Natives, gold and the railroad
Athabascan Indians originally inhabited this area. They were a strong group that refused to let the Russian traders up the Susitna River. In n 1905 gold was discovered in the Cache Creek region to the west of Talkeetna bringing miners and prospectors into the area. They established gold mines mostly to the west of Talkeetna (about 50 miles) such as Petersville and Collinsville. Some of the claims are still actively mined today. Then in 1915, President Woodrow Wilson selected Talkeetna as the site for the Engineering Commission Headquarters for the construction of the Alaska Railroad that would connect Seward to Fairbanks.
The Talkeetna townsite was established in 1916 there was a sawmill, several cafes, bunkhouses, a couple of roadhouses, Nagley’s opened his doors, there was a cigar store and a number of other businesses. All of these are well documented in the Anchorage Daily Times in 1916. The Post Office also opened. The TKA Roadhouse was built in 1916/17 (was originally a home, not a business), Nagleys first store in Talkeetna was built in 1916, DeVault’s Roadhouse (which became Bucket of Blood) was built in 1916. The Birch Roadhouse opened in 1916. The Woodland Inn and Bakery opened in 1916. There is every evidence that the Talkeetna Hotel opened that year, too. AND the railroad was reporting almost 400 people in 1916 working for the railroad in Talkeetna. There is a report in the paper in 1916 that says…”there are 600 lots…nearly half of these are spoken for…”
In 1918 the railroad surveyed lots and auctioned 80 lots of them off in September 1919 and another one in October 1919. Half of the lots already had improvements on them. The average price at the sale was $14.25. None of the buyers elected to use the easy payment plan that was offered.
Alaska Railroad Mile Post 226.7 (Talkeetna) is north of Anchorage about 120 miles. The railroad was a lifeline to communities like Talkeetna along the rail belt prior to the construction of the George Parks Highway. A few communities still depend on the railroad for their primary access route. The railroad provided affordable transportation and convenient shipping of food, supplies and equipment for early miners, homesteaders and other settlers. In 1921, the train from Talkeetna to Anchorage took “only” 19 hours! Today, the express passenger train makes the trip in about 3 hours.
Log buildings, both old and new, add to the rustic look and character of the small village of Talkeetna. The skill of the log craftsmen is evident as you take a stroll through town. Watch for special detailing: the scribe-fit log method, 3-sided logs, or the dovetailed notched comers. An especially interesting structure is the Talkeetna Air Taxi office, which is a 6-sided building. Try to imagine the craftsmanship and mathematics that went into figuring out the angles!
An earthquake! Shock waves of the “Great Alaskan Quake of 1964” rocked Talkeetna. This was the same year that the road from Anchorage to Talkeetna was completed, thus marking change and an end of dependency on the railroad. Along the Talkeetna Spur Road, the State of Alaska sold many parcels of land, causing an influx of new residents.
The late Don Sheldon was a pioneer pilot from Talkeetna and one of the first to do glacier landings on McKinley. Several Talkeetna air services fly thousands of visitors to Mt. McKinley to enjoy some of the most spectacular scenery in the world.
Where Three Rivers Meet
Three rivers, the Talkeetna, Chulitna, and Susitna, converge here to become the Big Susitna drainage. The word “Susitna” in Den’aina Indian language means “Sand Island River”. The name “Talkeetna” loosely translated, means “River of Plenty”, or more literally, “Place where food is stored near the river”, meaning a place where a food cache was located. Chulitna means “Strait Hand River” though some locals translate it with “Tongue River”. The Den’aina Indians were an Athabascan subgroup who inhabited the Upper Cook Inlet drainage. — For some local residents Talkeetna simply means: “Where three rivers meet”.
In summer, fishing for salmon and trout was followed by fall hunting. Some local big game animals are moose, bear, caribou, and Dall sheep. In the winter of 1992-1993, caribou herds migrated into nearby areas for the first time in 40 years. November through January was devoted to resting, visiting, trading, telling stories, doing arts and crafts work, and holding potlaches. In Den’aina, the word for November is translated to mean “visitors”. Distinct groups or historic villages established in the Upper Cook Inlet drainage are: Tyonek, Alexander Creek, Susitna Station, Kroto, Talkeetna area, Knik, Wasilla, Wasilla Creek, Red Shirt Lake, Old Knik, Chickaloon, Eklutna, Point Possession, and Gold Creek-Susitna.
Nature and natural beauty are emphasized in the community of Talkeetna. Talkeetna in mid-summer is alive with color! The flowing rivers are lined with spruce, birch and cottonwood trees. Flower and vegetable gardens, lawns and hanging baskets, complement the natural wildflowers. In the winter Talkeetna is covered with a thick blanket snow, truly a sight to be seen. In 1989-90, the total snowfall was over 25 feet, which is twice the average.
Get In Touch with Talkeetna’s Past
Visit the Talkeetna Historical Society Museum in Downtown Talkeetna.