History of Valdez

Two Alaska Native Tribes resided in the area of Valdez. The Chugach people to the south, and Ahtna to the north. The area was used for trade. In 1779, Captain Cook sailed into the Sound, and named the inland waters, Sandwich Sound. It was later renamed Prince William Sound, after Prince William IV.

Gold seekers started coming into Prince William Sound, and a lighthouse was built about 88 miles from Valdez, to guide the mariners safe passage into the area. The museum has a Fresnel lens on display that used an incandescent oil vaper lamp as its light source. The beam could been seen for 22 miles.

The gold rush seekers formed a tent city, and Valdez was born. As time went on, the city continued developing. The first highway in Alaska, the Richardson Highway, started in Valdez all the way to Fairbanks.

Winters can make road traffic impossible, and the museum honors the bush pilots that will have flown supplies during extreme weather conditions. Below are the outfits that were used in the 1920’s to 1940’s.

Cities need fire protection, and Valdez purchased this 1886 Gleason and Bailey Hand Pumped Fire Engine in 1902, when the city was three years old. It could pump water from a well or creek, or its internal tank.

1886 Gleason and Bailey

The beautiful engine seen below is the 1907 Continental model from Ahrens Fire Engine Company. It was a state of the art engine in 1907, and could shoot water further than any other model. The steamer was drawn by a two horse hitch. It was not used in the winter due to the large amount of snow. The city operated this steamer until 1935. Only 12 of these models remain in existence, and this is the only model in Alaska.

1907 Ahrens Continental

Former Valdez Fire Department Chief Tom McAllister has donated his personal memorabilia to the museum.

Amongst the display of fire extinguishers is the Red Comet, one of the first automatic sprinklers. When the fire was hot enough, it would melt the clasp, the globe would drop to the floor and break open, releasing liquid carbon tetrachloride (which was later found to be highly toxic!).

On the left below is a Native American parka made from bear intestines, and on the right is one from seal intestines. They are very waterproof.

In 1898 P. S. Hunt arrived in Valdez as a gold rush prospector, from Sacramento, California. He ended up staying in Valdez and set up a commercial photography studio. Mr. Hunt is credited for providing a visual historical account of the town, as he always dated and identified all the subjects in his photographs. He left Valdez in 1916 to work on the Alaska Railroad.

He did a lot of personal portraits, and people would sit in front of fake backgrounds, such as the one below. The museum was able to re-create his studio based on his own photographs. The tripod-mounted camera is a Century No. 5.

One of his photographs outside his studio, with a massive amount of snow on the sidewalk.

A 1915 hand-cranked Sears and Roebuck washing machine, model #223. This reminded me of the machine I would see at my grandmothers house.

Frank S. Lang, a gold prospector, built wood-burning stoves to keep the miners warm. In 1900 he moved to Nome, Alaska, and continued to design stoves at this hardware store. He eventually moved to Seattle and founded the Lang Manufacturing Company, making gas and electric stoves. The model on display, circa 1920, is the Lang Oil Flame Porcelain Stove.

The parlor of a Valdez home circa 1915. When I was first viewing this room, I thought the museum was just putting as much stuff in one display as they had. But according to the information about this display, during the Victorian period, a bare room was considered to be in poor taste. So the parlor was always crammed full for guests to view.

Miners and trappers would set up small cabins in the area with all the supplies they needed. Many of the artifacts on display were found in the Valdez area, and donated to the museum.

EARTHQUAKE

On March 27, 1964, the largest ever recorded earthquake in North America, at 9.2 on the Moment-Magnitude Scale, struck 45 miles west of Valdez. It lasted almost 5 minutes, and was followed by a tsunami. The town of 1200 people was badly damaged and the U.S. Army Corps of Engineers declared the town uninhabitable since it was on unstable ground.

A new town, four miles away, was developed, and sixty-eight residences and businesses relocated to the new town of Valdez over the next three years. On October 1, 1967, the “old town” ceased to exist and the fire department burned down the remaining structures.

The earthquake was so strong, it affected many cities throughout Alaska. The one thing keeping the fatality rate low was the fact it occurred on Good Friday. Schools and many business were closed for the Easter holiday. The museum has many displays on the earthquake.

I had never heard of the earthquake in Alaska, and I was very confused when we were driving in to Valdez, because the mile markers were always off by 4 miles in the Milepost book that we have been using for our trip. The mileage markers were based off the “old town” of Valdez along the Richardson Highway. So if you visit Valdez, and your GPS says you have arrived, but your physical map indicates you have 4 more miles, now you will know why. For historical reasons, they have simply left things as “old town” and “new town”.

You can go to the “old town” area (it’s just a rocky beach area now). In 2004, a couple discovered this Standard Oil credit card still stuck in a credit card machine. Mary Jo Migliaccio was using her husband’s credit card to purchase gasoline at Dieringer’s Standard Station. She left without the card, and went back to get it when the earthquake struck. She fled to safety, and the gas station was damaged. The card remained buried in the rocks on the beach for 40 years.

The Pinzon Bar was a popular establishment from 1923, until the earthquake struck. The owner was not insured against an earthquake. The Alaska State Housing Authority purchased this, along with many of the other buildings. The bar was restored and donated to the museum.

TRANS-ALASKA PIPELINE

In 1967 a large oil reserved was discovered in the Artic, and developers spent several years trying to figure out how to transport the oil. In 1970, the Alyeska Pipeline Service Company was founded from a group of oil companies that all held rights to the North Shore area. In 1975 construction began on the 800 mile Trans-Alaska Pipeline, at a cost of $7.7 billion dollars. At the time, it was the largest privately financed project undertaken. It took almost three years to build, and just one year for the oil companies to recover their $7.7 billion dollar investment and turn a profit.

The pipeline starts in the Prudhoe Bay oil fields and ends in Valdez, the nearest ice-free port, 800 miles south. The first barrel of oil that was tapped is on display at the museum. At it’s peak, it pumped 2 million barrels of oil a day, but is now down to a few hundred thousand. The oil was only expected to last 20 years, but continues to exceed expectations.

EXXON VALDEZ OIL SPILL

On March 24, 1989, the oil tanker Exxon Valdez struck Bligh Reef in Prince William Sound. Due to the remoteness of the area, it took several days for equipment to reach the tanker and begin containment of the oil. It is estimated that 10.8 million gallons of crude oil spilled out. The oil did not reach the marina in Valdez.

Estimates of 100,000 to 250,000 seabirds, 2800 sea otters, 300 harbor seals, 247 bald eagles and 22 orcas died as a result of the spill. Litigation went on for decades, and new regulations are now in place both from the state of Alaska and the U.S. Congress regarding the transportation of oil tankers. The state now requires two tugboats to escort the tankers for ten miles through Prince William Sound. They carry emergency containment equipment on board. Congress required all tankers to be double-hulled as of 2015.

Valdez has a very rich history. Make sure you take the time to visit the museums if you are able to visit this wonderful little city. The museum has various quotes on the walls from residents over the years. So I am using one of the Valdez residents quotes for today’s post.

Quote of the day: “I was home all alone. Do you know what I thought? It was Good Friday and I thought it was the end of the world…