Parks Highway spurred changes to Talkeetna and the Talkeetna Roadhouse
|Talkeetna Roadhouse as it looked in the mid 1970s
When I first visited Talkeetna in the early 1970s it was a sleepy little hamlet. The Talkeetna Spur Road had just been paved, but Talkeetna itself still had dirt and gravel streets. There were a couple of cafes, the roadhouse, a general store, a railroad station, and an eclectic collection of log and frame residences, most of simple, utilitarian construction.
Talkeetna had only recently been joined to the rest of Southcentral Alaska’s road system. For many years Willow was the end of the road, as far up the Susitna Valley as a person could drive from Anchorage. However, by 1964, work on the Parks Highway had extended the road system as far as Talkeetna, and by 1968 the Sustina River had been bridged and the highway reached the Petersville Road.
Talkeetna was established in the early 1900s as a supply center for mines in the Susitna Basin. One of the region’s first gold discoveries was in 1906 at Cache Creek west of the Sustina River. Supplies destined for the area were boated up the Susitna River to the confluence of the Sustina, Chulitna and Talkeetna Rivers, and then freighted overland. The trail to the western mines eventually developed into the Petersville Road.
The town was an on-again off-again community during its early years. The Alaska Commercial Company operated a store there between 1907 and 1910, but abandoned it when attempts to supply the Valdez Creek mining district to the north didn’t pan out. Belmore Browne, in his book, “The Conquest of Mt. McKinley,” wrote that in the winter of 1912 Talkeetna was deserted.
Talkeetna didn’t achieve permanent status until 1915 when the Alaska Engineering Commission (AEC) selected it as divisional headquarters for construction of the Alaska Railroad. In 1916 a post office was opened. The AEC surveyed a townsite in 1918 and auctioned off lots in 1919. For a time the boisterous little community supported a U.S. Commissioner, Deputy U.S. Marshall and Alaska Road Commission office. After the railroad’s completion, Talkeetna shrank, but survived as a regional supply center.
One of the anchors of Talkeetna’s business district is the Talkeetna Roadhouse. According to National Park Service documents, in its original form it was a 21-foot wide by 42-foot long, 2½ story log structure with squared corners and a gable roof. The gable ends were finished with board and batten siding. It was built between 1917 and 1919 by brothers Frank and Ed Lee as their residence. Both brothers were freighters serving the outlying mines. Frank was the chief freighter for the Talkeetna Trading Post.
In 1944 in-door plumbing was added to the building and it was converted into a roadhouse. The roadhouse was purchased in 1951 by Carroll and Verna Close, who promptly built a 26-foot by 48-foot wood-frame shed-roofed addition on the roadhouse’s east side to serve as a kitchen. They also enclosed the roadhouse’s front porch and sheathed the porch and addition with ship-lap siding.
Some time later the Closes moved an old Civil Aeronautics Administration building, tacking it onto the back of the roadhouse. The roadhouse remained in this configuration until the Closes retired in 1978, and this iteration is shown in the drawing.
During this period the Closes ran a simple operation. Verna served two meals a day, cooked on the roadhouse’s large wood-fired stove. The roadhouse’s website relates that, “You could order your eggs ‘any way you want’ but they’d come out scrambled every time!”
Later owners rusticated the building’s exterior. Changes included removing the pole with radio antenna, opening up the front porch to expose the original logs, moving the kitchen addition’s front door and adding two four-light windows to the addition., and replacing the single-light windows on the roadhouse’s second floor with four-light windows.
The roadhouse is part of the Talkeetna Historic District, established in 1993. The roadhouse, in addition to offering lodging, now runs a bakery and full-service restaurant, and still serves up plenty of Alaska hospitality.
- “Historic Talkeetna.” Gillian Smythe. Alaska Association for Historic Preservation Newsletter. March 1991, V. 10, No. 1
- “Roadhouse History.” Talkeetna Roadhouse website. 2014
- Talkeetna. Talkeetna Historical Society. Arcadia Publishing. 2013
- “Talkeetna Historic District – National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.” Fran Seeger-Boss & Lawrence Roberts. National Park Service, 1992
- The Conquest of Mount McKinley, the story of three expeditions through the Alaskan wilderness to Mount McKinley. Belmore Browne. Houghton Mifflin. 1956