Adak Island – A Historic Blast From The Past
By: Courtney Dowd-Stanley
Alaska’s Adak Island is an isolated destination with rich history, rugged terrain, and scenic landscapes. Its location in the Aleutian Islands marks the dividing line between the Bering Sea to the north and the Pacific Ocean to the south. Adak is an island, the largest town on the island goes by the same name though it was formerly Adak Station, and is the southernmost city in Alaska. Its remote locality proved to be ideal for the United States military during both World War II and the Cold War, causing the area to grow rapidly in a very short amount of time. However, it wasn’t long before the wars ended and the military bases closed down. What remains of Adak has left many onlookers to believe that Adak is nothing more than a mere ghost town.
Interestingly enough, Adak was the westernmost military installation in the entire nation for a short while. At the time, it allowed American military forces to mount a successful offensive operation against the Japanese-held Aleutian Islands of Kiska and Attu during WWII. The Naval Air Facility Adak was established in 1942, which played a very significant role during the Cold War. A submarine surveillance center was established and brought in both US Navy and Coast Guard members by the masses.
At Adak Station’s peak, the military community housed over 6,000 Navy and Coast Guard members along with their families. Buildings popped up all over the place—from residential structures and schools to popular chain restaurants and local watering holes.
During the peak of this military community, Adak had a college campus and a major hospital. Entertainment in the area included a wide variety of options including a movie theater, roller skating rink, swimming pool, squash court, saunas, ski lodge, bowling alleys, skeet range, auto hobby shop, photo lab, and racquetball and tennis courts.
The military base opted to downsize years later in 1994, and it was at this time that both family housing units and public schools closed.
The Naval Air Facility Adak was closed officially in 1997 before reopening as the Adak Airport. Although the facility became listed as a National Historic Landmark for its role in WWII, most of the remnants of the past have since been demolished or lie in shambled ruins. Many buildings have since closed or become abandoned, but there are still some structures that remain open to serve the small local population that resides on Adak today.
Today the population of Adak is just over 300 permanent residents, but the rich military history isn’t gone. In fact, relics from the past can be found just about everywhere you look.
As you explore Adak today, you’ll see row upon row of abandoned duplexes that once housed thousands of military members along with their beloved families.
Many signs that used to be pleasantly displayed with information about the historic value of local buildings are now covered in rust.
It is such a rare and unique sight to observe historical manholes used during the WWII era.
Quonset huts and military bunkers can be found scattered throughout Adak, abandoned and slowly becoming reclaimed by nature.
You’ll find signage that indicates particular areas where enlisted military members practiced drills with live ammunition.
The abandoned playground equipment on Adak is a stark reminder of the many military families that used to call Adak home.
Even the abandoned police barracks structure still stands strong on Adak today.
You’ll also find an abandoned Pizza Hut in the middle of town.
Along with the other popular chain restaurant… McDonald’s!
With every twist and turn comes a new surprise. Tucked away from the downtown Adak area, you can even find remnants of an abandoned bar on the island’s mountainside.
Alaska’s Adak Island is a place unlike any other in the world. Along with the magnificently diverse terrain and breathtaking scenery, Adak is filled with an immense amount of historic charm. Walking through town is truly like taking a step back in time. Not only will the friendly locals that currently reside on the island make you feel right at home, but the enchanting setting will make you feel as if you’re in the single most unique place on planet earth. Even the town motto is amazing: “Where the winds blow, and friendship grow.”
Explore Adak: Many people visit Alaska’s Adak Island to experience the prolific fisheries, abundant caribou, and breathtaking natural beauty. This remote wonder is a photographer’s paradise and a nirvana for those seeking tranquility in the wilderness. Outdoor recreational activities on Adak include fishing, hunting, backpacking, birding, and wildlife viewing. The prized Adak caribou can exceed weights of 700 pounds, making hunting a prime attraction. You can access this island destination by flying into the Adak Airport.
Looking for more where that came from? Check out Adak Island – Salvaging Items Left Behind. Also, this 1964 Good Friday Earthquake Photo Gallery will show you a glimpse into the destruction of the second largest earthquake in recorded history. Be sure to also check out The Alaska Purchase – A Brief History.