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The Sitka Summer Music Festival is rehabilitating Stevenson Hall, one of the iconic buildings on the Sheldon Jackson School National Historic Landmark. It is wonderful that the Sitka Summer Music Festival has a home where it began back in the 1970s on the Sheldon Jackson College campus. The rehabilitation is a huge benefit to our community. The $4.2 million project includes heat and ventilation.

However, the plan includes removing all the building’s windows and putting in plastic-clad Andersen A-Series replacements. I’m a fan of the Festival and have background in historic preservation, and would like to share information about why this would be a bad idea.

Experts, from the National Park Service to the state preservation office to local preservationists, also object to the Festival’s plan to replace windows. Replacing windows means replacing all the trim, and the plan also calls for replacing all the shingle siding, for loss of at least 85% of the historic exterior. This would destroy the historical integrity of the building, which I’m sure is not what the Festival and its donors want.

The Festival wants to have a modern, efficient building, that will securely house priceless musical instruments. Contemporary historic preservation science makes it possible to have all this, and retain historical qualities and material, too, more cost-effectively than it is to replace everything with new. However, none of the Festival’s staff or board has experience with historic buildings, and their architect has left the project.

We all value authenticity and history, and we understand this intuitively – that if you have a historic building, you do what you can to keep it historic. What many people don’t know is the contemporary historic preservation technology that allows us to keep historic character while efficiently modernizing: with good planning, you don’t have to make a choice between history and a comfortable, modern building.

The critical piece of technology is Interior Storm Windows. Interior storm windows have all the benefits, at a fraction of the cost, and with none of the downsides of full window replacement.

This is a large, complex and costly project on a National Historic Landmark building, and it is concerning that none of the staff or board have background in historic preservation and that the plan has been flagged by those who do.

Here is the letter sent by the Alaska State Historic Preservation Officer to the Festival on May 30 2019, on how the Sitka Summer Music Festival plan is in violation of mandatory Plat Notes and a covenant, and of their responsibility to preserve this National Historic Landmark for future generations:

Links and documents about the economics and technology of preserving historic windows can be found on the Documents page on this site.

On June 3 2019 Stevenson Hall was listed on the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation’s “10 Most Endangered” historic properties for 2019.

Why Replacing Historic Windows on Stevenson Hall is a Really Bad Idea

People in Sitka care about authenticity and history. It is part of our identity as Sitkans, and part of our economy. When we have a National Historic Landmark building, we do what we can to preserve what is authentic and historic about it.

If a part is too damaged to save, and you have to replace it, you replace it with something identical.

We also want to get historic buildings into reuse, so we have to make modifications for energy efficiency, accessibility, comfort, and security. We work to make sure that modifications do not destroy historic features.

“New construction” windows like the Andersen A-Series require replacing all the trim, which is a substantial part of the architecture of Stevenson Hall. Everyone who sees the building with plastic-clad replacement windows next to the authentic, historic buildings of the Landmark will notice it looks wrong, even if they can’t put their finger on exactly what it is. That’s too bad, but it is also completely unnecessary.

Don’t you have to replace windows for energy efficiency and to support indoor humidity control for protecting delicate musical instruments? No. All the benefits of double-pane windows are gained by installing a modern interior storm window. And, you can get storm windows that open.

These give you all the benefits of replacing windows, and better acoustics, with none of the downsides, at a fraction of the cost.

Another important factor is that the plans include an efficient heat-pump heating system, state-of-the-art mechanical ventilation, and complete air sealing.

Efficient heating, ventilation, and air sealing means that any window won’t make much of a difference in comfort, air quality, or heating costs.

Isn’t keeping windows too expensive? No. Replacing windows is too expensive – especially when you take into account their relatively short lifespan. Not only are the replacement units costly and expensive to ship, installing them involves major construction and fabricating and installing all new trim. On Stevenson Hall the trim is large and complex.

For the same cost you can fully restore historic windows and add interior storm windows. (Details below.)

But don’t old windows require too much maintenance? No. The existing windows are over 100 years old. Dozens of windows on the neighboring Landmark buildings have been thoroughly restored, by stripping them down to the wood, repairing and refinishing so they are literally as good as when they were first built.

Thoroughly restored windows are as good as new. They take no more maintenance than wood siding.

Replacement windows may be “maintenance-free” but that comes at a cost: they are not made to last. The glass seals are warranted for 20 years, the rest of the window only 10. Manufacturers estimate 35 years at the most before they need replacement again. You are replacing a permanent, historic window with one with seals that will fail, and plastic that will break down.

Another big problem on this project is that when it comes time to replace one of them, all the exterior trim has to come off in order to get the window out. Replacement windows are not designed to have elaborate trim, as on Stevenson Hall.

Besides the usual stewardship responsibility of owning a building in a National Historic Landmark, the property also has Plat Notes and a covenant requiring work meet the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. The Festival agreed to this covenant when it purchased the property. The State Historic Preservation Office has determined that replacing windows does not meet the Standards, putting the Festival out of compliance with their legal obligations.

The main point is that replacement windows are inappropriate on a historic building, even if they had advantages. But, they don’t, and cause more problems than they solve. The Festival would be spending as much or more money, and would gain nothing in insulation or protection of the interior over interior storm windows. They would be replacing permanent, historic windows with plastic-clad windows designed to be replaced. They would replace something priceless, genuine and historic with something new and generic that could just as well be in a subdivision. They would be in violation of their responsibility to the public and future generations to preserve this National Historic Landmark, and creating problems for the future.

Preserving the windows is the right thing to do, it’s efficient and effective, it’s the easy choice, and it’s a solid legacy for the Festival.

Replacements Look Wrong

Replacement windows in a historic building can never look like the original, and they never look right. This will be an especially obvious contrast next to buildings that are intact. The entire new window assembly exterior, not just the sash, is molded plastic (“Fibrex,” which is 60% vinyl and 40% wood dust, and painted fiberglass (polystyrene) on the sash); the dividers are fake; and they install flush with the outside wall, so they look flat. They can’t match the craftsmanship or appearance of the originals.

