A little Talkeetna History
A section of downtown is on the National Register of Historic Places
We are on the lands of the Dena’ina Ełnena and specifically, Dghelay Teht’ana, the Mountain People in this region. The Dena’ina lived and hunted these lands for thousands of years. The area we know as Talkeetna, they called K’dalkitnu, literally “food is stored river” or more flowery term ‘the place where we get our food’ or ‘river of plenty’. We recognize and respect the continuing stewardship and connection to the land by Alaska Native peoples.
In 1905 gold was discovered in the Cache Creek region to the west of Talkeetna in the Dutch Hills. The gold strike brought miners, prospectors and explorers to Susitna Station, McDougall and eventually to Talkeetna.
In 1915, Talkeetna was selected as a district headquarters for the Alaska Engineering Commission as they built the Alaska Railroad from Anchorage to Fairbanks.
The railroad boom in Talkeetna started that next year: a sawmill, several cafes, bunkhouses, roadhouses and other businesses opened their doors. HW Nagley opened a third branch store in Talkeetna in 1916. Like others, he originally worked out of a canvas wall tent, but by 1918 had built a hard-sided structure, one that still stands today. His other stores – one in Susitna Station and one in McDougall- would eventually close as Talkeetna became the main hub with railroad access. From 1915 to 1918 the population of Talkeetna swelled to an estimated 1,000 people.
In 1919, the Alaska Engineering Commission auctioned off 80 lots in downtown Talkeetna. Over half of those already had permanent structures. The average price of a lot was $14.25. HW Nagley purchased 14 lots and others bought multiple lots as well.
1920 – 1960
World War I, the flu pandemic of 1918 and the completion of the railroad past Talkeetna all took its toll on the population of Talkeetna. The population of the town dropped to about 60 people. Those that stayed continued to mine for gold in the foothills to the west. The railroad from Anchorage to Fairbanks was complete in 1923 and it became a life line. It provided affordable transportation and a way to ship food and supplies that didn’t include the difficult river transportation of yesteryear.
By 1960, life had changed drastically. The mines didn’t produce the amount of gold they did in the 20s. The village of Talkeetna was still quiet in summers and busier
in the winters when miners would return to town for the cold, bitter dark months.
Talkeetna was placed on the map in the summer of 1963 when the village was named the perfect spot to view the total eclipse of the sun nationwide. That same year, the road to Anchorage met the newly developed gravel Talkeetna Spur Road.
In 1951, Bradford Washburn pioneered a climbing route up the south west flanks of Denali, the West Buttress. It allowed ski planes to land on the Kahiltna Glacier. Before that time, most efforts in mountaineering used the north side of the mountain. By the early 70s, mountaineers discovered the relative ease of climbing Denali without starting at the river’s edge, and instead, traveling to Talkeetna, hiring Don Sheldon or Cliff Hudson to fly them up to the Kahiltna Glacier, where they would start and end their climb. Today, around 1,200 climbers come to Talkeetna to scale Denali each summer and the West Buttress is the most climbed route.
The 1970s to today
For people that arrived in the early 70s to Talkeetna, it was still a quiet village with not much commerce. As tourism arrived in Alaska, Talkeetna got busier. In the mid and late 90s, tourist lodges and hotels were built. The population of Talkeetna went from 250 in 1980 to 775 in 2000. Today, the population of the village triples in summer as summer workers arrive from around the world. If you arrive in May and June, you will see mountain climbers and visitors from every part of the globe. The season winds down in September. But these days, Talkeetna can be busy in winter, with nordic skiing, a fat tire bike race and other winter fun.
Visit the Talkeetna Museum for more information on our history.