Alaska Ghost Towns
…You’ve Probably Never Heard Of
By Cecil Sanders
Settlements in frontier lands have a history of coming and going. The prospect of riches can lure people from all across the world to far off places. Untouched land can grow into a bustling town in a matter of days, and just as quickly as the people arrive, they can disappear. Sometimes they leave for better prospects elsewhere, sometimes natural disasters cause irreparable tragedy, and occasionally the reasons are much more sinister. Disappearing artifacts and faded images are all that remain of these Alaska ghost towns.
Located on the south side of Chilkoot Pass, Dyea was one of the Alaska ghost towns that was once a booming place filled with gold miners and entrepreneurs chasing opportunity. During the Klondike Gold Rush, prospectors used the Chilkoot Trail, originally a trade route carved out by the Tlingets, to cross over the mountains to Dawson City, Yukon.
At its height, Dyea was home to 8,000 people, while many thousands more passed through the town on their way to the gold fields. Tragedy struck Dyea on April 3, 1898 when multiple avalanches crashed down the Chilkoot Pass Trail and killed dozens of people. Promoters of Skagway used the tragedy to sway prospective railway builders into choosing a route along the White Pass Trail. Dyea quickly died with the construction of the White Pass Railroad out of neighboring Skagway.
All that remains of the ghost town of Dyea is three cemeteries, several foundations, and the remains of a wharf. Many of the victims of the April 3rd avalanche are buried there in the cemeteries.
Three Saints Bay
Founded in August of 1784 by Russian fur trader, Grigory Shelikhov, Three Saints Bay was the first permanent Russian settlement built in Alaska. It was located upon a 9-mile long jut of land on the south side of Kodiak Island. Later excavation of the site determined that it was built upon a much older native site dating back to 100 B.C.
Only a few clues to the site remain, mostly in the form of depressions in the ground as well as plant life from agricultural experiments. The site was originally purposed as a trade center for the fleets of Russian ships involved in fur trade. In 1790 the population grew to about 70 people.
The demise of Three Saints Bay was caused by an earthquake and subsequent tsunami wave that destroyed the settlement. Alexander Baranov moved the town to the modern day city of Kodiak, leaving the location as one of the Alaska ghost towns we know today.
Before founding Three Saints Bay, Grigory Shelikhov led 130 armed Russian men in an attack on a settlement of Koniag Alutiiq people on nearby Sitkalidak Island near Partition Cove. Known as the Awa’uq Massacre, Shelikhov led the killing of 500 (some reports claim up to 3000) men, women and children. Arsenti Aminak, a survivor of the massacre, was interviewed later and he recounted, “When our people revisited the place in the summer the stench of the corpses lying on the shore polluted the air so badly that none could stay there, and since then the island has been uninhabited.”
Portlock, or Port Chatham, (south of Port Graham in Southcentral Alaska) was originally founded by the British Royal Navy in 1787. A post office opened in the town in the 1920s. Portlock later became the location of a territorial school and cannery.
In the early 1940s a series of unexplained and gruesome events took place. Men of the town who had gone into the surrounding hills to hunt, would vanish. Those that were eventually found were mutilated in ways abnormal to bear attacks. Tales of roaming evil spirits and large man-like creatures surfaced. Unexplained accidents, deaths and disappearances drove the people of Portlock to move en masse in the 1950s. Many accounts of these mysterious events were recorded.
Today all that is left of Portlock is footers from buildings and rusty cans and debris from the old cannery.