George Harper’s “Blacks in Alaska History” exhibit.

George T. Harper

George T. Harper papers, Archives and Special Collections, Consortium Library, University of Alaska Anchorage.

George T. Harperwas born in Atlanta, Georgia in 1930. In 1981, he moved to Anchorage from Oregon to work as a computer programmer for the Bureau of Land Management. After his retirement in 1990, he ran a consulting business called, “One on One PC Consulting.” In addition, Harper devoted more of his time to a project close to his heart, the “Blacks in Alaska History Project,” which became a non-profit organization in 1995. His first exhibit was in 1989, but he continued doing research till he passed away on January 21, 2004. Per his will, his research papers, exhibit materials, and personal papers were donated to the Consortium Library’s Archives and Special Collections so that researchers could learn and build from his research.

In celebration of Black History Month, the Multicultural Center has mounted the George T. Harper’s Blacks in Alaska History exhibit on the 3rd floor of the Consortium Library. The exhibit will be on display from February 1st to February 29th. Putting together this exhibit was no easy feat, as Harper had researched and collected a plethora of information that he used to create multiple exhibits. It was up to Ashleigh Nero to recreate portions of the exhibit so that people get a preview of the rich long history of African Americans in Alaska. Gathered from archives, libraries, and museums from around Alaska and the United States, his exhibit illuminates the African American people who were Alaskan pioneers and settlers, miners, soldiers who served in World War II and builders of the Al-Can highway, public officials, and community members who worked to make Alaska a better place.

To learn more about George T. Harper and the Blacks in Alaska History Project, please visit our finding aids:

George T. Harper Papers

George Harpers Blacks in Alaska History Project records

Blacks in Alaska History exhibit

Exhibit on display on the 3rd floor of the Consortium Library from February 1st-29th, 2012.

To learn more about archival materials in the Archives that document African Americans in Alaska, please read the following blog entries:

African American History in the Archives: Part 1

African American History in the Archives: Part 2

African American History in the Archives: Part 3

African American History in the Archives: Part 4

The Hatcher Pass Ski Resort That Never Was

Just before the new year, I was working with some additions to our collection of records from the Alaska Pacific Consolidated Mining Company, the company that ran Independence Mine at Hatcher Pass.  Tucked into an oversize folder at the end of the collection, I found this gem:

Proposal for Hatcher Pass Ski Resort, from the Alaska Pacific Consolidated Mining Company records (UAA-hmc-0023-pt4-1)

This photo is a proposal for the development of “Hatcher Pass Ski Area,” an alpine ski resort that would have been built at Hatcher Pass just south of Independence Mine.  (Click the image for a larger version of the photo.)  The document is not dated but likely was made sometime in the 1970s, since you can see Hatcher Pass Lodge — the A-frame building built by Hap Wurlitzer in the late 1960s that he still runs today — where the photo is labeled “Hotel Main Lodge” on the right side of the image.   The proposal calls for a 6,300-foot Riblet ski lift to be built from the road up the southern slope of the Hatcher Creek drainage to the top of Hatcher Pass itself (see the black line running diagonally up the mountain slope in the center of the photo).  According to the proposal, the lift would have brought skiers to the top terminal at a rate of 990 skiers per hour and would have eventually connected with a chair lift or gondola from the Willow side of the pass.  A base parking lot would have been built at the site of a former airstrip (where a parking lot does exist today), and a day lodge at the base area would have contained restaurant facilities, as well as apartments and dormitories for ski resort employees.

If you’ve been up to Hatcher Pass today, you know that this proposal never came to fruition, nor has any alpine ski area been built in that location.  It is unclear who wrote this proposition or why it was never built.  Perhaps the cost of maintaining and repairing the road to the lodge, a concern voiced by the proposal, were too much for the state.  Perhaps the avalanche danger of the drainage was too high.  Or, perhaps, the real costs of the project were just too steep; the estimate, printed on the top of the photo, is a mere $650,000, a number that seems absurdly low for the project’s scope.

