Wednesday, December 17, 2014

FGSCruise2015: Destination Skagway

Skagway docks

When gold was discovered in the Klondike region of the Yukon Territory (just across the border from Alaska), it resulted in the historic Gold Rush of 1898. As thousands of gold-crazed adventurers sought the best starting point for their arduous trek, they found the deepest penetration possible by boat was at the northern tip of the Lynn Canal, where Skagway was born.

It wasn't long before the rough-and-tumble tent town was festooned with boardwalks, dance halls, inns and saloons. The majority of the town was built between 1897 and 1900, in lawless days full of hardened men.  During this time over 80 saloons sprang up, complete with ladies eager to serve the lonely Klondikers.  The town had its heyday for just a few years and then almost disappeared.

Now more than 100 years later, Skagway still retains the feel of those Gold Rush days. The immensely walkable and historic downtown has also largely been restored to its roots, complete with false-fronted buildings and wooden sidewalks.  Many of the wood buildings are original and have survived due to Skagway's climate, which is drier and sunnier than Ketchikan's maritime climate (some 375 miles south).

Klondike Goldrush 133

Skagway is home to the National Historical Park Visitor Center, housed in the train station for the White Pass and Yukon Route Railroad (WP&YR RR).  This train route hauled the ore from the Yukon Territory to the terminal at the Skagway Harbor, and offers tourists rides in restored rail cars.  The town also has its own visitor center housed in the Fraternal Order of the Arctic Brotherhood Hall, and interesting building adorned with driftwood.

Broadway Avenue, Arctic Brotherhood Hall, Skagway, Alaska

Walking tour maps are available to places such as Gold Rush Cemetery, and bicycle rentals are available to leisurely explore the downtown.  Helicopter tours give a bird's eye view of the landscape, including the Chilkoot Trail--an epic hike where many miners had to traverse many times with hundreds of pounds of gear.  

Other attractions include an ivory museum featuring unique Alaska Native art (legally carved by Native carvers).  Some of the local watering holes include the Red Onion Saloon, Moe's Frontier Bar, and The Skagway Fish Company.

Skagway aerial view

Whether or not the Klondikers struck it rich, they returned home to tell their tales of adventures and misfortunes--stories that have transcended the generations.  Plan to visit Skagway yourself so the ghosts of days past will give you your own story to tell!

The FGS 2015 Alaskan Cruise will offer a full genealogy conference during sea days that does not encroach on time to enjoy mainland excursions.  Register for the cruise at

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