Feeds:
Posts
Comments

Posts Tagged ‘boatbuilding’

This is part 2 of three parts of my history of boatbuilding in Sitka. Most of the research was done in 1989 and 1993, when I interviewed boatbuilders and their sons and daughters. Enjoy, and please  contact me with requests for use, with corrections and any other information or questions.

Andrew Hope at the bandsaw, fisherman Andrew Soinio in foreground. This may be Scotty Jennings' boat shop, in the 1920s. Photo from a glass slide in the collection of the Sitka Historical Society.

Andrew Hope at the bandsaw, fisherman Andrew Soinio in foreground. This may be Scotty Jennings’ boat shop, in the 1920s. Photo from a glass slide in the collection of the Sitka Historical Society.

Introduction

Sitka has always been a maritime community, dependent on the ocean for transportation and livelihood. For hundreds of years, Tlingit people of Sitka built and used canoes, carved and steamed from single trees. When the Russians and later Americans moved in to Sitka, they introduced European-style planked wooden boats and ships. This history is about these boats. Hundreds have been built here, a large number of them by Tlingit and other Alaska Native builders.

Boats were built in Sitka because people needed them, and could not afford to buy them, and was not an industry producing boats for selling outside the immediate area. In the 200 years since the first permanent Russian settlement here in 1799, Sitka has been a Tlingit stronghold, Russian fort, Russian American colonial capital, American frontier town, fishing village, site of a WW II military installation, pulp mill town and now the small city we know today. Boat and shipbuilding in Sitka, and the builders and their backgrounds and activities, reflect Sitka’s varied history and economy and our location on the eastern edge of the North Pacific.

The Russians of the Russian American Company built ships and boats for their own colonial operations, for hunting, supplying outposts, exploration, and taking furs and correspondence back to Siberia. They built the first ship in Sitka in1805. In the beginning at least, these ships were not very good, and reflected the difficulty of maintaining a colony which was halfway around the world from support, and in a climate and geography alien to them. Shipbuilding was an important part of their endeavor to become a self-sufficient colony. They built at least 27 ships, most of them about the size of large fishing boats today. A few of the ships were fairly large, and included the first steamer built on the west coast of North America.

After the purchase of the territory of Alaska by the United States in 1867, some American entrepreneurs built sailing ships and boats for fishing, mining, or trading enterprises, but this boatbuilding activity was sporadic, reflecting the varied and unstable economy of that time, mainly trade and prospecting.

But once fisheries became a mainstay of Sitka’s economy after the turn of the century, hundreds of boats were built, not only fishing boats but pleasure boats and others. Through the 1920s, 1930s and 1940s there were at least eight boat shops in Sitka at various times. All of the builders did other things as well, like fishing, carpentry, or mining. The owner of the boat was often involved with the construction, and some fishermen built their own boats by themselves.

When the fishing tapered off, boatbuilding declined too. In the peak years of Sitka boatbuilding, there was demand for boats, materials were available, and time was cheap, which is not the case today. The decline of wooden boatbuilding in Sitka followed the pattern in the United States generally. Both labor and high-quality old-growth wood have become relatively expensive. Wooden boats are being replaced by fiberglass, aluminum and steel ones.

The following narrative includes most of the boats built here which were large enough to be officially documented, which is five net tons, or about 32 feet in length for a power boat.

Information comes from the federal lists of documented vessels; Sitka newspapers; and many interviews, most carried out in 1988. Thank you to all the people I interviewed and talked with and to those who helped me in the libraries and museums. There will certainly be mistakes, and I would appreciate corrections and additions.

PART II: AFTER 1900

Sitka’s first cannery started up in 1878,i (16a) and fishing gradually became an important industry here. But it was not until decades later, after the turn of the century, that fishing boats of any size were built here. Records are still available of decked boats over five net tons, which is about 32 feet. Very few boats were recorded as built in Sitka before 1915, but between 1915 and 1930, at least 43 were built here, almost all fishing boats.ii (1) (There seems to often be a delay between the boat’s completion and its documentation.) A total of 20 of these larger boats were documented in the three years between 1917 and 1919.. It was around this time that gasoline engines revolutionized the process of seining (pulling a net round a school of fish). Gas trollers (hook and line fishing boats) were also built locally. Many boats too small to require documentation, including small trollers, sealers and rowboats, were built as well.

Much of the fishing boatbuilding in Sitka up through the 1950s had its roots in the Cottages settlement, a group of houses adjacent to Sheldon Jackson School (now college). Here, in 1907, a Tsimpshian graduate of the school named Peter Simpson started a commercial boat shop. Later, his brother-in-law George Howard, who had been working with him, built his own shop in the Sitka Village, on Katlian Street, which was later used by his sons. Then, in the 1920s and 30s, Simpson’s nephew by marriage, Andrew Hope, started building boats, and eventually had his own shop. Among them, these men and those who worked with them built the majority of the boats built here.

Another builder, Frank Kitka, built several seiners, his last one documented in 1920. He built at least six large boats, first at the Brady sawmill then at a shop on Charcoal Island. He built his last boat on Katlian Street.

In addition, John Bahrt was building smaller boats on Seward Street. Kristian Norholm, a Norwegian immigrant, built his own shop in 1924. Arthur `Scotty’ Jennings had a shop on Katlian Street in the 1930s; he was an immigrant from the north of England. Still others built rowboats, and some fishermen built their own boats.