Skiers at Fishhook in 1939, taken by Russ Dow (UAA-hmc-0396-14f-548)

Whatever the reason, this photo reminded me that Hatcher Pass does have a rich skiing history that often gets overshadowed by the region’s mining history.  According to the wonderful website, “Alaska Lost Ski Areas Project,” the earliest ski area at Hatcher Pass was a rope-tow built by Jim Turner that operated in the 1930s and 1940s on the slope behind Fishhook Inn at Mile 12 on the Hatcher Pass Road at Fishhook Creek.  (See photo at left.)  Shortly thereafter, Victor and Jim Cottini built another rope-tow at their Little Susitna Roadhouse (now the Mother Lode Lodge), which was likely operated until the 1960s.  But the most popular place for alpine skiing at Hatcher Pass was at Independence Mine.  Mine employees skied the surrounding mountains both for recreation and travel, as it provided a convenient way to reach Palmer when the road was impassable.  When mine operations ceased during World War II, the area became an increasingly popular destination for skiers from Anchorage, who could take a 3-hour bus ride from the city to the pass and stay overnight in the  mine buildings.  Skiing largely took place there on the slope from the main mine complex up to Gold Cord Mine, where a 500 vertical-foot rope-tow and T-bar lift were built in the 1960s and a private contractor ran the mine bunkhouse for lodging and meals.  The U.S. Army Biathlon team was also based at Independence Mine during the 1960s, and in the 1970s, the Manager’s House at Independence Mine was converted into a bar and lodge for skiers and snow machiners.

There is no formal alpine ski resort at Hatcher Pass today, though it is still a popular back-country ski area.  However, in the intervening decades since the ski hills at Hatcher closed, there have been many people who have returned to the idea that someday the area might be more developed for alpine skiing.  In 1985, the Alaska Department of Natural Resources commissioned a study  to assess potential sites for an alpine ski area in Hatcher Pass.  The study came up with six locations: Hatcher Pass West (off the Willow Creek Road just west of the pass), Grubstake Gulch, Sidney Creek, Lone Tree Gulch, Tree Gulch, and Government Peak. Notably, the  Hatcher Creek drainage area targeted by the above proposal in our collection was not among the sites studied.  Of those that were, Government Peak, which rises west of the Hatcher Pass Road where the Matanuska-Susitna Valley begins to ascend into the mountains, was determined to be the best site.  Accordingly, proposals for a ski resort in that area began in 1988, when Mitsui Corporation’s proposed a$221 million resort with a golf course, dude ranch, airport, and ski area at Government Peak.  The venture was eventually dropped in 1990, after Anchorage lost several bids to host the Winter Olympics and economic assessments indicated that the resort would not be financially viable.  Similar proposals have  followed in 1992, 2002, and, most recently, 2007, but no ski resort has been built to date at Government Peak or anywhere else at Hatcher Pass.

Even if you ask

Every so often we’ll find something in a collection that really resonates with us and the work we do.  For me (Arlene), this week, that was a letter. The letter was pasted into an album of photographs kept by A. G. Maddren. A. G. Maddren was a geologist with the U.S. Geological Survey (USGS) and in 1911-12 he was on an expedition working on the US/Canada boundary survey.

Don’t try and read that fine print, I’ll summarize it for you.

Apparently the Chief Photographer back in the office in DC had had enough, and the Acting Director of the USGS, George H. Ashley had probably gotten an earful, and a memo was sent out in the form of an Order.

In short, the letter complained of the “inadequacy of many of the titles in the authors’ photograph books in the laboratory. ”

Though the statement that incomplete labeling “is always productive of a loss of time” struck home, the part that really caught my eye was the preceding statement of “Such inadequacy in labels may become serious in case the author leaves the Survey.”

See, that’s the thing about records and especially photographs. If they aren’t labeled at the time, what are the chances that somebody else will recognize them later and be able to provide descriptions? And if they go unlabeled, how will any potential user ever know how to find them?

Sometimes we luck out and are able to recognize a location in an image: Mt. McKinley, Mt. Marathon are often givens, certain areas of Anchorage, Fairbanks, Seward are pretty easy, Nome’s waterfront, that sort of thing, but not always, and especially not in the area of Alaska Maddren was traversing which is totally unknown to me!  And we certainly don’t have the option that the acting head of USGS had, which was to close his order with the statement that any inadequately identified image would be returned to the photographer for labeling.

So my standard plea to everybody, whether or not you ever intend your personal or work photos to end up in an archives: label soon and well?

By the way, Mr. Maddren clearly didn’t learn his lesson from the letter he so carefully attached in the album. Here’s the photo on the facing page:

3 members of the Boundary exploration team.

3 members of the Boundary exploration team.

If you click on the image, you can see the handwriting to the left of it where somebody carefully noted the identity of each individual in the photo by a single initial. So much for Orders.




P.S. A student digitized all the photos in the album for us a while back and I hope to have them up on the Alaska’s Digital Archives site within a month or so. So keep an eye out, and maybe if you’re familiar with the northern boundary area between Alaska and Canada, you can identify some of those unidentified locales for us.