Camera: Leica M3; Film: Fujichrome 35mm, Velvia 100
The Russian-American Company was established in 1799. The RAC received a renewable 20-year charter, which granted the company exclusive rights over trade in Russia’s North American territory.
The fur trade led the RAC to build a trading post on the Middle Kuskokwim River in 1841, which they named Kolmakovsky Redoubt. The blockhouse, above, was the first building erected. Eight more structures would also be constructed.
Kolmakovsky was the only Russian redoubt to be constructed in Alaska’s Interior. After the United States purchased Alaska from Russia in 1867, the redoubt eventually transferred to the Alaska Commercial Company.
The blockhouse stood alongside the Kuskokwim River for over 80 years. In 1929, the building was donated to the University of Alaska. The eight-sided log building was dismantled, the logs numbered, and then shipped to Fairbanks. It remained in storage for the next 50 years.
In 1982, the blockhouse, which has a diameter of 17′, was reconstructed behind the Museum of the North, on the UAF campus. In 2009, the University received a grant from the “Saving America’s Treasures” program to to do an all out restoration. A concrete pad was poured, any rotten logs were fabricated as the originals, and the roof was rebuilt. All but one of the interior horizontal roof supports are original.
The spruce logs are all connected by interlocking dovetail notches. There are no windows, only a low doorway, and three narrow musket slots. The Kolmakovsky blockhouse is the only Russian blockhouse ever found with a sod roof, the rest were all built with a plank roof.
Today, the blockhouse from Kolmakovsky Redoubt is still located near the Museum of the North on the University of Alaska – Fairbanks campus. The Kolmakovsky Redoubt site on the Kuskokwim has been placed on the Alaska Heritage list of historic properties and archaeological sites. A detailed excavation of the site was completed during the 1966 and 1967 summers by UCLA professor Wendall H. Oswalt. Well over 5000 artifacts were excavated, which are now a part of the collection at the Museum of the North.
On our tour of uniquely Interior Alaska, we made the drive out to the Republic of Ester. The first stop was the Golden Eagle Saloon, where you grill your own burgers. We sat out on the front porch, mingling with the regulars. But we didn’t venture out to Ester for a “grill your own”. We came out for the Malemute.
Gold was discovered in Ester Creek in 1903. By 1907, Ester had become a thriving mining community with a population of 200. Ester Gold Camp developed into a support facility for the F.E. Company’s gold dredges operating in the Cripple Creek & Ester Creek areas.
With dredging winding down, the F.E. Company sold the gold camp to local investors who turned the historic camp into a resort in 1958.
The F.E. Company used the old building as a garage, but the new resort owners turned it into the “Malemute Saloon”. Robert Service, the poet whose works include “The Shooting of Dan McGrew”, became an honorary patron of the Malemute. The bar inside the Malemute is circa 1900, and came from the Royal Alexandra Hotel in Dawson, YT. It was barged down the Yukon River and up the Tanana.
At its peak, the Ester Gold Camp had all you can eat crab, and meals were taken on long tables like the miners of the F.E. Company. It allowed visitors to interact, and residents were as common as the tourists. The Malemute would be packed to the rafters, with shows dedicated to Robert Service and life in the Interior of Alaska. I took my Dad out there a few times, and it became one of his favorite Alaska hangouts. With sawdust on the floor, Alaskana on the walls, and cold beer flowing, it was a favorite of many locals as well.
On this night in 2019, we ordered our beer at the historic bar, then went outside to sit on the deck, which had a significant lean down & away from the building.
The Gold Camp and the Malemute closed in 2008, although the Malemute Saloon does open on occasion. This year, it was open, serving Alaskan brews for the month of June.
The Ester Camp Historic District was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987.
The Shooting of Dan McGrew
A bunch of the boys were whooping it up in the Malamute saloon;
The kid that handles the music-box was hitting a jag-time tune;
Back of the bar, in a solo game, sat Dangerous Dan McGrew,
And watching his luck was his light-o’-love, the lady that’s known as Lou.
When out of the night, which was fifty below, and into the din and the glare,
There stumbled a miner fresh from the creeks, dog-dirty, and loaded for bear.
He looked like a man with a foot in the grave and scarcely the strength of a louse,
Yet he tilted a poke of dust on the bar, and he called for drinks for the house.
There was none could place the stranger’s face, though we searched ourselves for a clue;
But we drank his health, and the last to drink was Dangerous Dan McGrew.