The Cottages

The Presbyterian mission school, which is now Sheldon Jackson College, began as a day school for Native children in 1878. It soon became a boarding school, where the children learned reading and the Bible, and received training in sawmill engineering, metal work, furniture making, carpentry, and other skills which they used in work on the school. The Presbyterians acquired a portable sawmill in 1882 and staff and students built several buildings by the end of the decade.

In 1886 they had built a boat shop, on the bottom floor of the carpenter shop, where the Sage building is now. This shop was probably for building and repairing the school’s own boats.iii (1)

None of the school’s early carpentry instructors seems to have been a boatbuilder. Students did, however, build a 14-foot rowboat for the Alaska Pavilion at the St. Louis World’s Fair, in 1904.iv (2) In 1910 some instructors built a launch, but it was out of the water again in less than a year, where it stayed for another year.v (3) By 1912 boatbuilding did become a regular part of the school’s program and continued to be so most years until the school became a junior college in 1944. The boat shop had electricity, and a bandsaw, lathe and circular saw by 1915, which they used to repair the school’s boats and to build rowboats.vi (4)

By 1906 or 1907 some graduates of the school had set up a commercial boatbuilding shop at the Cottages settlement, adjacent to the school, but the path from the school to the new shop was not direct.

Peter Simpson – grandfather of Sitka boatbuilding

Peter Simpson came to the Sitka Training School in 1888 when he was about 17 years old and stayed here a couple of years before returning south to Gravina (near Ketchikan) to be the engineer at a sawmill he co-founded. Years later, some time between 1895 and 1899, he came back to Sitka, and was a steam engineer here. When he finally started building boats at Sitka he was in his mid-thirties, about 17 years after he had graduated, and after a career as steam engineer in the intervening years. It is hard to tell at what point or from whom he might have learned boatbuilding. At the time boats were being built all over southeastern Alaska, probably often by people with no formal training at all, and Simpson may himself have been self-taught.

Peter Simpson came to the United States with missionary William Duncan. In 1887 Duncan, who had gone to Canada from his native England as an Anglican missionary, fell out with church and government authorities, and led over 800 Tsimpsean Natives from their village of Metlakatla, British Columbia, to New Metlakatla, at the site of an abandoned Tlingit village near Ketchikan in southeastern Alaska. Peter Simpson was about 16 years old at the time of the exodus. Besides an elementary education from Duncan, Metlakatlans had plenty of opportunities for practicing practical skills. At both towns the people built all their houses and other buildings. At old Metlakatla they built and ran a water powered sawmill and a cannery, and by 1890 New Metlakatla also had a sawmill and cannery.vii (5)

Peter Simpson’s contemporary Edward Marsden, also a teenager at the time, built his mother’s house in the new village, and ran the mission steamer during the move.viii (6) Simpson’s practical education probably began fairly early.

In addition, traditional craftsmen, Tsimpshean and Tlingit, had a strong tradition of working in wood and canoe building, and knew the properties of the different local woods. Although boatbuilders working with planked boats used different techniques, they used the knowledge of wood and woodworking tools of traditional craftsmen.

The spring after the move to Alaska, in 1888, Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson brought Peter Simpson and 31 other boys from Metlakatla to his Sitka training school.ix (7) Peter Simpson was about 17, and he stayed here a couple of years.

Peter Simpson was still at the school in 1890, and was in Sitka in 1891, when he married Mary Sloan, a Sitka Tlinget woman of the Kiksadi clan.x (8)

Then, in the fall of 1892, when he was about 21, he and some other Metlakatlan graduates of the Sitka school returned south and started Hamilton, Simpson and Company, a sawmill, at Port Gravina, across Tongass Narrows from Ketchikan. The all-Native company eventually had a fishing operation, ran a tug, owned a large store, a carpenter shop, and rental cottages. They milled wood for building Ketchikan, but had some problems getting paid; in 1900 Peter Simpson filed a lien against a sawmill in Ketchikan, which got lumber from Gravina and never paid. But the operation lasted until everything burned down in 1904. They could not get title to their business site, because as Natives they were not considered citizens of the United States.

Peter Simpson was the engineer at Gravina and later was their steamboat engineer, and he was the vice president of the company. In a letter to the head of the Sitka school published in the North Star, the Sitka school’s newspaper, he credited the school with all the training for running the mill. “To say that Sitka Industrial Training School train me to do this.” Later in the same letter he writes, “we put all the machinery all in order and runs just as easy as the tide comes up.”xi (9)

He was still working at Gravina in 1895, but by 1899, although he was still an investor in the Gravina mill, he was living in Sitka.xii (10) He was in Sitka with his family in 1897, but that may have been only a visit. His granddaughter Isabella Brady says she has heard he ran a ferry between Douglas and Juneau, sometime between his time at Gravina and his return to Sitka.xiii (11)

In 1900 Simpson was the foreman of a sawmill in Sitka, either at the school, at the mill of John Brady (a supporter of the school) or at the other sawmill in town, owned by W. P. Mills.xiv (12) Even after he started building boats, Simpson seems to have been primarily an engineer. In 1910 and 1912 he spent the summer as foreman of the W. P. Mills sawmill, and spent the winter of 1911-1912 running the school’s steam heating plant and electric plant. In 1909 he remodeled the Native Public School.xv (13)

