House in Cordova is one of the few reminders of legendary Alaska pioneer, Jack Dalton
Jack Dalton, perhaps best-known for opening Southeast Alaska’s Dalton Trail in 1894-95, was a wanderer. During his 30-plus years in Alaska, his meanderings covered large swaths of Southeast and Southcentral Alaska.
Dalton came to Southcentral Alaska during his latter years in Alaska at the behest of Mike Heney, who was contemplating building a railway to reach copper deposits in the Wrangell Mountains. During the winter of 1905-06, Dalton guided a party reconnoitering the Copper River to determine its feasibility as a railway route.
Based on the Dalton party’s recommendation, Heney filed for a right-of-way along the Copper River and began working on a railway out of Cordova.
At the same time, Dalton grubstaked an acquaintance, Al Low, to prospect the Cordova area for him. On April 8, 1906, Low and his partner Billy Boswell staked a claim for copper at Three Trees Point on Orca Inlet, just north of the nascent town.
Their claim was adjacent to the location for the port-side terminal of Heney’s railway. Heney was unperturbed by Dalton’s actions — by the end of 1906 Heney had sold his railway (including the Copper River r-o-w) to the Alaska Syndicate, which was building the Copper River and Northwestern Railway (CR&NW). The CR&NW wasn’t interested in Cordova — it wanted Heney’s Copper River r-o-w. Railway-related activities were suspended at Cordova as railbed-building operations shifted to the CR&NW’s preferred terminus at Katalla, on the far side of the Copper River.
Dalton was left in peace to develop his Cordova claims until a brutal storm in late 1907 destroyed most of Katalla’s infrastructure. The CR&NW abandoned Katalla and returned to work in Cordova.
Heney had put in a dock just offshore from Three Trees Point in 1906, and now that site had to be expanded. The CR&NW eyed the land Dalton occupied and felt it should rightfully be railroad property.
Dalton was adamant that his claim was valid, and, that the railroad’s facilities blocked his access to navigable water. Never one to back down, Dalton asserted his rights by building a house (shown in the drawing) on Three Trees Point in about 1908.
Dalton wanted an easement over railroad property, but the CR&NW countered that he had adequate access beneath the dock. Legal wranglings were unavoidable, and court cases see-sawed back and forth.
According to M.J. Kirchoff’s book, Jack Dalton. The Alaska Pathfinder, both parties settled out of court in 1913. With favorable settlement terms, Dalton was free to develop his claims and he was initially bouyed by the prospect.
However, wanderlust had always tugged at Dalton’s feet. In the winter of 1913-14 he traveled to the Matanuska Valley to sled 800 tons of Chickaloon coal to tidewater for testing by the U.S. Navy. After that he worked as chief packer for Alaska Engineering Commission survey crews scouting out potential routes for a government railway.
In 1915 he returned to Cordova for a brief respite, but the next summer he decided to leave Alaska. Dalton sold all his Cordova property to the CR&NW, boarded a steamer bound for Seattle and never returned. He and his family eventually settled in Yakima, Washington. Dalton died in 1944.
Cordova’s Dalton house as it now stands still looks much the same as when it was built. It is a two-story wood-frame 24-foot by 28-foot building, with a 6-foot, 5-inch recessed entrance alcove at the southeast corner. It is sheathed with wooden shiplap siding, has a metal-covered hipped roof, and a wrap-around porch. The structure sits atop a wood post and beam foundation. There was once a 16-foot by 26-foot addition on the north side of the building, but that collapsed during the winter of 2012-13 and was subsequently razed.
The current owners, Sylvia Lange and Greg Meyer, are rehabilitating the remaining structure.
- Conversation with Sylvia Lange, co-owner of the Dalton House in Cordova
- Cordova historic building survey for the First Street sidewalk improvement project and the Copper River Highway bicycle and pedestrian path. Rolffe G. Buzzell. State of Alaska Office of History and Archaeology. 2002
- From Fish and Copper: Cordova’s Heritage and Buildings. Nicki J. Nielsen. Cordova Historical Society. 1984