Replacement Causes Additional Costs and Loss of Material

Installing these full-frame (“new construction”) replacements requires removing the old window and its frame and windowsill, adding framing for the opening and all new trim, so that once you replace windows, there is no going back.

Installing all new trim might not be an issue on an ordinary building. On this building, it is serious loss of most of the exterior.

Reusing old trim is problematic anyway, because it has already been cut to length – reusing it on windows that are configured differently would be difficult or impossible. So either you are trying to make old trim work, or, you replace it all, which is expensive and would eliminate most of the remaining historic material. In either case, you have a cascade of costs and loss that you would not have if you just kept the original windows.

Because of the way these windows are made, to install from the outside of the building, all the trim has to be removed in order to replace one when it goes bad, which I don’t think the Festival has thought through.

In addition, the Festival’s plans call for taking off all the siding and trim, and adding air channel, which would make the wall thicker, further complicating any reuse of trim. (The wall assembly does not need air channels and performs well. Air sealing and insulation in the plan is by 1 1/2 inch Expanded Styrofoam insulation, on the inside surface of the walls.) Plans also call for replacing all of the shingle siding, which is not necessary and means there will be almost nothing left of the original exterior.

This Building is Historically Significant

This is a National Historic Landmark for its association with Alaska Native education, and the Founders of the ANB. It includes the suppression of Indigenous language and culture, and the strength of men and women who used the tool of education to fight for civil rights. It’s important and difficult history that should not be forgotten. Standing in the place, experiencing authentic spaces missionaries and students did, connects us and helps our understanding of those times and those people, like nothing else can.

The other reason is the remarkable architecture, and the intact survival of the entire suite of unique buildings. It would really be too bad to lose the architecture now when it’s survived more than 100 years.

Replacing Windows is Opposed by All Historic Preservation Specialists

Unfortunately, none of the Festival board or staff has experience with historic preservation. Their architect did have training in preservation architecture (and he recommended keeping the windows), but he and the Festival parted ways in May and he is no longer on the job. Even when he was, however, he was not acting as a historic architect on this project: the plans don’t mention what the historic features of the building are or how the plan would meet the Standards, which are the basics of a historic architecture plan.

Incorrect terminology throughout the plan and presentation, including incorrectly naming the Landmark and the title of the Standards, further show this lack of familiarity with historic preservation methods and goals.

Other parts of the Festival’s plan don’t meet the Standards: the way the addition is designed and new features like a balcony and bay window. Additions are fine, but should be designed to not detract from the architecture. The two-story addition would require removal of a wall and part of a roof, in order to add on 20 feet and build a copy of that wall and roof, that would be designed to look continuous with the original building. The appropriate way to add on to a historic building is to do it so you can still tell what was there originally, which also saves costs when you don’t have to try to tie the old and new together seamlessly. The plan eliminates the classical symmetry and proportions of the north and west walls.

These changes add to the incremental, and permanent loss of character and materials of the Landmark. The Alaska State Historic Preservation Office accepted those changes because they will be mostly out of sight from the front of the building.

The State Historic Preservation Office did not approve replacing the windows. The National Park Service and the local Historic Preservation Commission also object to replacing windows.

Replacing Windows Puts the Festival Out of Compliance with Mandatory Historic Preservation Plat Notes

Sitka people value history and authenticity. That is why, when Stevenson Hall was subdivided from the college in 2010, the City facilitated the addition by the owner of mandatory preservation plat notes on the property requiring work be done to the Secretary of the Interior’s Standards for the Treatment of Historic Properties. These were added in an effort to protect the National Historic Landmark. The Festival also has a covenant on the property, from a federal grant for repairing the foundation, that requires the same thing.

The Standards are guidelines for working on historic buildings: First, you identify what it is that defines its historic character. Then you plan your work to conserve those elements as much as possible.

In January 2019 the State Historic Preservation Officer determined that replacing the windows does not meet the Secretary’s Standards. They determined that the Festival’s plans for the windows put it out of compliance with the covenant and with the plat notes on the property.

They sent a further, strongly-worded letter on May 30.

The City and Borough of Sitka does not enforce plat notes (of any kind), but that does not mean they are not legally binding. The Festival has stated that they will wait for the covenant to expire in October 2019 before removing the windows. That does not make them in compliance. More significantly, the Festival would be violating the intention of plat notes and covenant, which are to protect the integrity of this National Historic Landmark for the benefit of future generations.

Historic Preservation 101

The goal of historic Rehabilitation is to bring buildings into productive use – energy efficient, comfortable, accessible, safe – while saving what it is that makes it historic in the first place.

It’s not complicated, but it is different from working on non-historic buildings. It starts with analysis of what is most important to preserve, and looking carefully for alternatives that will solve problems while at the same time keep historic materials and character.

Each case will have different considerations, in weighing function, costs, and practicability against permanent loss of authenticity, character and materials. For example, a modification that meets the Standards is accessibility ramping. This is very important to a building’s function, and has little impact on its appearance or character. Another example of an acceptable solution is using architectural asphalt shingles instead of wood. “Architectural” grade asphalt shingles have the same texture as wood shingles, which means little is lost in character. (Also, on these buildings, in 1910 the architects specified either wood or asphalt shingles.) And, roofing is made to be replaced, and asphalt shingles now do not prevent a wood roof in the future.

Are the windows important to the historic character of Stevenson Hall? Yes. A Getty Foundation-funded Historic Preservation Plan from 2004 listed the original windows, which comprise nearly half the surface of the building, as a defining feature. This is often the case with historic buildings. The windows are important, and replacing them would mean losing this important architectural feature.

Replacing windows also requires replacing all window trim. Siding and trim are also listed in the Preservation Plan as defining features.