But by 1907 or so he was also building boats at the Cottages. In the fall of 1908 he had five men working there, and enlarged his shop to 22 by 60 feet. The school paper says that they had orders enough ahead to keep them busy until spring.xvi (14) In 1909 they launched a 34-foot boat for Rudolph Walton, another graduate of the school, a jeweler and later fisherman, and the school paper said they had been building many boats in the past few years.xvii (15) In 1910, when he was nearly 40, Simpson employed his brother-in-law George Howard, who was about the same age, and John James at his shop.xviii (16)

George Howard had married Lottie Sloan, the sister of Peter Simpson’s wife Mary Sloan, in about 1890. (George Howard later married again, around 1907.) George Howard was Tlingit, from Klawock, and also a graduate of the Sitka school. He was living at the Cottages in 1900, but at that time he had been foreman of the school shoe shop. By 1910 he was a boatbuilder, working with Peter Simpson.xix (17)

The Cottages settlement was adjacent to the school, on Kelly and Metlakatla Streets, just west of the Sitka National Historical Park. More cottages were on the present Visitor Center parking lot. It was on mission property, where married former students of the school built their own single family houses, as an alternative to returning to their home villages and living in traditional clan houses. Simpson’s shop was, eventually, on the point of land where the Merrill monument is now.

In the 1910 census, there was a fourth boatbuilder, John Bahrt, son of ship carpenter H. L. Bahrt. He was 28 in 1910. In the previous census, in 1900, he had been a laborer. His father still called himself a ship carpenter on the census, but he was involved in mining and other ventures.xx (18) Between the 1900 census and the 1910 census, Peter Simpson, George Howard, John James, and John Bahrt had all switched to boatbuilding from other jobs. This was probably in response to the need for fishing boats.

The Fisheries

Seining

The sudden increase in boatbuilding — from no boatbuilders at all in 1900, to four in 1910 — was probably due to an increase in demand for fishing boats.

By 1889 there were already 13 canneries in southeastern Alaska, including one at Sitka, at Redoubt.xxi (19) But the early seining (catching fish with a net, towed around a school of fish) was done with large rowboats, which apparently were supplied by the canneries, and the fish were carried on steamers to the cannery.

After the turn of the century, however, gas engines were rapidly adopted in the salmon seine fishery.xxii Many of the gas seiners used out of Sitka were built here.

The earliest seine boats were large flat-bottomed open boats, propelled by oars, and nets were pulled by hand. Engines were introduced on seiners on Puget Sound soon after the turn of the century. According to Herman Kitka, in 1914 Tom Sanders Jr. fished a motorized seiner, the COMET, that had been brought up from Puget Sound, for Deep Sea Salmon Company. He outfished everybody, and soon all the seiners had engines.

Herman Kitka says that the earliest motorized seiners had loose decks of 2 x 12’s which were picked up to empty the hold. This was not the case for more than a couple of years, because of the problem with rain water and snow in the boat in the winter.xxiii (1a)

Many of the seiners built in Sitka over the years were financed by the canneries. Sometimes they were built for the cannery, and sometimes they were built for an individual fisherman, who would help build the boat. The canneries had boats built for good producers, obligating the fisherman to fish for that cannery to repay the debt. Some fishermen would eventually buy their boats, but others fished on cannery boats indefinitely.

Trolling

Trolling peaked in the 1920s or 1930s. Trolling is catching fish with a hook and line, pulled slowly through the water. The early gas powered trollers were much smaller than the boats today, maybe from 20 to 25 feet long. Until the Second World War there were also the hand trollers, who fished by hand from rowboats. Some hand trollers used rowboats, and others used the carved canoes. A typical hand troller rowboat, at least in the 20s and ’30s, was around fourteen or sixteen feet long.

Sealing

Sealing boats, another special kind of boat, eventually evolved into a specific type, built at Sitka.The fur seals pass offshore of Sitka every spring on their way to their breeding grounds on the Pribilof Islands. At a few places in southeastern Alaska and in British Columbia, Native hunters would head out in boats or canoes and hunt them. Up until the turn of the century American and Canadian sealing ships would also take boats and hunters, skilled Native hunters if they could get them, and take the seals on the ocean on the seals’ migration route. Between the almost unregulated slaughter at sea and the official slaughter by the Alaskan Commercial Company on the Pribilof Island breeding grounds fur seals were very nearly wiped out. The sealing fleet shrank with the numbers of fur seals, and 1897 was the last year by law any American ships participated. High seas sealing by all nationalities was outlawed in an international treaty in 1911.xxiv (20)

Natives were always allowed to go out from shore, however, even when sealing from ships was banned. In an 1894 law, the Natives were restricted to open rowing or sailing boats, with five or fewer aboard.xxv (21)

In 1902 sealers were going out from camps at Biorka Island in all kinds of boats, including canoes.xxvi (22) But at some point a type of boat called a sealer came into common use. The Davis family, boatbuilders in Metlakatla, claim to have built the first sealer in 1905.xxvii (25) The sealing boats were around 20 to 25 feet long, graceful rowing boats built for speed. Bob DeArmond, who grew up in Sitka in the 1920s, remembers them having five rowing stations, with a steering oar in the stern, and a harpooner in the bow. He says they were similar to the whaling boats used by the Navy as launches, but much more lightly built, and thus faster.xxviii (24) The boats were sometimes built of spruce for lightness. Sealing boats were built and used for sealing at least into the 1920s. There was a Fourth of July sealing boat race into the 1930s, and the boats were well taken care of. In 1934, the champion was the SKOOKUM, over the “8”.xxix (25)

Other purposes

Boats were built for other purposes too, like pleasure, or for carrying freight, prospecting and mining. Motor boats smaller than about 32 feet are not documented, but there were probably many smaller boats, from skiffs on up, built for trolling, general duty and subsistence food gathering. Besides planked rowboats and launches, carved canoes were also being produced; in the 1900 census, three men listed their occupation as canoe builder. Their ages were from 35 to 56.

