Old warehouse at Denali National Park and Preserve changes function but still serves
The first headquarters site for Mount McKinley National Park (now Denali National Park and Preserve) was on low-lying ground near the confluence of Riley and Hines creeks. This site was subject to flooding and very cold during winter. In 1924 Harry Karstens, the park’s first superintendent, decided to move his headquarters to a better location.
National Park Service documents describe Karstens’ proposed headquarters site as a “gently sloping forested terrace just north of Hines Creek.” (Hines Creek is a tributary of Riley Creek, which in turn flows into the Nenana River.) In a letter to the NPS director, Karstens stated that the site had “ample room for expansion,” and, being situated next to the road into the park, would “simplify the work of checking persons entering the park or leaving it.”
Karstens and his rangers wasted no time dismantling several structures at the first headquarters and reusing the materials to build anew at the Hines Creek site. Between 1925 and 1927 nine structures were built there. Designed and built by rangers, the structures were constructed of logs and rough-sawn lumber. Only one structure, the old superintendent’s office, survives from this period.
Beginning in 1928, new park buildings were designed by NPS landscape architects. These architects designed in a “rustic” style, using local building materials and construction methods to harmonize the buildings with the Interior Alaska landscape. By 1935, 18 structures had been constructed at the new headquarters site.
The building shown in the drawing, located adjacent to the current Denali National Park and Preserve administration building at headquarters, is the first architect-designed structure built at Mount McKinley National Park. When constructed in 1928 it was an unheated warehouse.
The 32-foot by 32-foot, 1½-story gable-roofed structure is built of peeled spruce logs, saddle-notched at the corners.
Jane Bryant’s book, Snapshots from the Past, A Roadside History of Denali National Park and Preserve, relates that the NPS procured the logs itself, floating them three miles down a “nearby” creek to the park road. From there an old Alaska Road Commission tractor was used to skid most of the logs to the construction site. The tractor gave up the ghost before the final logs were transported.
Construction on the warehouse proceeded during the summer of 1928, and most work was completed by winter. Finish work such as installing doors and windows was accomplished that winter.
The warehouse had a loading dock and double freight doors on the southern side of the building, 16-lite casement window units centered in the east, north and west walls, and a pedestrian door at the northwest corner of the west wall. The building originally had a wood foundation and rolled roofing.
It served as a warehouse for over 50 years. In 1982 a concrete foundation was installed, the then metal roofing was replaced with wood shakes, and the building converted to office space. The loading dock was removed and the freight doors replaced with a wood-frame wall-insert with a two-lite casement window. The east- and north-side multi-lite windows were replaced with modern windows, and the west-side window was replaced by another pedestrian door plus a small window.
When I visited in 2011, the facade had been returned to its original configuration: windows replaced with multi-lite ones similar to the originals, the west-side central door removed, the loading dock rebuilt (but reduced in width), and the south-side wall insert replaced with a wall replicating the appearance of the original freight doors (with the addition of large windows).
The building is part of the Mount McKinley National Park Headquarters District, which was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1987. For more posts about Denali National Park and Preserve follow this link.
- “Mount McKinley National Park Headquarters District, National Register of Historic Places Nomination Form.” Gail Evans. National Park Service. 1987
- Snapshots from the Past, A Roadside History of Denali National Park and Preserve. Jane Bryant. National Park Service. 2011
- “Warehouse, Mt. McKinley Park Headquarters Historic District,” photos, plans and drawings. Historic American Building Survey, National Park Service. 1986