The main point is that if you have a National Historic Landmark building, you will do what you can to preserve its historical character and materials, even if it requires compromising other aspects of the building’s function or cost. But in this case, you don’t have to:

Adding Interior Storm Windows Has the Same Benefits as Replacing Entire Window

The Festival believes that replacement windows better protect the building’s interior acoustics, heat, and air, which they need because they house priceless musical instruments.

Fortunately, you get the same benefit – and better acoustic performance – by adding interior storm windows, at a fraction of the cost. This is well documented in many studies, by states, universities and other entities. Some references and studies can be found on the Documents page on this site or at windowpreservationalliance.org.

Most manufacturers offer operable storm windows, with a part that opens. There are some of these in the Laundry Building on the Sheldon Jackson School NHL.

First, even double pane windows are not good insulation. You get essentially the same energy-efficiency benefits by adding a storm window. Replacement is not recommended even in ordinary buildings: by the time you recoup your costs in energy savings, the windows have had to be replaced again.

The plans call for air sealing and an efficient heating system, and mechanical heat-recovery ventilation throughout. Every room has mechanical (as opposed to passive) ventilation. The main room has two systems – one kicks in when there are large numbers of people gathered and the humidity gets too high. A window won’t make much of a difference in indoor air quality.

Historic Window Restoration Makes Them Literally Good as New

These windows are reparable, and the technology to restore windows is close at hand: the Fine Arts Camp has been restoring windows on the neighboring buildings, using a steam box to strip the windows then making repairs and refinishing, so the windows are good for another 110 years. All of the windows have been easily reparable, which is remarkable when you consider their great age (109 years) and lack of maintenance, especially in the last decades of the college. The most that has been required is the replacement of the bottom rail. That is because these windows were made to last, out of high quality, old-growth wood. Restoration includes the varnish inside on the beautiful Douglas fir.

There are also many commercial services in the Seattle area who do this.

When properly repaired, they take no more maintenance than wood siding. Yes you have to paint them, but you should be painting your siding on that schedule.

Paying the Price for “Maintenance Free”

Replacement windows, by contrast, are not made to last. They last no more than 35 years, with many failing long before that, on an exponential curve, and the entire unit has to go to the landfill. (The Andersen windows are guaranteed for 20 years on the glass, which is about when many seals fail, and only 10 years on the rest of the window. It is for replacement only, not labor.)

The selling points of these windows are also their weakness: “no maintenance” vinyl and fiberglass deteriorates. The seals in double-pane glass fail. These buildings and their windows were made to last, which is not the case for replacement windows.

Restoration costs money for labor. The Festival estimates the cost to restore windows and add interior storm windows at $5000 apiece, which is also roughly what replacing windows would cost. But, they are good indefinitely.

The replacement windows cost in the neighborhood of $2000 just for the replacement unit with shipping. Labor is going to be about that amount again, plus the cost of buying and installing new trim, which is a major part of the building’s surface, so that the cost is the same – possibly more – than the cost to restore. In addition, making one change to an old building often means other changes have to be made, that you didn’t anticipate. You aren’t saving money.

Restoration is a long term investment, saving beauty and character and saving the cost of having to replace the replacements. An added benefit of repairing existing windows is it keeps donated money in the community by employing local tradesmen instead of paying for factory windows.

Keeping Windows is the Right Choice

What is great is that making preservation a priority and restoring windows on Stevenson Hall does not call for hard choices. It is cost effective, longer lasting, better looking and has all the benefits of full replacement, at less cost to the environment. It would bring the Festival into compliance with the law.

I’m sure musicians and other visitors would much rather experience an authentic space, with the actual varnished windows and wood that was there when students used the building, and not the all-new surfaces that could be anywhere in the world.

I know that the Festival has the best intentions, and that they are making decisions based on their past experience and understanding of what is best. That understanding might be adequate if it was an ordinary building. However, on this historic structure, they must learn about and integrate historic preservation expertise, technology and best practices. They must do their due diligence, and consult with experts in the field, and listen to what they have to say. They must do their own research, do the math, and learn about how and why we preserve historic buildings.

Replacing windows would make this building an imitation of what it is, would cause unnecessary and irreversible loss of everything that makes it historic in the first place, and it will detract from the rest of the Landmark.

I’m sure the Festival contributors, whether private donors or foundations, don’t want to be associated with the loss of a historic building, especially when the expertise is available to do it right, at the same or less cost. Restoration is the responsible, long-term option, for the public and for the Festival. The Festival will leave a legacy it can be proud of.

A Few Other Preservation Notes:

Another place the plan can be improved is the proposal to take all the siding off and put it back on. Prying off siding and trim will cause damage that could be avoided by restoring siding and trim in place. In addition, the plans call for adding air channel, which would make the wall thicker, which would make it really tricky to reuse old trim.

The wall functions well without air channel; there is no need to take the siding off. The Festival can weigh the benefits against the costs of removal, taking into consideration that the plans include an efficient heating system, and air sealing and insulation on the interior of the wall, with 1 1/2 inch “Styrofoam” board lining all the walls.

The interior of Stevenson Hall has been extensively remodeled, with little to be seen that’s original. In the plans for redoing the interior, white-painted beadboard wainscoting and trim is specified. Why not take the original interior trim as an inspiration? Originally these buildings had plain walls and wide varnished baseboard and window trim. This could be less expensive than all that beadboard, and varnished wood would probably be more attractive.

When these buildings were made, bead board was for utilitarian areas like kitchens. The original wainscoting in the student dining room seems to have been linoleum.

The entry of North Pacific Hall. E. W. Merrill photo, collection Sitka National Historical Park, SITK_2572.
Sheldon Jackson School student dining room, which was in the west end of North Pacific Hall. E. W. Merrill photo, collection Sitka National Historical Park, SITK_25598.

 

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Presented by Rebecca Poulson at the 2016 Annual Meeting of the Alaska Historical Society

Introduction: This is a fascinating group of people, whose choices and circumstances are at the heart of Alaskan history. My research only scratches the surface.