John Sarvela

Machine and metal work for Sitka boats was done at Sarvela’s machine shop, where the city grid is now, on Katlian Street. John Sarvela came to Sitka by way of northern California from Finland. He worked first at the Ready Bullion mine at Douglas. There was a strike by all the miners in 1908, and he took the opportunity to move to Chichigoff. While waiting for his family to join him there, he built a small boat, called the BEAVER, named after its engine. In 1916 or so he had the LULU built at Sitka by one of the Sitka builders, from a model he had carved. In 1918 the family moved to Sitka, and he started the machine shop, later taken over by his son Bill Sarvela.xxx (25a)

Frank Kitka

Herman Kitka says that his father, Frank Kitka, built the NECKERBAY, documented 1915, for John Young; OLYMPIC, 1918, for himself; ZINGO, 1918, for John Joseph, financed by the Deep Sea Salmon Company; BUSY BEE, 1919, for George T. Myers; and the ATLAS, his last boat, for himself in 1920, documented 1922. He also built the PTARMIGAN and the DIXIE, which may have been too small to document. He first built in a shop at the old Brady sawmill, near the present Thomsen Harbor. When that building collapsed, he built boats in a shop on Charcoal Island, which had machinery powered by a gas engine. That shop was on the beach below the site of the kindergarten, and burned down before the military took over the island.

This same shop was used by Hoonah boatbuilder Johnny Lawson, to build the PERSEVEARANCE, documented in 1927, and the O.K., documented in 1929.xxxi (1c)

Kitka built his last boat, the ATLAS, in 1920, on Katlian Street. Both the ATLAS and the earlier boat OLYMPIC were built for himself, because his main occupation was as a fisherman.xxxii (1b)

The ATLAS was out of the water at Allen Marine Ways for several years until the fall of 1993.

George Howard and Sons

George Howard might have had his own shop at the Cottages by 1912, but in 1912 or 1914 he built his own shop and house on Katlian Street, on the town side of what is now the Seafood Producers Cooperative plant.xxxiii (2) The earlier shop was much smaller than the one which replaced it in 1940, and was only big enough to build the hull of the boat and not the superstructure.xxxiv (2a) The house and shop were torn down in the summer of 1990.

George Howard probably built the ACTIVE, documented in 1917, for himself and his sons, and he built the U & I, documented 1919. The year of documentation is not necessarily the year the boat was launched, and is often a little later. The U & I was completely rebuilt in 1947 by troller Oscar Johnson, near Lindenburgh Head, and is still fishing.xxxv (3)

In the 1920 census, taken in January of 1920, George Howard and his son George Howard Jr. were on Katlian Street and listed their occupations as boatbuilders.xxxvi (3a) George Howard and his sons, David and George Jr., advertised in most issues of the Sitka Tribune, from 1922 through 1924. In their ads they used a photo of a seine type boat. Some ads read, “GEORGE HOWARD BoatbuildING PLANT Now Ready to Take Orders for Boats from 14 ft. up to 40 ft. Lumber on Hand.” The newspaper, in June of 1922, reported that they were turning out sealing boats, and that they had laid a keel for a 48-foot boat.xxxvii (4)

In March of 1923 they were building two boats, one for James Ryan, launched that month, and one for someone from Kake.xxxviii (5)

Every summer the Howards closed up shop and went fishing. George Howard built the large seiner PROGRESS, documented in 1923, for himself, his sons, and son-in-law Andrew Hope.xxxix (6)

The Cottages Through the 1920s

Herman Kitka says that Peter Simpson built the DREADNAUGHT, 1915, for Myers Cannery, for Jimmy Keunz; the ALBATROSS, 1917, for John Cameron, another resident of the Cottages; the BARANOFF, 1918, for Ralph Young, of the Cottages; the EAGLE, 1919 for Pyramid Packing Company; the MARY WARD, 1919, for Deep Sea Packing Company for George Ward; and the KATHARINE, 1919, for Deep Sea.xl (7)

Simpson is said to have built the MOONLIGHT, 1918, although the documentation lists her owner, Edward Grant, as the builder. Grant fished the boat into the 1940s, when he was killed aboard the boat when his neck scarf caught in the exposed engine. It was beached on Graveyard Island at Hoonah, until bought by a troller, Pete Moe.xli (19)

The MOONLIGHT is still fishing; the boat was completely rebuilt in 1979. By that time she was in rough shape from lack of maintenance from a series of owners. Her present owner says that before the rebuild the boat was unusually lightly built, with widely spaced frames, and no floors, the pieces which join the pairs of ribs.xlii (20) This might indicate the speed with which these boats were built, although it may be a characteristic only of this particular boat.

