Salty Dawg Saloon a reminder of Homer’s earliest days
The Salty Dawg Saloon has been a Homer Spit landmark for more than 60 years.
Part of the structure dates to the end of the 19th century, when the Spit was an on again, off again community tied to mining on the Kenai Peninsula.
Coal brought the first year-round inhabitants to the Spit. Deposits along Kachemak Bay’s north shore are readily accessible and lumps of coal litter the bay’s beaches. In the 1880s Americans began exploiting the bay’s coal resources.
By 1888 one company was excavating coal at Coal Bay near the north end of the Spit. However, due to Coal Bay’s shallow water, its coal storage bunkers were built near the deep-water anchorage at the Spit’s south end. An 1892 survey shows five structures there. The mining venture foundered, and the Spit’s buildings were abandoned by 1895.
The Cook Inlet gold rush, between 1895 and 1897, brought another influx of people. The Alaska Gold Mining Company, organized by Homer Pennock, brought 75 men, plus one woman, to Kachemak Bay in 1896.
The company’s lone woman was Della Murray Banks, whose husband participated in the venture. She wrote in a 1945 Alaska Sportsman article that when their ship anchored at the Spit on April 1, 1896, they found “one log house, two tumble-down shacks, and the galley of some ill-fated ship, clustered haphazardly at the outer edge of the … Spit.”
Pennock’s company moved in, repairing the shacks and building a bunkhouse. The log house burned in November 1896 but was replaced with another smaller log cabin the next spring.
Company members spread out along Cook Inlet prospecting for gold, but no spectacular finds were made. When news of the Klondike gold strike reached the inlet in 1897 the company disbanded. Most miners, including Pennock and the Banks, headed for the Yukon. Again, the Spit was left virtually deserted.
In 1899 the Cook Inlet Coal Company began work on coal storage and loading facilities at the end of the Spit. The company also constructed a 7.5-mile-long railroad to carry coal from its mine at Coal Creek on the north shore to the end of the Spit.
The town blossomed for several years, but the regional market for coal was not enough to sustain it. In 1902 the mine closed. A 1904 USGS report mentioned 20 buildings still standing on the Spit, but only two residents.
Homer on the Spit died — reborn in about 1915 on benchlands to the north. The rails leading to the Spit were torn up, and in the 1930s a slow-moving coal fire on the Spit destroyed most of the remaining coal-town buildings.
Development slowly crept back. In 1957 an old cabin at the end of the Spit was converted into the Salty Dawg Saloon (shown in the drawing). The 1986 book, “Historic Homer, a Building Survey and Inventory,” states that the building is believed to have served as a store and post office, and as the office for the Cook Inlet Coal Company. Perhaps it is the cabin built in 1897 by Pennock’s company but it is impossible to say with any certainty.
In the late 1950s, another cabin was trucked from the benchlands and joined to the saloon. The new addition had been a barn on the Woodward homestead, and it is purported that it became a temporary schoolhouse when the old school burned in 1929.
After the 1964 Good Friday earthquake, the Salty Dawg building was moved to its present location near the small-boat harbor and a water-storage tank disguised as a lighthouse was built next to it. The tank is gone now, but the lighthouse remains — light on, bar open.
“A Larger History of the Kenai Peninsula.” Elsa Pederson editor. Adams Press. 1983
“Historic Homer, a Building Survey and Inventory.” Janet R. Klein & Donna L. Lane. Homer Society of Natural History. 1986
“The Dawg’s tale: the story of the Salty Dawg Saloon, the Homer Spit & the Town of Homer, Alaska.” Diane Ford Wood. Alaska Press. 1995
“The Homer Spit: Coal, Gold and Con Men.” Janet R. Klein. Kachemak Country Publications. 1996