Seward’s Brown & Hawkins Store still standing after 117 years
Charles E. Brown and Thomas William “T.W.” Hawkins both came to Alaska in 1898. Brown entered the territory via the route pioneered by the Hudson’s Bay Company – the McKenzie, Rat and Porcupine rivers, while Hawkins tramped over Chilkoot Pass and floated down the Yukon River.
The two ended up in Nome, where they operated rival businesses. After moving to Valdez, they pooled resources and in March 1903 established Brown and Hawkins (B&H), a mercantile store.
In August of that year, the steamship Santa Ana, after stopping at Valdez, arrived at the newly-minted town of Seward on the Kenai Peninsula. On board were construction crews eager to begin work on the Alaska Central Railway. Also on board was T.W. Hawkins and other Valdez merchants, who ventured to Seward to investigate business prospects.
Buoyed by the town’s possibilities, Hawkins bought a lot on Fourth Avenue and erected a small wood-frame store building. The next year, his partner closed their Valdez store and brought its inventory to Seward.
B&H built up its Seward business selling groceries, clothing, hardware and other goods. For a time it also served as a steamship-company agent, ran a telegraph office, and operated a bank out of its premises.
Mary Barry’s book, “Seward, Alaska: A History of the Gateway City,” states that during Seward’s lean years before the federal government bought the faltering Alaska Northern Railway (which took over the faltering Alaska Central Railway) B&H survived by shipping supplies to coastal buyers as far away as Prince William Sound and Dutch Harbor. They also opened a store at Knik in 1913, and shipped supplies along the Iditarod Trail to customers in the Susitna River basin; as well as to the Iditarod and Innoko mining districts. At one time B&H had five warehouses in Seward.
After the Alaska Engineering Commission established a railroad construction camp at Ship Creek (later called Anchorage) in 1914, B&H closed its Knik store. In 1915 it opened one at Ship Creek, operating from a chartered steamship. Eventually the store moved to a building on Anchorage’s Fourth Avenue. That store closed in 1926.
The B&H building in Seward is still extant, although the business, which had stayed in the Hawkins family, closed in 2019. Its oldest section dates to 1904 when B&H replaced its first building with a larger two-story wood-frame structure. In the drawing, the oldest section of the store is the central portion, directly beneath the “Brown” part of the signage.
When built, the store had large display windows flanking a central recessed entry, with transom windows above. Stairs on the right side of the building led to the second floor.
In 1907, a one-story building was built to the right of the B&H store. B&H acquired that building and in 1909 added a second floor and constructed a unifying false-front facade across both buildings.
The facade included a second-floor balcony extending over the sidewalk. The stairs to the second floor remained, now centered in the facade. For many years, the second floor addition, called Brown & Hawkins Hall, was a popular social venue. Now the space is occupied by apartments.
Sometime in the 1910s B&H purchased the one-story wood-frame building immediately to the left of their store. According to National Park Service documents, the building had been a dance and gambling hall that closed due to growing prohibition sentiments in the territory.
That building became B&H’s hardware store. To unify it with the adjoining structure, transom windows and a balcony were added.
The Seward store building’s footprint has remained the same since the 1910s, but the building has received years of modifications. Its front facade recently underwent restoration, and today looks similar to the way it did in the early 1900s.
It was listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
“Brown & Hawkins Store, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.” Virginia H. Darling. National Park Service. 1988
“Historic Brown & Hawkins building changes hands.” no author. In the Seward Journal. 6-6-2029
“Seward, Alaska – A History of the Gateway City, Volume I.” Mary J. Barry. No publisher. 1986