Peter Simpson built the troller SMILES, documented in 1920.xliii (8) According to the 1920 census, Cottages residents Raymond James and Simpson’s son Louis Simpson were building boats with Simpson.xliv (8a) He also advertised in 1925: “NOTICE Order your trolling boats from the Simpson Shop, Peter Simpson.”xlv (9) But in 1922, 1923, and 1924, he is only mentioned as a sealer (one of the most successful), and fisherman in the newspaper, and he also advertised his boat, the ALCO, for hire.xlvi (10) He could have been building trollers, which at that time were too small to require federal documentation.

Boatbuilder Louis Simpson, Peter Simpson’s son, died at the age of 40 in 1936 in a flu epidemic of pneumonia.xlvii (10c)

In 1922, John Willard advertised “boat work a specialty” at the Cottages, perhaps at Simpson’s shop.xlviii (10a)

Early day wood for boatbuilding

Herman Kitka says that even in the early days, most builders used Douglas fir, shipped on the steamers from Seattle air-dried, and not too many builders cut their own wood.xlix (10aa) This was apparently most often the case with the cannery financed boats.

For political and economic reasons the sawmill industry has never thrived here. For a long time after the purchase of Alaska cutting wood commercially on government land was not legal, and then when it was legal, the law was hazy and export from the state was still illegal.l (10b) In some years there was no operating sawmill in Sitka. By contrast, the logging industry in Washington and Oregon was large, competitive, and organized. Even today Douglas fir, from Washington and Oregon, is readily available, while lumber from local trees is very difficult to obtain.

Andrew Hope in the 1920s and 1930s

Andrew Hope, a well-known Sitka builder, was very active by the end of the 1920s. Andrew Hope was born in Sitka in 1896. His father was English, and his mother was Tlinget, from the Kogwanton clan. At Sitka his father was a store clerk for the Sitka Trading Company and was also involved in mining, and eventually left for the Yukon gold rush. Andrew went to the Sheldon Jackson school, and also attended the Cushman school, in Tacoma.li (21)

In 1912, he married Tillie Howard, when both were about 16. Tillie was the daughter of boatbuilder George Howard, and niece of Peter Simpson, and so young Andrew probably started his boatbuilding career working with these men.

Apparently Hope did not have his own shop until about 1940, when he built his shop on the town side of what is now Murray Pacific.lii (22) The shop still stands, although part of it was taken off to widen the street a few years ago, and it is now the shop of Harry Jimmy. Before he had his own shop, he may have built in the Howard family boatshop or Peter Simpson’s.

In the 1920s and 1930s, documents name him as builder of the BIORKA and STARLIGHT, documented in 1927; the PYRAMID, 1929; the NEPTUNE, 1930; BUDDY, 1931; and the ADMIRALTY, 1938.liii (23)

He probably had a hand in building others for which there are no records.

The NEPTUNE was built for and to some extent by “Cap” Pavloff, behind where the Wells Fargo bank is now. Pavlof used the boat for fishing and for running to his homeplace of Kodiak or beyond. Pavlof had been a captain of trading vessels in Alaska.liv (24) The NEPTUNE was documented in 1930, and is another survivor of that era, still fishing out of Sitka.

Andrew Hope built many of his boats from half models, hand carved scale models (½ inch to a foot) of half a boat, cut lengthways.lv (24a) Molds for the full sized boats were then scaled up from the model, and very seldom did the full size molds have to be faired in at all.lvi (25)

Hope built the ADMIRALTY for George James of Angoon. This boat was a copy of another Angoon boat, the seiner U & I, maybe the boat George Howard built in 1919, although there were two boats with that name.lvii (25aa)

John Bahrt.

Builder John Bahrt was also working in the 1920s, according to his nephew and namesake, who remembered helping his uncle build at least one small boat, for John Peterson. He said his uncle used copper fastenings, and preferred Douglas fir.lviii (11)

The shop was at the family home, where the Seward Square Mall is now, so boats had to be launched on rollers to put in by the old sawmill. lix(12) That waterfront has all been filled in now, and is the parking lot and tourist dock at Crescent Harbor.

John Bahrt was later the first gardener at the new Pioneer Home. He died in 1962, at the age of 82. lx (12a)

Kristian Norholm

By the early 1920s, Sitka’s builders were joined by Kristian Norholm, a Norwegian immigrant. In 1922 he was planning to put up a boatbuilding operation at Sawmill Cove. He had somewhere launched the ROSARIO, which might have been a repair job to a Norwegian-owned Seattle boat of that name, and repaired another boat. In the spring of 1923 he had built a covered ways at “Norholm Cove,” probably where older Sitkans remember his shop being, near the Forest Service building and the old airplane turnaround. He also had an engine for hauling boats up. At the time there was only a trail to his shop, and he landed materials by boat.lxi (13)

The shop was not very big. The ways were wooden. Most local boats then were not very big — 30 feet was a large boat.

