Rika's Landing Roadhouse - Big Delta, Alaska
Posted by: Groundspeak Charter Member BruceS
N 64° 09.323 W 145° 50.450
6W E 556379 N 7114842
Historic roadhouse on the Tanana River in Big Delta, Alaska.
Waymark Code: WMAY5T
Location: Alaska, United States
Date Posted: 03/10/2011
Published By:Groundspeak Premium Member Marine Biologist
Views: 1

"Rika's Landing Roadhouse, also known as Rika's Landing Site or the McCarty Roadhouse, is a roadhouse located at a historically important crossing of the Tanana River, off mile 274.5 of the Richardson Highway in Big Delta, in the Southeast Fairbanks Census Area, Alaska, United States.

The roadhouse is named after Rika Wallen, who obtained it from John Hajdukovich and operated it for many years. It became a hub of activity in that region of the interior. With the construction of the ALCAN (now Alaska) Highway and the replacement of the ferry with a bridge downstream, patronage declined. The roadhouse is in the Big Delta State Historical Park and was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1976.

The Richardson Highway, an important route through the Alaska Interior that contributed significantly to development and settlement of the region it traversed, began as a pack trail from the port at Valdez to Eagle, downstream on the Yukon River from Dawson. It was built in 1898 by the U.S. Army to provide an "all-American" route to the Klondike gold fields. After the rush ended, the Army kept the trail open in order to connect its posts at Fort Liscum, in Valdez, and Fort Egbert, in Eagle. The Fairbanks' gold rush in 1902, and the construction of a WAMCATS telegraph line along the trail in 1903 by the U.S. Army Signal Corps directed in part by then Lieutenant Billy Mitchell, made the Valdez-to-Eagle trail, and its branch to Fairbanks, one of the most important access routes to the Alaska Interior.

Many roadhouses, some 37 in all and some now on the National Register of Historic Places, were built along this trail for the convenience of travelers. These roadhouses offered meals, sleeping quarters, and supplies. They were typically located about 15 to 20 miles apart.

The Tanana River was one of the major rivers to be crossed along the Valdez-Eagle trail. A ferry was established just upriver of the Tanana's confluence with the Delta River, at a location then called Bates Landing. Bates Landing was about 12 km (8 miles) north of the current settlement of Delta Junction, in the area known now as Big Delta. The government collected a ferry toll on the south side from all those traveling northbound. The WAMCATS telegraph line was relocated to parallel the trail after a fire. McCarty Station was established at the line's crossing of the Tanana in 1907 to maintain the telegraph. Several log cabins housed the telegraph office, a dispatcher, two repairmen and their supplies.

A trading post was constructed on the south bank of the Tanana, at Bates Landing in April 1904 by a prospector named Ben Bennett on his claim of 80 acres (32 ha), but Bennett sold the post and land to Daniel G. McCarty in April 1905. However since E.T. Barnette, the founder of Fairbanks, and McCarty's former employer, had financed the goods in the post, Barnette retained ownership of them. The post property, now being used as a roadhouse, soon became known as McCarty's. Another prospector named Alonzo Maxey, and a friend, built Bradley's Roadhouse to compete with McCarty's and by 1907, McCarty's had been transferred to Maxey.

In 1906, or perhaps sometime after, Jovo 'John' Hajdukovich, an enterpreneur who had come to Alaska from Montenegro in 1903, sensed a business opportunity and purchased the trading post and roadhouse from Maxey. Hajdukovich built a new and bigger roadhouse in 1909 using logs floated downriver, but he continued to use the old trading post to store his gear.

Hadukovich had other business interests, including prospecting, freighting, acting as a hunting guide by taking hunting parties into the nearby Granite Mountains, and trading with, and advocating for, the Athabaskan natives, (later being instrumental in creating the Tetlin Reserve) as well as the responsibilities of US Game Commissioner for the area, and was not able to personally operate the roadhouse full time. As with many informally managed roadhouses, Hadukovich asked travelers to "make themselves at home and leave some money on the table" for what they used. Despite this informality, the operations prospered.

Starting in 1904 the trail was in the process of being upgraded. In 1907, or certainly by 1910, the Alaska Road Commission completed the upgrade, upgrading the trail to a wagon road. The head of the project was Major (later U.S. Army General) Wilds P. Richardson, for whom the highway was later named. Stages plied the road, using horse drawn sledges in winter and wagons in summer. By 1913 the roadhouse was a local center of activity for gold prospectors, local hunters, traders, and freighters.

