Ketchikan, Alaska has many claims to fame. Established in 1885, it is the North Star State’s first city, has been known as the “salmon capital of the world” as well as the “wickedest city in Alaska” and with a whopping annual rainfall of 130+ inches, it is for sure the rainiest place in the state. To learn much more about Ketchikan history, industries, culture, and more, visit the Tongass Historical Museum. Rare artifacts and historical photographs show and tell the stories of Ketchikan and Southeast Alaska in authentic detail. There are two or three changing exhibits each year, as well as permanent collections to enjoy.
Perhaps the most interesting permanent exhibit in the museum is about the First People— the Tlingit, Haida, and Tsimshian. Long before there was a town here, the Indians maintained a fish camp at the mouth of Ketchikan Creek. On display is an excellent selection of artifacts ranging from pre-contact stone tools and implements to ceremonial garments and colorful beads. In addition, you’ll see beautiful items created in the traditional style by contemporary Native artists. The Museum also has an extensive historical archive and photograph collection that is available to researchers.
With abundant timber, fishing and mining opportunities, adventurers from the Lower 48 saw Ketchikan as a place to get rich. In 1898, the lure of gold brought hordes of prospectors to Alaska and the Yukon. During the height of the Rush, gold was discovered on both sides of the Tongass Narrows and on nearby islands. Eventually, though, copper became the most important mineral find. A decade prior to that, businessmen from Portland, Oregon established the first cannery here. After it was destroyed in a fire, a salmon saltery was built in the same place. By 1936, seven canneries were in operation, producing 1.5 million cases of salmon. In fact, fishing was so important to early commerce that even Thelma Copeland who operated Creek Street’s best-known bordello remarked, “When they’re here, all they talk about is fishing. When they’re out fishing, all they talk about is Creek Street.”
IF YOU GO:
There are no roads leading to Ketchikan from major Alaskan cities, therefore, all visitors arrive by plane or boat. The Alaskan Ferry leaves out of Bellingham, Washington and can accommodate RVs of all sizes.
Tongass Historical Museum
629 Dock St.
Ketchikan, Alaska 99901
phone: (907) 225-5600
Adult admission $3. Children 12 and under are free.
Open daily, 8:00 a.m. to 5:00 p.m. May through September. Open Tuesday thru Friday, 1:00 to 5:00 p.m. and Saturday, 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m. October through April (closed Sunday and Monday).
In addition to writing about her travels, Denise Seith is also a treasure hunter and loves a good latté. She and her husband own an online gold prospecting and metal detecting equipment store found at GoldRushTradingPost.com