Norholm did repair to the larger boats, like the halibut boats up from Puget Sound, which were almost all Norwegian-owned. He built some boats as well: he built the 32-foot CARRIE for George Rice, a local plumber, in 1922.lxii (14) Bill Sarvela helped him once when he was a teenager, in the mid-20s, on a repair to the MORNING STAR, owned by Sergius Williams. Norholm also used clenched nails, iron nails driven through the plank and frame and bent over on the inside. Bill Sarvela helped by bending them over inside, while Norholm drove them from outside the boat.lxiii (15)

At Aleutkina Bay Norholm had a cabin with a log floor adzed smooth, and a mine he worked on, drilling and blasting a tunnel. He also fished, on halibut boats and at least once herring seining. He was also something of a character.

Norholm had come to Sitka around 1915, probably to do something other than build boats. He died of exposure after being hurt in a fight at his mining claim in 1933, when he was about 48.lxiv (15a)

Other Boatbuilders

Johnny Lawsson, a fisherman and builder originally from Hoonah, built the PERSEVEARANCE in Sitka, documented 1927, and the O.K., 1929, in the Charcoal Island shop used by George Howard. The shop burned down shortly before the military took over Charcoal Island before World War II.lxv (15b)

The Tribune also mentions T. F. Demidoff repairing Booth Fisheries’ boat ELSIE, and building a 20-foot yellow cedar boat, that took him two years to finish.lxvi (16) He is also reported in 1928 building a 32-foot troller at the sawmill, with plans to install a 12-15 horsepower Sterling gas engine.lxvii

Another boatbuilder in the 1920s or 1930s was Gustav Karvonen, who built small rowboats, and a 34-foot troller for a Juneau man.lxviii (17) He also repaired the LULU for the Sarvelas. Bill Sarvela remembers him as a “meticulous, little bit of a fellow” who would sand the inside of his boats so that the slime would not stick.lxix (17b)He built skiffs on Aleutski Island, or possibly the same shop Frank Kitka and Johnny Lawsson used, on Charcoal Island. He had an engine to run a bandsaw.

His skiffs were superior to the Davis model, according to Bill Sarvela. The Davis model rowboat was a type of boat, first double-ended and later with a square stern for an outboard engine, built by the Davis family in Metlakatla and distributed all around southeastern Alaska. They were relatively narrow. Bill Sarvela says the fishermen preferred Karvonen’s, because they were more beamy (wider) and easy to row.

Karvonen got oak for ribs from barrels. The planking was spruce or yellow cedar. They had a transom (square) stern, and were wide all the way up to the transom.

He built a few on Aleutski, then a few more on Middle Island, after he moved there to a former fox farm. Eventually he had to come in to live at the Pioneers Home, but died soon after.lxx (16a)

Scotty Jennings

In the 1930s Hope worked with Arthur “Scotty” Jennings, an Englishman from Newcastle (a city near the Scottish border). Scotty’s shop was on pilings just beyond the ANB hall.lxxi (26) The spot is now filled, and is a parking lot beside ANB Harbor.

Jennings served in the English army in the First World War, when he would already have been in his late thirties. He may have originally come to Sitka to fox farm. He was a small, quick man, a “feisty little Englishman,” also somewhat deaf and “cantankerous” in his later years.lxxii (27)

He had a large shop, a former handpack cannery. Bill Sarvela remembers him as excitable, and says he would curse people always stealing his hammers, which he found again when he cleaned up the piles of shavings in his shop.

Jennings built prams, flat-bottomed boats with flat ends, about eight feet long, used as tenders on the fishing boats. Jennings could build the prams quite quickly. He and Andrew Hope once built a dory for Bob DeArmond, which DeArmond rowed to Tacoma, where he went to high school. Apparently they did not usually build dories, because they had to find a model, a dory from a halibut boat.lxxiii (27a)

He did boat repair, although he didn’t build large boats. He also worked for Sitka Light and Power Company on their generator on Sawmill Creek Road, and did dock work.lxxiv (27b)

He advertised in the newspaper in 1934 and 1935: “Boatbuilder and General Boat Repairs. Sitka Alaska.” The newspaper also reported his renovation of the Midget Bar, and his putting in a files system at the commissioner’s office. He died in June of 1949, at 68, at Juneau. He had gone there to go to the hospital, because Sitka did not have a hospital then. He was buried there, not having any relatives here. The shop eventually collapsed, and was torn down.lxxv (29)

Adolph Thomsen

Adolph Thomsen, for whom Thomsen Harbor is named, was a Sitka businessman and fisherman who built two boats for himself in the 1930s: the SOPHIA and the EROS. Both boats were around 40 feet long. Before settling in Sitka he had been a deep water sailor, originally from Denmark. At Sitka he and his family fox-farmed on Biorka Island. His wife Sophia raised chickens, goats, sheep, cows, and horses, and carded, spun and knitted wool into clothes for the family. She also caulked the SOPHIA, which did not leak a drop, according to their daughter, Anna Baggen.lxxvi (30)

In 1923 he owned three fishing boats, the MAINE, the GEDNEY, and the HECLA.lxxvii (31) He still had the HECLA in 1935 when he launched the SOPHIA. The Arrrowhead reported, when the boat was built, that it was intended for halibut fishing.lxxviii (32) The SOPHIA is probably still in use, registered out of Wrangell in 1989.

