A death plays a part in the creation of Petersville Road
Petersville Road began as short cut to Peters Creek and Cache Creek mining areas
The 1929 Ford Model AA dump truck shown in the drawing sits in front of the Trapper Creek Museum, at mile 7 of the Petersville Road. It was used by the Alaska Road Commission (ARC) on the Talkeetna-Cache Creek Road (now Petersville Road), which was a supply route between the Alaska Railroad at Talkeetna and the mines of the Peters Creek/Cache Creek area about 25 miles to the northwest.
Prospectors discovered gold in 1905 along Peters Creek. The following year, discoveries were made on nearby Cache Creek.
Susitna Station, on the Susitna River near the mouth of the Yentna River, was the nearest supply center. Depending on the season, the freighting distance from Susitna Station up the Yentna River and overland to the mines was 60 to 90 miles.
The townsite of McDougall was soon established about 30 miles up the Yentna River, near the mouth of Lake Creek (as far as steamboats could ascend the Yentna). In 1909, the Cache Creek Mining Company constructed the 30-mile-long Lake Creek Trail from McDougall north to Cache Creek.
Early maps show a wagon road from McDougall north to the Kahiltna River, 15 miles away, with a trail beyond that. Past the Kahiltna, the trail traversed several miles of marshy ground before climbing the western slopes of Peters Hills to Cache Creek. In Stephen Capps’ 1913 U.S.G.S. report, “The Yentna District, Alaska,” he reported that the marshy section of trail north of the Kahiltna River could be “crossed by horses with difficulty.”
The Lake Creek Trail was a problematic route. Miners in the Peters Creek/Cache Creek area routinely clamored for better access, especially after the Alaska Railroad reached Talkeetna in 1915.
In March 1917, miners petitioned the ARC for a new road from the Susitna River near Talkeetna to Cache Creek. Their petition was bolstered by the tragic death of a freighter along the Lake Creek Trail three months later.
Richard Feltham, a McDougall merchant, decided to run pack trains to Cache Creek in summer 1917. In June, he lost his way on the far side of the Kahiltna River, along the troublesome marshy section of trail.
Search parties eventually found him. An employee of the Cache Creek Dredging Company, Charles Harris, wrote in July 1917 that, “In the neighborhood of the old Hungryman camp evidences of the struggles of the man to find the way were pitiful to see. Blazes on the trees running through the swamps in different directions showed plainly the vain efforts made to find a most obscure trail that would lead to Cache Creek.” Feltham was finally found, unconscious, rolled up in his blankets. He died within hours of being rescued.
The tragedy evidently spurred Cache Creek miner Henry Bahrenburg to blaze a 42-mile-long trail from Cache Creek to the Susitna River later that year. In 1918, the ARC took responsibility for the trail and began improving it.
At first, the ARC maintained the route as a winter sled road and summer trail, but it was eventually upgraded to wagon and then automobile standards. By 1922, the route included nine miles of wagon road, and by 1930, the ARC had upgraded the trail to wagon road standards as far as Peters Creek. With development of the Talkeetna-Cache Creek Road, the ARC abandoned the trail from McDougall to Cache Creek.
The Petersville Road is still used to reach active mining claims in the Cache Creek/Peters Creek area. However, recreational users also frequent the road, many of them headed for the Petersville Recreational Mining Area, which is located on state land along Peters Creek.
• Alaska Road Commission Historical Narrative: Final Report. Claus-M. Naske. State of Alaska. 1983
• Susitna River Basin Study, Cultural Resource Assessment of Willow, Talkeetna, Beluga areas. U.S. Department of Agriculture. 1983
• The Yentna District, Alaska, USGS Bulletin 534. Stephen R. Capps. U.S. Geological Survey. 1913
• Trapper Creek: a diverse community rich in history. Agnew Beck Consulting. No date