Seward, Alaska
Posted by: Groundspeak Premium Member NorStar
N 60° 06.153 W 149° 26.347
6V E 364393 N 6665334
Quick Description: Seward, then, was a major trading port of 835 people that had a golf course, a hospital, and other modern conveniences, is now a major tourist stop and gateway of 3,016 people [2005] and has boat tours, the Sealife Center, and cable!
Location: Alaska, United States
Date Posted: 4/10/2011 9:39:22 PM
Waymark Code: WMB6DE
Published By: Groundspeak Regular Member Math Teacher
Views: 2

Long Description:
Seward, Alaska, was an important port city, especially since Anchorage was barely more than a small town along the Alaska Railroad at the time.

Seward as Described in the Guide

The following from the American Guide Series book for Alaska (then a territory) describes Seward:

At the north end of Resurrection Bay, completely surrounded by mountains from 3,000 to 7,000 feet high, is the incorporated town of Seward (p.o., 835 pop.), named after William H. Seward, who as secretary of state negotiated for the purchase of Alaska. It is the terminus of the Alaska Railroad and a gateway to the Interior, besides serving as a distributing center for western Alaska and as the out-fitting point for big-game hunters on Kenai Peninsula and Kodiak Island. Its chief industries are transportation and lumbering, and near by is a large though undeveloped farming district. It contains some half dozen hotels, as many cafes and restaurants, a number of churches and clubs, Federal governmental agencies, the Seward General Hospital, and modern conveniences usually found only in much larger towns in continental United States.

In 1938 merchandise valued at over $9,000,000 passed through the port. A harbor of refuge was authorized in 1930 and 1935, providing for breakwaters and a dredged basin 12V2 feet deep, at a cost of $173,000. The port is open all year, and even float ice is rare. In addition to being served by regular passenger steamers from Seattle, the port is the terminus of passenger and freight boats to the Aleutian Islands and southwestern Alaska (see Part II, 7, 8).

The climate is mild, because of the proximity of the Japan current. The average winter temperature ranges around 7° below freezing (25° F.), the summer temperature, from 50° to 60° during the day.

In the late eighteenth century Russian officers christened the bay Resurrection, or Sunday Bay, and established a shipyard there. After their removal to St. Paul on Kodiak Island they kept the bay as head- quarters for trips into the Interior. The first American settler in the vicinity was Frank Lowell, a trader who moved from Kodiak in 1884. The steamer Dora entered the bay in 1896, on her run from Sitka to Dutch Harbor.

In June, 1902, a surveying party landed at the site of what is now Seward and began to lay out a route for the projected Alaska Central Railroad, to furnish a means of entering the Interior and to tap the Matanuska coal fields. In July of the following year the townsite was surveyed and named, a wharf constructed, and streets laid out geo- metrically, the avenues numbered from one to seven, the streets named Monroe, Madison, Jefferson, Adams, and Washington. After 71 miles of the railroad line had been built, all coal lands in Alaska were withdrawn from entry in 1908, The Alaska Northern Railroad, successor to the Alaska Central, suspended construction in 1909. The reaction of the townspeople was later immortalized by Pat O'Cotter, a local poet...

...Late on a Saturday afternoon in August, 1915, a cable message arrived with the news that Seward had been chosen as the terminus of the Alaska Railroad. The Seward Gateway was on the streets with an extra in half an hour, and real-estate prices mounted by the minute. Lots changed hands overnight, property quadrupled in price, new stores opened, established merchants enlarged their quarters. Incoming steamers were crowded with passengers seeking work, as a new kind of stampede for Alaska began. The Alaska Railroad was completed in 1923. Since then Seward has been, in the phrase of Rockwell Kent, "a tradesmen's town where tradesmen's views prevail. . . . The worst of Seward is itself; the best is the strong men that by chance are there or that pass through from the great Alaska."

A golf course has been laid out along the edge of the airplane landing field. An excellent motor road leads to Kenai Lake, 20 miles distant. Kenai Peninsula itself is about the size of the state of Maryland, is rich in coal, gold, and agricultural lands, and contains game, especially mountain sheep and goats, large moose, and three kinds of bear. The Seward Gateway, a tri-weekly, and the Seward Weekly Gateway are published in Seward.

Near Seward, on Resurrection Bay, is Fox (Renard) Island, where Rockwell Kent lived for some time with his son. Its harbor was described in his book Wilderness, A Journal of Quiet Adventure in Alaska, in words that convey the feeling of many Alaska landscapes: "Twin lofty mountain masses flanked the entrance and from the back of these the land dipped downwards like a hammock swung between them, its lowest point behind the center of the crescent. A clean and smooth, dark-pebbled beach went all around the bay, the tide line marked with driftwood, gleaming, bleached bones of trees, fantastic roots, and worn shredded trunks. Above the beach a band of brilliant green and then the deep, black spaces for the forest. So huge was the scale of all this that for some time we looked in vain for any habitation, at last incredulously seeing what we had taken to be boulders assume the form of cabins."
-American Guide Series: Alaska: A Guide to the Last Frontier, p. 259-261

Seward is mentioned elsewhere in the book as it is an important starting point for boat/cruise and railroad trips. A highway was also available that went inland but did not connect to Portage or Anchorage.

Seward Today

Much of Seward likely would be recognizable to the people who assembled the book. Much of the old downtown Seward still has buildings that would have been around at that time. For instance, the Van Guilder Hotel, listed in the National Register of Historic Places would have been standing then, as well as the old depot at Hoben Park in the south end.

However, much of Seward is new and different than the writers would have seen. I will only touch on major changes here.

If the people were to approach from the Bay, the first thing they would notice would be the absence of the railroad yard and tracks along the shore. As they came east of Seward, they would have noticed that only wooden posts in the water would mark the location of the wharves and docks that used to be there. Some of the docks and industry by the water has been rebuilt north of Seward at the northern end of the bay. In 1964, an incredibly powerful earthquake hit the region, which resulted in underwater landslides happening in Resurrection Bay which generated large tsunamis that crashed into the city, wiping out the railroad and industry, as well as inundating homes more inland. From this, the city decided to shorten the railroad by ending it north of town and turn the remaining land over to parks, and an RV camp.

Seward has also diminished as a port. It still has a sizable fishing industry, but other commodities mentioned in the text, lumber and minerals, have stopped or been diverted to other ports. Even the Alaska Marine Ferry Highway stopped service in 2005. What has replaced these industries, however, is the tourism industry. Cruise lines make Seward a stop. From there people often board the Alaska Railroad to go to Denali National Park well inland. Seward has its own National Park surrounding it, however. The Kenai Fjords National Park, established in the 1980s, covers mountain and marine terrains and habitats, and has many glaciers that come off the Harding Icefield. People can drive to the park entrance at Exit Glacier to view that glacier. To see the others, however, there are boat tours that can take you there.

There is still shipbuilding/repair activity at the location of the shipbuilding company mentioned in the text.

There is a new center of town in Seward, about a half mile north of the old one. This one serves the tourism business better, and contains a lot of the restaurants, outfitter stores, and the Kenai Fjords National Park Visitor Center. The old center is still there. It contains some 'vintage' shops, as well as at least one lounge.

What also was striking to me were the black sands that the text mentioned. This is evident by the cottages near Lowell Point (likely named after Frank Lowell mentioned in the text), south of the main part of town.

Seward is in a beautiful bay, well worth the trip to visit there! Additional Source:,_Alaska
Book: Alaska

Page Number(s) of Excerpt: 259-261

Year Originally Published: 1939

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