I’d like to thank everyone who has shared their stories and who has worked to document this history. See the bottom for written sources, but I’d also like to specially thank Mrs. Carol Feller Brady, the late Ellen Hope Hays, and Mr. Gil Truitt for sharing their memories, knowledge, and insights into this community and Harold Jacobs for sharing his knowledge of Tlingit genealogy and tradition. Without their generosity this history would be a closed book.

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The school plat; the Cottages are at the bottom. Sheldon Jackson Collection, Alaska State Library Historical Collections

The Cottages was a model community for Christian Natives, former students of Sitka’s Presbyterian mission school. It was located on mission property at the edge of the Sitka National Historical Park, on Kelly and Metlakatla Streets. The first three homes were built in 1888. By 1889 there were 6, in 1900 9, 1910 15, 1920 18, 1930 17.

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Photo Shop Studio photo of Sitka in 1928, showing the Cottages at far right, and the Indian Village on the left, separated by the town of Sitka

It was a tiny community of no more than 18 homes, and fewer than 70 residents; more of a neighborhood than a community. There were strong ties to the Village, where nearly all the rest of Sitka’s Native residents lived until well into the 20th century.

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Sitka from the Western Harbor, from the 1869 Coast Pilot of Alaska, First Part.

Why was the Cottages founded? This requires looking back at the circumstances of the founding of the mission itself, in 1878.

In the mid 1780s to the 1810s, the maritime fur trade in sea otter pelts brought great wealth to the region without taking away indigenous control. By the mid-19th century, however, settlers, traders and miners, backed by military force, were aggressively displacing Native people in British Columbia and Washington Territory.

In Southeastern Alaska, the Russians did not have the ability to be aggressive toward the Tlingit. Instead they relied on diplomacy and engaged in mutually beneficial trade. Tlingit clans were major players in regional commerce.

After the 1867 Treaty of Cession, southeastern Alaska became the American frontier. Americans had the military might the Russians did not have. American traders displaced Natives from trade. I believe that it was this rapid destruction of the indigenous economy, under threat of force, that made missions attractive in the late 1870s, when they were not earlier.

Americans brought the belief that Natives are inherently inferior and must be subjugated for the good of society. Results of the treatment of Native people based on this narrative are then taken as evidence of their natural inferiority. This discriminatory cycle was probably behind why Native people wanted missions and schools, and ultimately, why, in spite of the sacrifices this group made, the settlers at the Cottages suffered much the same fate as other Native people.

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The Sitka school began in earnest in 1880, and very soon had boarding students – a small group of young men and boys who asked to be allowed to live at the school. The mission laid claim to the present campus in 1882, and students and staff soon built a large dormitory and school building.

The school was this successful right from the start, in large part because of the desire of certain Tlingit leaders to send their children. Missionary Sheldon Jackson, who founded Alaska’s Presbyterian missions, was a prodigious fund raiser. He fictionalized how depraved Natives were before Christianity, but that would not have been effective without the clear evidence of success in the mission students, in the growing facilities, and especially in the Cottages.

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Cottages families in front of Cottages Hall, around 1904. Collection Sitka National Historical Park.

cottages-ids

This is my effort at matching the names to the persons in the photo – no guarantees!

Starting left to right, front row – Eaton Hunter, Ralph Young, Don Cameron, John Cameron, Frank Price, Ben Peck, Tillie Howard, George Howard, unknown, Esther Cook, mary Cook, Tillie Wells, Bella Simpson, George Bartlett, Ruth Bartlett, David Howard (Middle?) Louis Simpson (boy?), Mrs. George Bartlett, Mrs. Albert James, Jean Wanamaker, Louisa Peck, Mrs. Maud Wells, Mary Simpson, John Newell, Lila Newell, John James

Mrs. Ralph Young (in white blouse?), Mrs. Elsie Newell, Mrs. John James, Mrs. John Willard (holding grand child), Mrs. Don Cameron, Mrs. Thomas Cooke, Mrs. George Howard, Mrs. Ray James (holding Ray Jr.), Albert James,

(Next row?) Edward Grant, Thomas Cooke, John E. Gamble,

Very top row? George Howard, Peter Simpson, John Willard, Willie Wells, Ray James Sr., Andrew J. Wanamaker, Cyrus E. Peck Sr. Identifications from publication The Voice of Brotherhood.

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The Cottages Band, 1904. Alaska State Library Historical Collections, Sheldon Jackson College Collection.

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Cottage Women’s Missionary Society. Photo Sitka Historical Society 91.26, folder 660.

Cottage Women’s Missionary Society Back Row – left to right: Mrs. John James Mrs. Cook Miss Gibson Mrs. Wanamaker Mrs. Young

Next row: Mrs. Newell Mrs. Dundas Mrs. Ray James Gibson Young (boy)

Next row: Mrs. Albert James & Baby Dorothy Mrs. Geo. Howard Mrs. Willard Mrs. MacKay Mrs. C. Bailey

Bottom row: Jenny Sing Mrs. Simpson Mrs. Sam Johnson & baby Ruth Bartlett Mrs. Bartlett & baby (two of the children are not identified)

Identifications from a Sheldon Jackson College pamphlet, collection Sitka National Historical Park

Contrasts and Conflicts

The Cottages presents a problem for us today. Cottage leaders stated that the old ways will bring Native people down. They were proud to be living in American-style homes and wearing American clothes, proud to be speaking English. We see the deliberate abandonment of language, in particular, as a great loss. I think the important thing is not to project our 21st century ideas onto them.

Even as Cottages leaders stated that they needed to put the old ways behind them, the reality was that life at the Cottages was permeated with Native identity. If we just go by the photographs, and the way it was framed at the time, we would think that these people’s identity began fresh with their adoption of an English name.

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Cottages families, in front of Cottages Hall, late 1906/early 1907. Sitka National Historical Park SITK 808.

But, a Cottage person’s identity would have been based on his or her Native name, family, lineage, relationships and in clan and house history going back thousands of years; identity changed with conversion, but was not replaced.