Thomsen built the EROS in 1937, after the family moved to town, near the present Baranof School playground. She had to be launched on rollers down Baranof Street.lxxix (33)

Endnotes.

i. R. N. DeArmond, A Sitka Chronology (Sitka, Alaska: Sitka Historical Society, 1993)

ii Merchant Vessels 1921, 1928, 1941.

iii Ted C. Hinckley, Alaskan John G. Brady: Missionary, Businessman, Judge, and Governor, 1878-1918 (Miami, Ohio: Ohio State University Press, 1982), p. 123 (1882 sawmill); North Star, April 1889, p. 68 (six cottages); North Star, March 1888, p. 14 (carpentry shop, others); North Star, 25 December, 1886, p. 3 (boat shop in carp. shop). The North Star was the Sheldon Jackson School newspaper.

iv. Hinckley, p. 338 (rowboat 1904 expo)

v. Thlinget, March 1910, p. 4; idem, February 1912, p. 2 (instructors launch). The Thlinget was the successor to the North Star, the newspaper of the Sheldon Jackson School.

vi. Sheldon Jackson Annuals, No. 814 in Sheldon Jackson College Archives, Sitka, Alaska (1915 annual: boys keep small fleet in repair, build rowboats, hope to build launch; have bandsaw, lathes, circ. saw in shop, elec. lights — also in program 1912, 1924, 1930, 31, 32, 33; 38-39 boys built 4 skiffs, 6 round bottom boats).

vii. Peter Murray, The Devil and Mr. Duncan (Victoria, British Columbia: Sono Nis Press, 1985), p. 42 (industries by 1890)

viii. Murray, p. 17 (Marsden ran steamer)

ix. Murray, p. 207 (boys to S.J.); William Gilbert Beattie, Marsden of Alaska (New York: Vantage Press, 1955), p. 19 (boys to S.J., incl Simpson); North Star, September 1888 (Simpson in school here).

x. Sitka Sentinel (Sitka), 31 December 1947 (married in 1891, Sept. 17); Isabella Brady, interview by author, tape recording, Sitka Alaska 18 November, 1988 (Mrs. Simpson was Kiksadi); North Star, May 1890, p. 118 (Simpson still here).

xi. North Star, November 1892, p. 238 (Gravina letter); Patricia Roppel, “Gravina,” Alaska Journal, vol. 2 no. 3 (1972): 13-15; Alaskan, 21 January, 1893, p. 3 (started); idem, 11 March 1893, p. 3 (report); idem, 1 April 1893, p. 3 (in operation).

xii. North Star, April 1895 (still down there); Alaskan 13 May 1899, p. 3 (Simpson back in Sitka).

xiii. Alaskan late fall 1897 (arrives with family on steamer); Isabella Brady interview (ran ferry).

xiv. 1900 U. S. Census (was sawmill engineer)

xv. Thlinget, September 1909, p. 2 (rem. pub. school); Thlinget, August 1911, p. 1 (steam heating plant); Thlinget, May 1911, p. 3 (to install water wheel); Thlinget, April 1910, p. 3 (Mills’ sawmill); Thlinget, February 1912, p. 2 (sawmill up); Thlinget, May 1912, p. 4 (lights all winter, next summer at Mills’ sawmill).

xvi. North Star, October 1908, p. 3 (starting 1906 or 1907, orders to spring).

xvii. North Star, March 1909, p. 2 (boat for Walton, many boats past few years), Chronology p. 38 (Walton’s boat the William)

xviii 1910 Census (Simpson, Howard, James building).

xix 1900 Census, 1910 Census (Howard marriage, jobs).

xx. 1900 Census, 1910 Census (John and H. L. Bahrt), Alaskan, passim (activities of H. L. Bahrt).

xxi. Alaskan, 13 April 1889, p. 1 (number of canneries 1889).

xxii. Homer E. Gregory and Kathleen Barnes, North Pacific Fisheries, with Special Reference to Alaska Salmon (San Francisco: American Council Institute of Pacific Relations, 1939), p 24 (gas engines spread)

xxiii Herman Kitka, interviews by the author, tape recordings, Sitka, Alaska, October and December 1988 and March 3 1992 (early seiners, financing, the first seiner) The Comet was later rebuilt by Frank Kitka’s brother Peter Kitka in 1926 – Kitka interview 3/92

xxiv. Gerald O. Williams, The Bering Sea Fur Seal Dispute: A Monograph on the Maritime History of Alaska (Juneau, Alaska: Alaska Maritime Publications, 1984) (sealing late 19th century).

xxv. Alaskan, 28 April 1884, p. 1 (sealing law).

xxvi. Alaskan, 17 May 1902, p. 3 (all types of boats)

xxvii. Marty Loken, Davis Boats, Traditional Small Boats of the Northwest Volume Two (Seattle: Center for Wooden Boats, 1981), p. 11 (first sealing boat).

xxviii. R. N. DeArmond, pers. com. winter 1991 (what sealing boats were like).

xxix. Sitka Arrowhead, 14 July 1934, pp. 1, 6 (Skookum beats 8).

xxx Rudy Sarvela, interview by author, tape recording, Sitka Alaska December 1 1988 (History of John Sarvela).

xxxi Herman Kitka Sr., interviews October, December 1988 and March 1992

xxxii Herman Kitka, interviews October, December 1988 (Atlas) and March 1992.

xxxiii George Howard Sr., interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska, November, 1988; George Howard Sr. and Louie Howard, interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska, December 1988; and George Howard Sr., interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska, July 1990 (shop, house built 1912); City Deeds #542 Book 2, granted 2 May 1914 (to

build); Thlinget, March 1912, p. 2 (many new boats from H and S shops, latest 35-footer with red & y c tender); Thlinget, May 1912, p. 4 (H busy all the time).

