogs, were bundled up.

The 1000 mile race between Fairbanks and Whitehorse first started in 1984.  A 1983 bull-session in the Bull’s Eye Saloon in Fairbanks, led to the race’s creation.  Twenty-six teams left Fairbanks that first year. The winner, Sonny Linder, made it to Whitehorse in just over 12 days.

The Quest follows the historic gold rush routes between the Yukon and Alaska’s Interior, traveling frozen rivers and crossing four mountain ranges.  Dawson City, YT is the half-way point.  In even years, the race starts in Fairbanks, and in odd years the race starts in Whitehorse.

There are ten checkpoints and four dog drops, where dogs can be dropped off, but not replaced.  Sleds can not be replaced without a penalty.  The record run happened in 2010, when Hans Gatt finished in 9 days, 26 minutes.  The slowest time happened in 1988, when Ty Halvorson completed the race in 20 days, 8 hours, 29 minutes.

 

 

 


Temperature Inversions

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Still open water on the Chena River, downtown Fairbanks

One of the endearing quirks of Fairbanks is the temperature inversions we experience every winter.

On Monday morning, the bottom of Goldstream Valley was -15F, while the top of Cleary Summit was +27F.

That’s a 42F degree differential from two places only 15 road miles apart, but a 900′ elevation gain.

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Temps around Fairbanks Monday morning; Map credit: @AlaskaWx


Bridge Over Frigid Waters

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Walking bridge across the Chena River

Thursday morning was just a tad chilly in Interior Alaska.  Fort Yukon dropped to -45F.  The record low for the date in Fort Yukon is -68F, so it’s still balmy from that vantage point.

The Fairbanks airport hit -20F at 8am on Thursday.  The first time we had officially dropped to -20 for the season.  We are 2-1/2 weeks late (November 19) from the average first -20 of the season, but we are still 10 days earlier than in 2018.

The temp at the cabin at 8am was -26F on Thursday.


The little creek that started it all…

Flashback to 22 July 1902


Pedro Creek: Looking upstream

Felice Pedroni left his small mountain village of Trignano, Italy in 1881. Upon landing in New York City, as a fresh immigrant, he changed his name to Felix Pedro. Pedro was 23 years old at the time.

From New York, he worked his way across the United States, eventually finding himself in Washington state. From there, Pedro migrated to the Yukon Territory. By 1898, Pedro was working the Forty-Mile Mining District in Alaska. He supposedly struck it big on Lost Creek with his partner, Tom Gilmore. Unfortunately, the creek retained the name “Lost Creek” for a reason. Gilmore & Pedro had to abandon the claim after its discovery, due to running out of provisions. They did mark the spot, but spent the next three years trying to find it again. They never did.


Felice Pedroni, aka Felix Pedro

As it often happens throughout history, the city of Fairbanks got its start due to happenstance, coincidence and a dose of pure luck.

Two things happened that drove the city’s founding. First: The banker, swindler and first mayor of Fairbanks, Elbridge Truman Barnette, booked passage on the sternwheeler Lavelle Young from St Michael, AK in August 1901. After hitting the shallows of Bates Rapids on the Tanana River, E.T. Barnette convince the Lavelle Young’s Captain Adams to try a shortcut up the Chena River. Well, everyone knows what they say about shortcuts. The sternwheeler ran into sandbars only 6 miles from the mouth of the Chena, and the Captain refused to go any further. Barnette, his wife Isabelle, his employees and all his cargo, were unceremoniously dropped off on the south bank of the river.

Captain Adams later was quoted as saying, “We left Barnette furious. His wife was weeping on the bank.”


Looking downstream on Pedro Creek

Second: Re-enter Felix Pedro and Tom Gilmore. The two miners were prospecting in the area, when they saw the smoke rising from what turned out to be the Lavelle Young. They came across Barnette and his predicament and promptly bought a year’s worth of supplies. Barnette could do little with winter closing in on him, so he built a log building that he named “Barnette’s Cache” and decided to stick it out until spring breakup.

On 22 July 1902, Pedro & Gilmore discovered gold in a small, unnamed creek north of Barnette’s Cache. The Fairbanks Gold Rush was on.

Barnette promptly gave up any idea of leaving the area. He named the new community “Chena City”, and by autumn, he was elected the recorder for the new mining district. Judge Wickersham, who had been appointed to the territory by President William McKinley, suggested renaming the community Fairbanks, after the up & coming Senator Charles Fairbanks of Indiana. Barnette agreed to do so, thinking it could gain favor for the town.

During the winter of 1902-03, as many as 1000 new miners came to Fairbanks from all over the globe. They were quickly disappointed to find that one could not mine the frozen creeks during an Interior Alaskan winter. Temperatures were regularly recorded in the -50F range that winter. Barnette made a fortune with his trading post monopoly, and by 1908, Fairbanks was the largest city in Alaska.


Felix Pedro Monument; Steese Hwy, Alaska

Felix Pedro died of what was believed to be a heart attack in 1910. He was 52. His partner at the time doubted the cause of death, believing that Pedro’s wife had poisoned him. Pedro’s body was shipped to San Francisco, and buried there. In 1972, Italy wanted Pedro back, so his body was exhumed, and reburied in Fanano. Before reburial however, an autopsy was performed, and hair samples concluded that Pedro, had indeed, been poisoned.

This past weekend, the city of Fairbanks celebrated Golden Days, the annual event recognizing Fairbanks’ golden start. The celebration is marked by parades, street fairs, a Felix Pedro look a like contest, and the running of the historic steam locomotive No.1. It fact, this year was No.1’s 120th birthday.

Today, a monument to Felix Pedro can be found along the Steese Highway north of Fairbanks. Across the highway is Pedro’s original mining claim on the creek that now carries his name. The claim is owned & operated by the Pioneers of Alaska, Igloos #4 & 8. It is open to the public; anyone can pan for gold in Pedro Creek.


Open Water on the Chena


It was -20F on the morning that this picture was taken; Cellphone camera