And, place. These people were still in the place their ancestors had enriched with complex significance. Only a few hundred yards away was the site of the 1804 Battle of Sitka, the major conflict between the Russians and the Kiksadi clan, that resulted in the cession of what is now Sitka to the Russians. Newcomers would not feel the resonance of that event, of what led up to it and the consequences, instead seeing a pretty view or a resource to be exploited.

So while these people look like they have completely assimilated, they knew who they were.

Who were these founders of the Cottages?

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Cottages families in 1912. Merrill Collection, Sitka National Historical Park.

Some of the Cottages residents in 1912: Bottom row: Dorothy James Truitt, Jennie Simpson Sing, Ray James, Jr.
Middle row: Tillie Howard Hope (the mother of Ellen Hope Hays), Mr. and Mrs. Sloan, Carol Feller Brady’s mother Elizabeth Kadashaan James, Carol’s father Ray James with Carol’s sister Flora, and David Howard (Tillie’s brother).
Back row: Ray James’s sister Olinda Bailey, Peter Simpson, Jr., Mary Simpson, Peter Simpson with Baby, Jennie Willard, John Willard, and Ray James’s brother, Albert James.

 

The community included important tradition bearers. Marriages were proper marriages between opposite clans. Perhaps partly due to culture and partly due to economic need, many traditional food gathering traditions were also followed.

Many of the families were closely related. Matriarchs of three families were sisters, whose parents, Kok Gla or John and Lucy or Mary Sloan, while not English speakers or graduates of the school, also lived at the Cottages.

These women are Kiks.adi, Point House. The eldest was Amelia, who later married Don Cameron, who came from Chilkat. Mary Sloan married Tsimshian Peter Simpson, and Lottie was the first wife of George Howard, Tlingit from Kake.

A fourth sister married a businessman born in England, Bernard Hirst. They lived in downtown Sitka, and their sons attended the “white” school.

In 2004, Ellen Hope Hays, who grew up at the Cottages, a Kiksadi Point House woman, whose grandmother was one of the Sloan sisters, showed me this photograph, saying, this is a photograph of descendents of those who fought the 1804 Battle of Sitka. The photograph was taken in 1912, one hundred years after the Battle, and one hundred years before she showed it to me – and her own mother is in the picture, as a girl. The leader of the Tlingit defense in 1804 was a Kiksadi Point House man, Shk’aawulyéil. Her grandmother’s great- grandmother was his sister.1 Another granddaughter recently told me that this photograph was taken at the fort site.

There is therefore a wide gap between how the Cottage members saw themselves, in the context of history, place, and lineage, and how the community looks to most people now.

A granddaughter says that Amelia Cameron and her parents did not go to the school or speak English, but lived there because of clan ownership. Her husband, Don Cameron, was Kaagwaantaan. He was a translator for ethnologist John Swanton, and himself provided traditional narratives.

 

The Cottages community included William Wells or Kaads’aati, of the Luknax.adi, and Rudolph Walton Kawootk’, a Kiksadi man. Both were among the “original students” at the school. Both were in line to become leaders, and they and their families made the decision in 1880 to send them to the school. Both became devout Presbyterians.

Elizabeth James was sent to Sitka from Wrangell, by her father, Kaasx’agweidi clan leader Kadashaan (a), an early convert to Protestant Christianity, and he and his mother were also tradition bearers, contributing material to Swanton. Elizabeth married a son of Amelia Cameron, one of the Sloan sisters.

Perhaps the best known of the Cottage community is Peter Simpson, a leader in civil rights and land claims. He was a member of the Christian community at Metlakatla, British Columbia led by missionary William Duncan, and part of the exodus in 1887 to New Metlakatla in the United States.

Models

The missionary activity by William Duncan was well known to Presbyterian missionaries, and to Tlingit people, who have strong trade and even family ties to the coastal Tsimshian. Founded in 1862, the Christian Native community of Metlakatla had their own frame houses, large church, and a sawmill, and other industries.

It seems likely that the Cottages was modeled at least in part on Metlakatla. We can’t know how much of the idea for the community came from the missionaries, and how much may have been the idea of certain Tlingit people.

In 1887, William Duncan led 800 Christian Tsimshean people from Metlakatla, in British Columbia, to New Metlakatla, in southeastern Alaska. The following spring, in 1888, Presbyterian missionary Sheldon Jackson brought Peter Simpson and 31 other boys from Metlakatla to his Sitka training school.1 (7)

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Hamilton and Simpson Sawmill, Port Gravina, Alaska. Taken by B. A. Haldane of Metlakatla, Alaska, 1895. National Archives and Records Administration (NARA) 297380.

Then, in the fall of 1892, when he was about 21, Peter Simpson and some other Metlakatlan graduates of the Sitka school returned south and started Hamilton, Simpson and Company, a sawmill, at Port Gravina – a town they founded – 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. Gravina burned down in 1904 and was not rebuilt.

Of course most enterprises in southeastern Alaska failed sooner than later, but Native people had more obstacles to success. Simpson’s granddaughter Isabella Brady told how as Natives, they could not get title to the land to rebuild, and says that this is the source of his lifelong fight for land claims.2

Could it be that the Cottages settlers hoped to have a place to do business? Commerce at the Cottages was limited to a boatbuilding operation and sales of handicrafts to tourists, but, by the teens, people associated with the school and the Cottages dominated Sitka’s boatbuilding and commercial salmon seining, which was a big deal at that time.

The boatbuilding operation began in 1906 under Peter Simpson. Men who worked with Simpson, nearly all related by marriage, went on to build most of the hundreds of boats built in Sitka in the 20th century.

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Peter Simpson’s shop at the foot of Metlakatla Street. Photo Sitka Historical Society.

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The boat at center is named “William,” perhaps the boat built for Rudolph Walton. Merrill photo Sitka National Historical Park.