There’s men that somehow just grip your eyes, and hold them hard like a spell;
And such was he, and he looked to me like a man who had lived in hell;
With a face most hair, and the dreary stare of a dog whose day is done,
As he watered the green stuff in his glass, and the drops fell one by one.
Then I got to figgering who he was, and wondering what he’d do,
And I turned my head — and there watching him was the lady that’s known as Lou.
His eyes went rubbering round the room, and he seemed in a kind of daze,
Till at last that old piano fell in the way of his wandering gaze.
The rag-time kid was having a drink; there was no one else on the stool,
So the stranger stumbles across the room, and flops down there like a fool.
In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt he sat, and I saw him sway;
Then he clutched the keys with his talon hands — my God! but that man could play.
Were you ever out in the Great Alone, when the moon was awful clear,
And the icy mountains hemmed you in with a silence you most could hear;
With only the howl of a timber wolf, and you camped there in the cold,
A half-dead thing in a stark, dead world, clean mad for the muck called gold;
While high overhead, green, yellow and red, the North Lights swept in bars? —
Then you’ve a hunch what the music meant. . . hunger and night and the stars.
And hunger not of the belly kind, that’s banished with bacon and beans,
But the gnawing hunger of lonely men for a home and all that it means;
For a fireside far from the cares that are, four walls and a roof above;
But oh! so cramful of cosy joy, and crowned with a woman’s love —
A woman dearer than all the world, and true as Heaven is true —
(God! how ghastly she looks through her rouge, — the lady that’s known as Lou.)
Then on a sudden the music changed, so soft that you scarce could hear;
But you felt that your life had been looted clean of all that it once held dear;
That someone had stolen the woman you loved; that her love was a devil’s lie;
That your guts were gone, and the best for you was to crawl away and die.
‘Twas the crowning cry of a heart’s despair, and it thrilled you through and through —
“I guess I’ll make it a spread misere”, said Dangerous Dan McGrew.
The music almost died away … then it burst like a pent-up flood;
And it seemed to say, “Repay, repay,” and my eyes were blind with blood.
The thought came back of an ancient wrong, and it stung like a frozen lash,
And the lust awoke to kill, to kill … then the music stopped with a crash,
And the stranger turned, and his eyes they burned in a most peculiar way;
In a buckskin shirt that was glazed with dirt he sat, and I saw him sway;
Then his lips went in in a kind of grin, and he spoke, and his voice was calm,
And “Boys,” says he, “you don’t know me, and none of you care a damn;
But I want to state, and my words are straight, and I’ll bet my poke they’re true,
That one of you is a hound of hell. . .and that one is Dan McGrew.”
Then I ducked my head, and the lights went out, and two guns blazed in the dark,
And a woman screamed, and the lights went up, and two men lay stiff and stark.
Pitched on his head, and pumped full of lead, was Dangerous Dan McGrew,
While the man from the creeks lay clutched to the breast of the lady that’s known as Lou.
These are the simple facts of the case, and I guess I ought to know.
They say that the stranger was crazed with “hooch,” and I’m not denying it’s so.
I’m not so wise as the lawyer guys, but strictly between us two —
The woman that kissed him and — pinched his poke — was the lady that’s known as Lou.
— Robert Service
From: Songs of a Sourdough; 1907
Ogdensburg, New York
Originally to be called the Ogdensburg State Asylum for the Insane, the name was officially changed to the St. Lawrence State Hospital before the first patient was admitted in 1890. The 950 acre parcel of land along the Saint Lawrence River was bought by the State of New York for $90,500 in 1887.
By the 1940’s, the hospital had become a “city within a city”. Food for the over 2000 residents came from poultry, dairy and vegetable farms within the grounds. The hospital had its own police & fire departments, post office and telephone system. There was also carpentry, plumbing and paint shops, a tailor shop, theater, community store, and the hospital had its own nursing school.
The St Lawrence Hospital closed in 1983.
When I was in Ogdensburg, my tour guide drove me through the hospital grounds. The massive stone buildings are all in various state of disrepair. I cringed at the sight of open roofs, knowing the damage that is being done internally to these wonderful buildings. As a contractor, I realize the effort and craftsmanship that went into their construction over 130 years ago. It’s just a shame that the city of Ogdensburg could not get the State of New York to do something constructive with the site.