Skagway, Alaska

From Academic Kids

Skagway is a city located in Skagway-Hoonah-Angoon Census Area, Alaska, on the Alaska Panhandle. As of the 2000 census, the population of the city is 862. The port of Skagway is a popular stop for cruise ships, and the tourist trade is these days a big part of the city's business. The White Pass and Yukon Route narrow gauge railroad, part of the area's mining past, is nowadays in operation purely for the tourist trade and runs throughout the summer months.

Skagway (originally spelled Skaguay) is from the Tlingit name for the area, "Skagua." It means "the place where the north wind blows."



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Location of Skagway, Alaska

Skagway is located at 59°28'7" North, 135°18'21" West (59.468519, -135.305962)Template:GR.

Skagway is located in a narrow glaciated valley at the head of the Taiya Inlet, the north end of the Lynn Canal, which is the most northern fjord on the Inside Passage on the south coast of Alaska. It is in the Alaska panhandle 90 miles northeast of Juneau, Alaska's capital city.

According to the United States Census Bureau, the city has a total area of 1,202.7 km² (464.4 mi²). 1,171.8 km² (452.4 mi²) of it is land and 30.8 km² (11.9 mi²) of it is water. The total area is 2.56% water.


As of the censusTemplate:GR of 2000, there are 862 people, 401 households, and 214 families residing in the city. The population density is 0.7/km² (1.9/mi²). There are 502 housing units at an average density of 0.4/km² (1.1/mi²). The racial makeup of the city is 92.34% White, 0.00% Black or African American, 3.02% Native American, 0.58% Asian, 0.23% Pacific Islander, 0.81% from other races, and 3.02% from two or more races. 2.09% of the population are Hispanic or Latino of any race.

There are 401 households out of which 23.2% have children under the age of 18 living with them, 46.9% are married couples living together, 4.7% have a female householder with no husband present, and 46.4% are non-families. 36.2% of all households are made up of individuals and 6.7% have someone living alone who is 65 years of age or older. The average household size is 2.15 and the average family size is 2.81.

In the city the population is spread out with 20.5% under the age of 18, 5.2% from 18 to 24, 34.6% from 25 to 44, 31.2% from 45 to 64, and 8.5% who are 65 years of age or older. The median age is 39 years. For every 100 females there are 109.2 males. For every 100 females age 18 and over, there are 112.7 males.

The median income for a household in the city is $49,375, and the median income for a family is $62,188. Males have a median income of $44,583 versus $30,956 for females. The per capita income for the city is $27,700. 3.7% of the population and 1.0% of families are below the poverty line. Out of the total population, 0.0% of those under the age of 18 and 4.5% of those 65 and older are living below the poverty line.


The area around present-day Skagway was inhabited by Tlingit people from prehistoric times. They fished and hunted in the waters and forests of the area and had become prosperous by trading with other groups of people on the coast and in the interior.

Skagway has one of the most colorful histories of any place in Alaska.

In 1896, gold was found in the Klondike region of Canada's Yukon Territory. Beginning in the summer of 1897, thousands of hopeful miners poured in to the new town and prepared for the 500-mile journey to the gold fields in Canada. This journey began for many when they climbed the mountains over the White Pass above Skagway and onward across the Canada border to the Lake Bennett, or one of its neighboring lakes, where they built barges and floated down the Yukon River to the gold fields around Dawson City. Others disembarked at nearby Dyea, northwest of Skagway, and crossed northward on the Chilkoot Pass, an existing Tlingit trade route to reach the lakes. The Dyea route fell out of favor when larger ships began to arrive, as its harbor was too shallow for them except at high tide.

One prominent resident of early Skagway was William "Buddy" Moore, a former steamboat captain. As a member of an 1887 boundary survey expedition he had made the first recorded investigation of thea pass over the Coast Mountains which later became known as White Pass. He believed that gold lay in the Klondike because it had been found in similar mountain ranges in South America, Mexico, California, and British Columbia. In 1887, he and his son Ben claimed a 160 acre (650,000 m²) homestead at the mouth of the Skagway River in Alaska. Moore settled in this area because he believed it provided the most direct route to the potential gold fields. They built a log cabin, a sawmill, and a wharf in anticipation of future gold prospectors passing through.

Some prospectors also realized how difficult the trek would be that lay ahead on the route and chose to stay behind to supply goods and services to miners. Within a year, stores, saloons, and offices lined the muddy streets of Skagway. The population was estimated at 8,000 residents during the spring of 1898 with approximately 1,000 prospective miners passing through town each week. By June 1898, with a population between 8,000 and 10,000, Skagway was the largest city in Alaska.

In 1898 Skagway was a lawless town, described by one Canadian Mountie as "little better than a hell on earth." Gunfights, prostitutes and liquor were ever-present on Broadway, Skagway's main street. The most colorful resident of this period was Jefferson Randall "Soapy" Smith. He was a sophisticated swindler who liked to think of himself as a kind and generous benefactor to the needy. He had gracious manners and he gave money to widows and stopped lynchings while at the same time operating a ring of thieves who swindled prospectors with cards, dice, shells and armed robbery. His telegraph office charged five dollars to send a message anywhere in the world. Prospectors sent news to their folks back home without bothering look behind the telegraph shack where the telegraph wires ended in the brush. Soapy also controlled a comprehensive spy network, a private militia called the Skagway Guards, the newspaper, the Deputy U. S. Marshall and an array of thieves and con men who roamed about the town.

Officials in Canada began requiring that each prospector entering Canada on the north side of the White Pass bring with him 1 ton (900 kg) of supplies, to ensure that he didn't starve during the winter. This placed a large burden on the prospectors and the pack animals climbing the steep pass.

In 1898 a 14-mile, steam-operated tramway was constructed up the Skagway side of the White Pass, easing the burden of those prospectors who could afford the fee to use it. Trams also began to operate in the Chilkoot Pass above Dyea. A group of inverstors saw an opportunity for a railroad over that route. The White Pass and Yukon railroad company began laying narrow-gauge railroad tracks in Skagway in May 1898. The railroad depot was constructed between September and December 1898. This destroyed Dyea, as Skagway had both the deep-water port and the railroad.

Construction of a primary school and a secondary school, McCabe College, began in 1898. The schools were completed in 1899.

By 1899, the stream of gold-seekers had diminished and Skagway's economy began to collapse. By 1900, when the railroad was completed, the gold rush was nearly over. In 1900, Skagway was incorporated as the first city in the Alaska Territory.

The Skagway area today is home to the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park and White Pass and Chilkoot Trails. Skagway has a historic district of about 100 buildings from the gold rush era. It receives about 3/4 million tourists annually, most of whom come on cruise ships. The White Pass and Yukon Route railway still operates its narrow-gauge train around Skagway during the summer months. Skagway is now also served by the Klondike Highway, completed in 1978, which connects it to the Alaska Highway.

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