 

Simpson’s shop was on the point of land below Metlakatla Street. In the fall of 1908 he had five men working there, and enlarged his shop. In 1909 they launched a 34-foot boat for Rudolph Walton, the William, and had built “many” others.3 (15) In 1910, when he was nearly 40, Simpson employed his brother-in-law George Howard, who was about his age, and John James at his shop.4 (16)

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Sealing boats gathered for blessing by the Orthodox priest. The store may be Rudolph Walton’s store. Herring Rock is at right. Merrill Photo, collection Sitka National Historical Park.

George Howard left the Cottages, and built a home and boatshop on the northern edge of the Village in the teens. He built sealing boats and fishing boats. Peter Simpson was often “high boat” in the fur seal hunt in the 1920s.

Hope working

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, who was a graduate of the Sitka school, married the daughter of Lottie Sloan and George Howard. His eldest son grew up as the adopted son of the Cameron family at the Cottages.

25

Early day salmon seiners, from The Silver Years of the Alaska Canned Salmon Industry: An Album of Historical Photos by Laurence Freeburn.

Dozens of boats were built by this handful of men and their associates. I’ve counted over 50 documented vessels (over about 32 feet) built in Sitka in the 22 years between 1909 and 1931, and at least 31 were built by Alaska Native builders. There were many smaller boats as well. The largest output was in the teens, when engine-powered seiners came to Alaska.

Most of these early seiners were financed by the canneries, for top producers, and nearly all of these men were also affiliated with the Cottages.

These men did not learn to build boats at the school. I believe they learned by working with Scandinavian and other immigrants of the time, and Tlingit craftsmen applied their woodworking and boat design knowledge to the new technology. Other Native builders built boats in villages and towns all over southeast. There were a few non-Native boatbuilders as well.

Rudolph Walton or Kawootk’ was one of the original students at the school. His name was given him by his sponsors at the school, a Philadelphia family who named him after a prominent Presbyterian of that city. Walton was proud of the association.

Walton was a carver and jeweler, and sold his work at the Cottages, but then built a store and home in the Village in 1905.

In 1906 he was at the center of a school integration case, when his step-children were barred from attending the “white” school. The testimony in this case, expecially the way Natives are treated, reveals the gross racial bias that was not usually on display. He was involved in clan affairs, for which he was condemned by the missionaries; while his attempt to get his kids a good education resulted in condemnation by other whites.

This epitomizes the bind that Cottage people were in: they made the sacrifice of their traditions and language, and apparently of clan leadership, in order to secure a future for their children, but in spite of their proper clothes, education and manners, they were still treated with gross bias – possibly, as for Walton in the Davis Case, even more so, because they dared to challenge the status quo.

Most of the founders of the Alaska Native Brotherhood had been educated at the Presbyterian mission school and were affiliated with the Cottages.

We are fortunate to have people with us today who grew up in the Cottages, and who tell their story, or even write about what it was for children in the 1930s, the last days as a community.

They describe the joys of growing up with the Sitka National Historic Park for a backyard; of playing with cousins, and feasting on traditional foods, when families went fall fishing, or to canneries in the summer. And the grandparents, aunts and uncles and great-aunts and uncles, as well as parents who practiced and taught traditional food gathering. How musical many of the residents were, and the excellence of the Sheldon Jackson School choir and basketball programs, and how warm and welcoming the school staff was to these young kids. And the spontaneous picnics, and church-centered celebrations of Thanksgiving and Christmas, and being a part of the Sheldon Jackson School community.

But the striking thing in these narratives is that most are stories of survival. What unfortunately shaped this community, was premature death and the unfortunate consequence of repeated, severe trauma: alcohol abuse. This, I believe, was a direct result of forces that were against Native people from the very start.

By the 1880s, most Americans saw enormously improved living standards and life expectancy. But this improvement was not enjoyed by Alaska Natives. Even in the 1930s, homes in the Cottages did not have running water. Economic and social marginalization stemming from racial discrimination probably had something to do with it, but whatever the cause, Alaska Natives saw a horrific rate of premature death. At least two men’s deaths were related to overwork.

Ellen Hope Hays, who was a child of the Cottages, said that it was disease that had the biggest impact on Native people, more than racism or alcohol.

I went to the Division of Vital Statistics in Juneau and copied out the deaths in Sitka in the 1930s. When I ordered the list by age at death, I was shocked. At least eighty percent of the family names of those who died at age 30 or younger are those of Native families.

Peter Simpson outlived all 15 of his children – only two lived to adulthood, and both lost children of their own, and died leaving others. Carole Feller Brady’s entire family died – parents, three sisters, and two brothers – by the time she was still only a teen. Many of the families were closely related, and the small size of the community, made these intense losses devastating.

In 1937, four young men from the Cottages – two graduates, a current student, and the young husband of a graduate – drowned. In 1936 and 37, 5 other Cottages residents also died prematurely. This is from a community of only 17 homes.

Nine of the seventeen people in this photograph died prematurely.

By the 1930s, Sheldon Jackson School staff were concerned about the situation, in which alcohol abuse was a problem in many homes. Cottages founders tried to revive the Cottages Society, but the devastation wrought by so much trauma was out of anyone’s control.

Carol Feller Brady, whose two idolized older brothers were among the drowning victims, and whose father died of tb the year before, tells how school superintendent Les Yaw told her sister not to be too hard on their mother, who was drinking: “her heart is buried six feet underground.”

Everyone we’ve interviewed had stories of tremendous loss, of siblings, parents.

But all those people also have beautiful stories of family, food, and traditions. Their stories help us to understand how they survived circumstances that overwhelmed others, whether by force of will, by not looking back, or by cultivating forgiveness. “Life was hard,” is as close to a complaint as we’ve heard.

We can also learn from the story of the Cottages how racism shaped the experiences of Native people, and how those same stereotypes and assumptions persist today, ironically stemming from the consequences of generations of deliberate categorization of Natives as inferior.

