History of Eagle City
Eagle City got its start when, in 1897, disgruntled gold prospectors who had been unsuccessful in the Klondike were joined by a group of business people.
Together, they decided to start their own city on the other side of the International border. They located a good spot twelve river miles beyond the Canadian border, and they chose the name "Eagle City" for the eagles nesting on the bluff.
They offered the 300-400 lots they had staked to anyone willing to buy. A $5 recorder fee gave the new owner 30 days to brush the adjoining streets and a year to erect a building. Most of the 200 cabins built during its first year were crude one-room log cabins with dirt or pole roofs.
By 1898, the population had reached 700. The commercial center was a row of log cabins which included several saloons, gambling halls, restaurants and four large commercial companies. A few of the commercial buildings were constructed with lumber and galvanized metal roofs. By 1898, many of the lots had changed hands, selling as low as $10 to $25 and as high as $2,500 for a prime river front business site. Eagle City had now become a major commercial center for the Upper Yukon.
Above, B Street in 1899.
Fort EgbertThe arrival of the U. S. Army in 1899 gave a needed economic boost to Eagle City. They built Fort Egbert adjacent to the city. The military's duty was to provide law and order, establish roads and communications and to assist the indigent miners. One of their major accomplishments was building the WAMCATS (Washington -Alaska Military cable and telegraph system.)
Above, Major Richardson's tent camp at Fort Egbert.
Many placer miners were attracted to the creeks near Eagle. The prospectors often built their cabins near their claims, and Eagle City was their source of supplies, mail and social activities. Many were active in fraternal organizations, and many even kept diaries just to keep track of the dates, so they wouldn't miss any holiday festivities in town. It was not uncommon for a miner to walk 30 to 35 miles just to attend a lodge meeting, a party, or a dance in Eagle City.
Above, miners using a rocker.
Eagle's Claim to Fame
The first Federal Court in Alaska's interior was established here by Judge James Wickersham in July of 1900, making Eagle City the headquarters for the Third Judicial District. The district covered 300,000 square miles. In that whole area, there was not a single courthouse, regular jail, school, public building, or even a single mile of wagon road or trail. Changes came quickly, though, when Judge Wickersham completed the courthouse in May, 1901 in Eagle City!
Above, Courthouse & Jail in Eagle City.
Government of Eagle
At a public meeting on Feb. 2, 1898, the citizens of Eagle City formed a Chamber of Commerce and elected a Board of Trustees and a Mayor. Mass meetings continued to be held to vote on irregular matters, major disputes or law infractions that were brought to their attention. When the Alaska Civil Code was passed in 1900, it became possible to establish self rule and In January 1901, Eagle City voted to become an incorporated city in January 1901. It was the first incorporated city in the interior of Alaska.
Above, Eagle City Hall, built in 1901.
By 1903 the telegraph line from Eagle City to Valdez was completed, becoming part of the 1,497 mile WAMCATS (see above). Lt. William Mitchell, with his headquarters at Fort Egbert, Eagle City from 1901-1903, was in charge of the construction of much of the line. The U.S. Senate Committee on Territories visited Eagle in 1903 and strongly supported the building of a railroad between Valdez and Eagle along the government mail trail and telegraph line, and when they returned to Washington D.C., funds were appropriated.
The famous Norwegian polar explorer, Roald Engebreth Gravning Amundsen of Norway, who took pride in being referred to as "the last of the Vikings," was the first to sail a ship through the long sought Northwest Passage. He arrived in Eagle, Dec. 5, 1905, after mushing 1,000 miles by dog-team from Hershel Island where his sloop, the GJOA, was frozen in the Bering Sea. He had traveled overland to Eagle City to send a telegraph to alert his family of his success and health (they had not heard from his for two a half years) and to request money be telegraphed to him. He stayed for two months.
Above, polar explorer, Roald Amundsen
The 1902 Gold Strike in the Tanana Valley soon made a tremendous difference. By 1904, Judge Wickersham had moved his court's headquarters to Fairbanks. The wireless replacing the need for the telegraph line led to the U. S. Army Infantry abandoning Fort Egbert in 1911. Because many of the residents were civilian employees at the fort, the population of Eagle City dropped dramatically.
The remaining residents stayed, keeping Eagle City from becoming just another gold rush ghost town as did many of the Alaskan communities established at that time. Many of the original prospectors continued to work their claims, remaining for the rest of their lives. Though the miners weren't getting rich, they enjoyed their independent life. Other residents worked as trappers, hunters, miners, mail carriers, road house operators, peddlers, teachers and federal employees.
Present Day Eagle City
New life came to the area with the opening of the Taylor Highway into Eagle City in 1953. The population rose to 150-200. Today Eagle has a motel, a restaurant, a campground, B&B's, hook-ups, grocery stores, garages, communication services, a gravel airfield, river trips, a daily tour boat to Dawson, and canoe rentals. There is an all volunteer public library and an museum housed in five historic buildings. The community even boasts a school with grades K-12.
Eagle City was placed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1970, becoming a National Landmark in 1975. This small rural community continues to place a high priority on preserving its local history and historical buildings.