Cordova is home to one of the oldest federal buildings in Alaska
|Cordova’s old Post Office and Courthouse building as it looked in 2019|
A 196-mile-long mining railroad, the Copper River and Northwestern Railway, once connected the port of Cordova in Prince William Sound with the copper mines at Kennicott in the Wrangell Mountains. The railroad’s final spike was driven on March 29, 1911, and the first load of copper ore arrived at the Cordova docks a little over a week later on April 8.
After the Kennicott mines began shipping ore, Cordova took its place as one of Alaska’s preeminent cities. The 1920 U.S. census listed Cordova, including Eyak Village, with a population of 1,555, making it the fifth-largest community in Alaska. (Ranked from most populous to least, those five communities were Juneau, Ketchikan, Anchorage, Fairbanks and Cordova.)
Cordova’s new status as the “premier copper port of the world” brought additional development to town, including construction of a new federal post office and courthouse building. Unfortunately, according to federal records, funding difficulties delayed building construction, and at one point the government mulled eliminating space for the post office to reduce costs. Over a decade passed between the project’s approval in 1913 and its completion in 1924.
The three-story post office and courthouse building was located at 612 Second St., which was on the edge of early Cordova’s business district. The original building was L-shaped, 49 feet wide across the front facade facing Second Street, and 84-feet deep, with a hipped roof.
The space for the building’s first floor (which only extends part way beneath the upper stories) was blasted out of the hillside. The ground floor housed the main entrance as well as the heating plant and other utilities. Post office facilities occupied the entire second floor. The courthouse and related offices, and marshal’s office were located on the third floor.
The building is constructed of poured concrete. The exterior was finished with what is called, “bush hammering,” a technique that roughens the surface giving the concrete a texture mimicking natural stone.
National Park Service documents indicate that the building’s exterior facade changed little during the building’s tenure as a post office and courthouse. The only major exterior changes were the addition of a permanent marquee over the front entrance, and the enclosure of the loading dock at the rear of the building (just peaking around the right corner of the building in the drawing).
The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1977. At that time the post office still occupied the second floor, the court system utilized the front of the third floor, and the Forest Service had offices in the former marshal’s office at the rear of the third floor. (The marshal’s office jail cells, along with the bars on their windows, had been removed before the Forest Service moved in.)
When a new post office facility and new courthouse were constructed in the 1990s, those agencies moved out, and the Forest Service expanded into the rest of the building. The Forest Service rehabilitated the building, replacing all the building’s double-hung windows with energy-efficient replica windows, and constructing a three-story addition to the left of the front entrance to house a handicap access ramp and elevator.
The interior has been remodeled to suit the needs of the Forest Service, but touches of the old post office and courthouse remain. Several banks of brass and glass mail boxes still stand in the public area on the second floor, and the courtroom on the third floor is unchanged, retaining its original furnishings and other accoutrements. Visitors are welcome.
Now the headquarters for Chugach National Forest’s Cordova Ranger station, the building is one of the oldest continuously-occupied federal government buildings in Alaska.
Congressional Record: Proceedings of the Second Session of the Sixty-sixth Congress. Government Printing Office. 1920
“Cordova Post Office and Court House Details.” From U.S. Forest Service’s Region 10 (Alaska) web page www.fs.usda.gov/r10
“Cordova Post Office and Courthouse, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.” Lavon Bradshaw, Glenn Mast & Hollis Henrichs. National Park Service. 1977
From Fish and Copper: Cordova’s heritage and buildings. Nicki J. Nielson. Cordova Hisorical Society. 1984
“Requests for bids for Cordova Post Office.” In The American Contractor. Volume 43, 1922
The Copper Spike. Lone E. Janson. Alaska Northwest Publishing. 1975