George Cheever Hazelet helped develop Valdez and Cordova
|Hazelet’s house in Cordova as it looks today
George Cheever Hazelet was a resident of Omaha, Nebraska when news of the Klondike gold strike reached the contiguous United States in 1897. Even though he had a wife and children, Hazelet headed north to seek his fortune.
In March of 1898 he and his partner, A.J. (Andrew Jackson) Meals, landed at the tent settlement at the head of Valdez Bay. They traversed the Valdez Glacier Trail, a treacherous route across Valdez and Klutina Glaciers and down the Klutina River to Copper Center, but ventured no further than the Copper River Basin. (After the harrowing transit of the glacier route, few ‘98ers had the will or resources to forge on to the Klondike.) Hazelet’s party prospected the upper basin, discovering gold along the Chisna River near the Chistochina River’s headwaters.
For three years Hazelet’s men mined there. Although the diggings were rich, the area’s difficult geography, almost non-existent transportation system and undependable weather made the operation unprofitable. Hazelet had mortgaged his claims to pay operating expenses, and unable to pay off the loan, turned ownership of the claims over to the bank.
Hazelet and Meals abandoned Chisna and settled in Valdez, eventually bringing their families north to join them. In 1901 they acquired 720 acres of land west of “old” Valdez and platted it into a townsite. Referred to as Hazelet’s Hay Ranch or Hazeletville, the area is where Valdez moved to after the 1964 Good Friday earthquake,
In addition to jobs such as guiding mineral exploration parties, Hazelet labored as a booster for the Valdez area. He tried to entice businesses in old Valdez to move from the lowlands on the bay’s east side to his townsite, and to attract developers to construct a railroad from Valdez to the rich copper deposits in the Wrangell Mountains. He also became the local agent for the Copper River and Northwestern Railway.
According to Elizabeth Tower’s book, Icebound Empire, in 1902 coal was discovered near the Bering Glacier 200 miles southeast of Valdez. Hazelet and several other Valdez businessmen decided that a location on the sound’s eastern edge would be best for developing the Bering River coal fields and in 1905 they reserved a townsite at Odiak Slough on Orca Inlet.
This was the location Mike Heney chose in 1906 as the terminus for his Copper River Railway. In 1908, after the Copper River and Northwestern Railway bought out Heney’s operation and moved its headquarters to Cordova, Hazelet moved there. As a townsite trustee, he became an avid booster for the townsite and region. When Cordova incorporated in 1909 Hazelet was elected as the city’s first mayor. He also served as president of the Cordova Chamber of Commerce.
Cordova stairsteps up the lower slopes of Mount Eyak, and Hazelet built a 1 ½-story Craftsman-style house on Fourth Street at the upper limits of the townsite. Although the house’s exact construction date is unknown, the December 1910 issue of Alaska-Yukon Magazine, devoted almost exclusively to Cordova and its environs, features photographs of the house.
The wood-frame structure, shown in the drawing, has commanding views of the town and Orca Inlet. It displays many of the hallmarks of Craftsman architecture, including deep overhanging eaves with exposed rafters and under-eave brackets, a large front porch—in this case covered by a pergola, tapered square columns supporting the pergola (closer inspection shows the tapered column motif carried over to the vertical molding bracketing the windows), the use of natural materials like stone and shingles, and double-hung windows with multi-lite upper window assemblies.
As it is now finished, the house’s exterior façade looks much like it did in the early 1900s. Most of the exterior is sheathed with beveled wood siding, while portions of the basement, fireplace, chimney, and second floor are covered with wood shingles. The fireplace and chimney originally showcased rockwork. The dormer windows are a recent addition but meld perfectly with the original architecture.
Not prone to idleness, Hazelet went on to participate in the short-lived 1913 Chisana (Shushana) gold rush, helping pioneer a trail from McCarthy over the Nizina and Chisana glaciers to Chisana. He also partnered with railroad builder, Falcon Joslin, in developing the Chilkat Oil Company oil field in the Katalla area. Hazelet died at Cordova in 1926.
- “Cordova Chronicles: Memorable historic buildings receive TLC.” Dick Shelhorn, In The Cordova Times. 10-7-2016
- “Cordova, The New Gateway Metropolis.” Sydney D. Charles. In Alaska-Yukon Magazine. December 1910
- From Fish and Copper. Cordova’s Heritage and Buildings. Nicki Nielsen. Cordova Historical Society. 1984
- Hazelet’s Journal. George Cheever Hazelet. Old Stone Press. 2012
- Icebound Empire: Industry and Politics on the Last Frontier – 1898-1938. Elizabeth A. Tower. No publisher. 1996