Selected sources:

Joyce Walton Shales, “Rudolph Walton: One Tlingit Man’s Journey Through Stormy Seas, Sitka, Alaska, 1867-1951” (Ph. D. diss., The University of British Columbia, 1998)

Sergei Kan, Memory Eternal: Tlingit Culture and Russian Orthodox Christianity through Two Centuries (Seattle and London: University of Washington Press, 1999)

Twelfth Census of the United States, Census of Alaska, Southern District, Sitka, Alaska 1900, accessed at family search.org.

Thirteenth Census of the United States, Population – Alaska, 1st District, Sitka, Alaska 1910, accessed at findmypast.com.

Ted C. Hinckley, Alaskan John G. Brady, Missionary, Businessman, Judge, and Governor, 1878-1918 (Miami, Ohio: Miami University, 1982)

Don Craig Mitchell, Sold American, The Story of Alaska Natives and Their Land, 1867-1959 (Fairbanks: University of Alaska Press, 2003), 65-110

A. E. Austin, “History of the Mission” The North Star 5 no. 12 December 1892 1-4

Zachary R. Jones, “’Search For and Destroy’: The US Army’s Relations with Alaska’s Tlingit Indians and the Kake War of 1869,” Ethnohistory 60, no. 1 (Winter 2013), 1-26

Susan Neylan, “Longhouses, Schoolroom, and Workers’ Cottages: Nineteenth Century Protestant Missions to the Tsimshian and the Transformation of Class Through Religion” Journal of the CHA 2000 New Series 11, 51-86

Peter Murray, The Devil and Mr. Duncan (Victoria, British Columbia: Sono Nis Press, 1985)

1.This and most of the other Tlingit geneology from Harold Jacobs, personal communication.
(a) Kadashaan was Kaasx’agweidi – personal communication, Harold Jacobs
2.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).
2 Isabella Brady (grand daughter of Peter Simpson), personal communication
3 North Star, March 1909, p. 2 (boat for Walton, many boats past few years), Chronology p. 38 (Walton’s boat the William)
4 1910 Census (Simpson, Howard, James building).

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Here is part three of three parts of my boatbuilding in Sitka. Most of the research was done in 1989 and 1993, when I interviewed boatbuilders and their sons and daughters. Please contact me if you would like to use any part, if you have corrections, questions, or additional information.

Boatbuilder Peter Simpson, far right, and the Sheldon Jackson School superintendent Les Yaw to his right, with the crew building the seiner SJS. From left: Joe Ozawa, John James, David Howard, Peter Sing, Yaw and Simpson. Photo from the Sheldon Jackson collection at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Boatbuilder Peter Simpson, far right, and the Sheldon Jackson School superintendent Les Yaw to his right, with the crew building the seiner SJS 1936-37. From left: Joe Ozawa, John James, David Howard, Peter Sing, Yaw and Simpson. Photo from the Sheldon Jackson collection at the Alaska State Library Historical Collections.

Peter Simpson and Sheldon Jackson School: The 1930s and 1940s

Peter Simpson built two seiners in the 1930s, when he was past 60. In 1934, he built the TWO BROTHERS, named for his grandsons, Henry and Sam Sing. The TWO BROTHERS still fishes out of Sitka. Herman Kitka rebuilt the TWO BROTHERS from the waterline up and opened up the bow somewhat. The boat now also has a larger wheelhouse than when she was first built, when the galley was below decks.i

Peter Simpson’s son, boatbuilder Louis Simpson, died in March of 1936 of pneumonia, at age 40.ii

In 1937 Simpson built the SJS for the Sheldon Jackson School. Les Yaw was superintendent of the school at the time. In his book Sixty Years in Sitka he writes that Simpson first came to him with a sketch of the boat on brown paper. Simpson may not ever have used plans, instead building with half models and sketches.iii

Simpson used yellow cedar for the ribs of the SJS. Simpson and Sheldon Jackson School students got the yellow cedar themselves, and milled it at the school sawmill. Yaw says Simpson preferred oak, but used yellow cedar because they had no money for oak, which has to be purchased from outside Alaska. The planking above the waterline, the deck beams and much of the superstructure were also yellow cedar. He used Sitka spruce for the planking below the waterline, because he said it was tougher.iv

Simpson had to lower the shop floor two feet to build the SJS,v so his earlier boats must have been smaller, or launched before the superstructure was put on, or, built in some other place. A photo of the building of the SJS shows Joe Ozowa, David Howard, John James, and Simpson’s son-in-law Peter Sing working on the boat.vi

The Sheldon Jackson School sawmill had only just been put together from an old mill that school staff and students salvaged from an abandoned mine on Indian River. The school annual says that this sawmill was the only one in town. Simpson helped get it running and ran it for the school. He also encouraged Les Yaw to salvage a donkey from the site of John Brady’s sawmill at the present Thomsen Harbor. The donkey was a portable engine and winch for pulling logs out of the woods or up to a sawmill. Simpson may have used this same engine when working for Brady just after the turn of the century. The salvaged sawmill burned down in 1940 but was rebuilt with different machinery in 1941 and operated into the 1960s, run at various times by Simpson or by Andrew Hope.vii (37) It probably provided wood for many of the Sitka boats built after that time. The donkey winch is still sitting next to the Sheldon Jackson College library.