xxxiv Kitka interview (first Howard shop small)

xxxv Howard interviews (grandfather owned Active at one point); United States Coast Guard, Marine Safety Office, Vessel Documentation, Vessel Files and Abstracts of Titles, Juneau, Alaska (U & I built Howard).

xxxvi 1920 Census (Howards boat builders).

xxxvii Tribune, 1922-1924, passim (ads); Tribune 9 June 1922, p. ?

xxxviii Tribune, 2 March 1923, p. 1; Tribune 16 March 1923, p. 3 (boats for Kake,

James Ryan).

xxxix Tribune, 23 June, 1922 (going fishing); 24 September 1923 (back from

fishing); Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Progress).

xl. Tribune 23 June 1922 (Willard), Kitka 1992 (boats built by Simpson).

xli. Pat Wood, phone interview by author, 16 November 1988; Merchant Vessels 1921,

1928, 1941, 1948

xlii. ibid.

xliii. Mark Jacobs Jr., interviews by author, tape recordings, Sitka Alaska, November, December 1988 (Smiles built by

Simpson).

xliv. 1920 Census (Simpson, others boatbuilders, Cottages).

xlv. Tribune, 29 February 1925, p. 4, and passim (Simpson ad).

xlvi. Tribune 27 October 1922 (fishing Alco); 16 March 1922, p. 4 (Alco for hire). Tribune, 26 May 1922 (sealing); Tribune, 9 June 1922 (high boat seals).

xlvii City of Sitka Death Certificates (Louis Simpson).

xlix Kitka interview 3/92 (early builders used fir).

l Hinckley, pp 126-28, 133, 144-46 (legality of wood cutting in late 1880s, 1890 Brady shut down) p 145 (1891 Lands Act still not clear on timber use).

li Kathy Ruddy, phone interview by author 9 December 1988; Ellen Hope Hays, interview by author, Sitka, Alaska, 27 October 1988, Sitka Sentinel 15 April 1968, p. 1 (birth date, father English, mother Kogwanton, schools), Alaskan, passim (Percy Hope mining).

lii Hays interview; Sentinel, 15 April 1968, p. 1 (marriage to Tillie); Kitka interview; Hays interview (shop in 1940’s); Howard interview; Jacobs interview (had shop at time of P-H).

liii.Coast Guard Vessels Documentation (boats built by Hope)

liv Sentinel 5 Dec 1947 (obit); John Bahrt, interviews by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska, November and December 1988 (to go to Kodiak); Greg Cushing, phone interview by author 16 November 1988 (built at NBA); Coast Guard Vessels Documentation (built by Hope).

lv

lvi Herman Kitka, Sr. interview by author, tape recording, Sitka Alaska March 3, 1992 (Andrew Hope’s building methods).

lvii Mo Johnson interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska January 17 1988 (Admiralty copy of U&I)

lviii. Bahrt interview (methods of Bahrt)

lix. Ibid.

lx. Bahrt interview (gardener at Pioneer Home), Chronology p 137 (died Oct. 9 1963).

lxi. Tribune. May 1922 (shop to build at sawmill cove); Tribune. 6 April

1923, p 1 (Norholm Cove); Bahrt interview (trail to shop, halibut boats).

lxii. Tribune, 9 June 1922, p. 1 (Carrie); Merchant Vessels 1928

lxiii Bill Sarvela, interview by author, Sitka, Alaska 17 November 1988 (copper fast., helped).

lxiv Sitka Court System, Death Certificate (when he came, how he died).

lxv Kitka 3-92 (Lawsson built Persevearance).

lxvi Tribune, 23 February 1923 (Elsie repaired by Demidoff); Tribune. 24 August 1923 (20′ boat)

lxvii Chronology p. 57 (Demidoff troller)

lxviii B. Sarvela, 1992 note on draft (34′ troller) and Bahrt (Karvonen built boats).

68 R. Sarvela (repaired Lulu).

lxix B. Sarvela interview

lxx Sarvela interview, Bahrt interview (Gus Karvonen) (died – ?)

lxxi Hays interview, Kitka interview (worked with Scotty); Sentinel 29 June

1949, p. 1; Sentinel 1 July 1949, p.1 (obit).

lxxii. Kitka interview (came to fox farm); Tribune, 17 November 1922 (A. Jennings leases for fox farm); Sentinel, 29 June 1949, p. 1; Sentinel 1 July 1949, p. I (obit).

lxxiii Bob DeArmond, personal communication (model for dory).

lxxiv Arrowhead 8 September 1934, 3 November 1934 (carpentry); B. Sarvela interview; Kitka interview (did repair, no large boats).

lxxv. Sitka Arrowhead 5 May 1934 through 1935 (ad); Sentinel 29 June 1949, p 1; 1 July 1949, p. 1 (obit).

lxxvi Anna Baggen, phone interview by author, November or December 1988 (fox farm, activity of Sophia).

lxxvii Sitka Tribune, 20 April 1923, p. 1 (owned three boats).

lxxviii Arrowhead 11 May 1935 (launch), Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (in use).

lxxix. Baggen interview (Eros) Chronology p. 75 (Eros launched 1937).

Read Full Post »