Meanwhile Erika 'Rika' Wallen, born Lovisa Erika Jakobson in 1874 on a farm near Örebro Sweden, came to America. She first came to Minneapolis, Minnesota with her sister in 1891 to join her brother Carl Jakobson, changing their last names to Wallen. After Carl died in an accident, the sisters moved to San Francisco, Rika taking a job as a cook for the Hills Brothers coffee family which lasted until the 1906 San Francisco earthquake. In 1916 Rika traveled to Valdez, it is said "because she thought Alaska would be like Sweden".

After jobs cooking at the Kennecott copper mine and for a Fairbanks boarding house, Rika made her way to Big Delta, and in 1917, or 1918, John Hadukovich hired Rika Wallen to manage operations at the roadhouse, then still known as McCarty's.

Although John had many business interests he was not always solvent. For example, in later years he missed being paid for timber supplied to the ALCAN Highway project due to not keeping records, and in either 1918, or 1923, ownership of the roadhouse was transferred to Rika for "$10.00 and other considerations," presumably in lieu of back wages. Their friendship and partnership nevertheless continued for many years, although it was not clear exactly what their relationship was. The roadhouse was soon named Rika's following local custom. At that time, the roadhouse had eleven bedrooms, a living room and a large kitchen/dining area.

By 1925, Rika had applied for US citizenship, and filed a homestead claim on an adjacent 160 acres (65 ha) where she began growing food and raising livestock, including sheep, chicken, and goats. Sheep provided wool that she wove, and goats that she raised provided milk, butter and cheese. She also raised silver fox, ducks, geese, rabbits and honeybees, as well as growing grain using a yoke of oxen for plowing. Rika was a natural farmer who was able to successfully grow crops where others failed. She developed a heating and ventilation system for her stable to allow her livestock to successfully survive the harsh winters.

When Rika bought the roadhouse, it still had dirt floors and rough walls. In order to improve the interior, she scavenged random wallpaper, sometimes using different patterns on different walls of the same room, and made a hardwood parquet floor with wooden kerosene crates collected from the freighters and boatmen that patronized the roadhouse. Her ability to grow crops and to make a pleasant inn meant that travelers would see a table set with fresh milk and eggs, berries, fish, game, and produce picked from the garden and nearby orchard, before retiring to clean comfortable beds in the multistory building. A travelog of the Richardson Highway published in 1929 gave this description of Rika's: "a commodious roadhouse boasting of such luxuries as fresh milk and domestic fowls."

In 1926 or thereabouts, Rika added a wing which she used for additional living space, a liquor store, fur storage and the Big Delta (then known as Washburn) Post Office. She was the postmaster until 1946. Eventually Rika also homesteaded an adjoining piece of land, bringing her holdings to 320 acres (130 ha).

In the 1930s, with the construction of the Alaska Railroad completed in 1922, and due to other factors such as the Great Depression, freight traffic declined. In 1935, the Alaska Road Commission, in an attempt to force shippers to use the railroad, raised the toll at the Tanana ferry crossing to almost 10 dollars a ton. The truckers rebelled at this and a series of skirmishes and pirate ferry operations occurred, lasting until the start of World War II.

With the coming of the war, and the construction of the ALCAN Highway which connected to the Richardson south of Big Delta, traffic waned further. The ferry crossing was replaced by a wooden bridge, and then later, a larger steel bridge some distance downriver, and thus the highway was rerouted away from the roadhouse. Rika operated the roadhouse through the 1940s and early 1950s although in later years guests were by invitation only. John Hajdukovich died in 1965 and Rika Wallen died four years later in 1969.

According to Judy Ferguson in Parallel Destinies, a biography of John and Rika:

"For fifty years, Rika was a stake in the ground for the roaming John. While John traded and prospected, Rika ran the hub of the Upper Tanana's cross-roads. Her establishment was "town" to the three hundred people who walked the trails to the Alaskan-Canadian border. John and Rika were the history of the Upper Tanana Valley."

Rika's Roadhouse and the adjacent outbuildings and property are now the Big Delta State Historical Park. In 1976 the roadhouse was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. The structure was restored in 1984 by Stanton and Stanton Construction on a new foundation using original timbers, and with a restoration of the packing crate floor in some areas.. It now functions as a museum and some rooms have been fitted with 1920s-1930s period furniture and accessories donated by local residents. The property also has a food service facility called the "Packhouse Pavilion" operated by a local concessionaire" - Wikipedia

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