The SJS

The SJS was renamed the MISS LINDA, and may still be fishing. The SJS had a few features that put her at the cutting edge of modern boat construction: she is supposed to have been the first boat built locally with the galley (cooking area) on deck, that is, in the wheelhouse, rather than below decks. The older seiners only had a small wheelhouse, with a place to steer the boat, and maybe a bunk, on deck. A large wheelhouse was a later addition to many of the old boats. In addition, the SJS is also supposed to be the first boat built locally with a high-speed diesel, instead of gasoline, engine. This was an innovation of the school engineer, Charles Stuart.viii (38)

Charles Stuart had been an engineer in the British merchant marine, and was the engineer at Sheldon Jackson for over two decades, from 1924 to 1945. He had been involved in the sawmill rehabilitation, and with his students was also involved with the metal and machine work on the PRINCETON HALL.ix (39)

Peter Simpson taught boat building and sawmill engineering at Sheldon Jackson from 1938 until 1945. He and his students built four skiffs and six round-bottomed boats in 1938 39, and built six skiffs and round bottom boats for the local military in 1942. For those boats he used red cedar and yellow cedar.x (40) His granddaughter, Isabella Brady, says he also built a new round-bottomed boat each spring for her grandmother (who died in 1936), which they would use a year, then sell.xi (41)

Older Sitkans remember his boats as well crafted, and a pleasure to row. His round bottom boats were Aon the Davis model.”xii (42) The Davis family of Metlakatla made rowboats in the 1920s and 30s which they would sell all around southeastern Alaska, for handtrolling and general purposes. Their early boats were double-enders, built for rowing, but the majority of their production had squared off sterns, for mounting an outboard motor.xiii

Simpson was a craftsman, who would not let his students use a dull tool. His grand nephew, George Howard Sr. says Simpson would tell him “Do it once and do it right.”xiv (42a) Everyone I have talked to remembers him as a pleasant man.

Peter Simpson was a founder, and more than once Grand Camp President, of the ANB. He is remembered as a calming influence, a persuasive, quiet man who was more important behind the scenes than in the spotlight. Land issues were very important to him. One reason the Gravina sawmill, of which he was a founder and shareholder, was not rebuilt after it burned was that the owners could not get title to the land because they were not considered citizens of the United States.

Peter Simpson was also an active member of the Presbyterian Church, and, in his earlier years, was active in various Cottages groups, including the Cottages band, in which he played trombone. Peter Simpson died in 1947.xv (44)

Andrew Hope Shop in the 1940s

At the beginning of World War II the Navy requisitioned the PRINCETON HALL then the school’s workboat, the seiner SJS, which had been built by Peter Simpson and Rudy James and crew in 1938. Sheldon Jackson School was left without a boat, so in the winter of 1942 43 Andrew Hope built the SJS II. He carved a half model for his boat. He used yellow cedar planking above, and spruce below the waterline. This was the same planking arrangement used by Simpson on the SJS, and later by Richard Peters, who worked with Hope, on the LAVERNE II in 1946. Hope used Douglas fir for the deck.xvi (17)

Boatbuilding Woods

Most of the trees in the thick forests around Sitka are western hemlock (Tsuga heterophylla) and Sitka spruce (Picea sitchensis). Hemlock wood is relatively hard and brittle, and doesn’t stand up to rot, so it is rarely if ever used in boat building. Sitka spruce, while also not particularly rot resistant, is light and tough. The largest cut was in World War I, when it was used for light aircraft frames.

Sitka spruce is still renowned by boatbuilders world-wide for spars (masts and booms). Locally, it has been used for planking, especially on small boats, like the sealers, but also on the larger fishing boats, because it is light, tough, and available in the woods around Sitka. Herman Kitka,a fisherman and shipwright who has worked with Andrew Hope, says it outlasts yellow cedar under the waterline.xvii (18) Peter Simpson used it under the water line, with yellow cedar above, on the SJS. Andrew Hope did the same thing on the SJS II and on the LAVERNE II.xviii (19a)

In addition, Sitka spruce can grow to several feet in diameter, and the large logs yield wide clear lumber, which is what is needed for planking stock.

Yellow cedar (Chameacyparus nootkatensis) is much less common in the forests. It often grows very slowly. The wood is yellow, and strongly fragrant when freshly cut; it is pleasant to work, and very resistant to rot. It also has a reputation for checking (splitting) and for not taking paint, but different builders and boat owners have different opinions on this. Yellow cedar is closely related to Port Orford cedar, which is a highly regarded boatbuilding wood. Yellow cedar has been used to build complete boats, including the planking, frames, and deckbeams,xix (20) but it has been used mainly for deckbeams, ribs, and planking above the waterline.

Local woods, Sitka spruce and yellow cedar, are economical to use if the boat owner or builder cuts them himself, but there has not always been a sawmill in Sitka. Douglas fir (Pseudotsuga menziesii) is the usual wood for boat repair and building. It does not grow as far north as Alaska, but since the 19th century has been commonly available here because of the large timber industry in Washington and Oregon. Douglas fir is rot resistant and strong.xx (21)

White oak is actually several species of oak (genus Quercus) which share rot-resisting qualities. This also has to be imported to Alaska, but is desirable for the bent ribs of the boats. It bends extremely well, and is much harder and more durable than any local wood for ribs, which have to hold all the fastenings of the planking. Yellow cedar has sometimes been used for ribs, maybe again because of cost, but some builders may have preferred it.

Hope shop in the 1940s, cont.

The Hope shop was very productive. In addition to the boats listed earlier built in the 1920s and 1930s, Andrew Hope was recorded as the builder of the NEVA and the TAMARA SAN, both documented in 1942. Mark Jacobs Jr. says Hope built a troller LAVERNE, possibly the one built in Sitka in 1942. He is also on record as the builder of the HOPE, MARTHA K (now the NORTH CAPE) and SJS II in 1944; the ALLANAH in 1945; the EMPRESS (renamed the MARTHA K) in 1946; PATRICIA MAE in 1947; the GOTA in 1950; and his last boat, the gillnetter VALI for his daughter and son in law in 1961.xxi(22)

Andrew Hope was prominent in the ANB, and was Grand Camp President, and for decades was head of the Tlinget and Haida Tribes, which was formed to fight for land claims. After 1944 he was elected to seven terms in the territorial then the state legislature, and was on the Sitka Common Council for nine terms from the 1920s through the 1950s.xxii (23)

Hope has a reputation for strong, well built hulls. He preferred building to repair, but his main occupation was as a fisherman: he seined the Sheldon Jackson School boat SJS II,xxiii (23) and when the school got out of fishing seined his own boat, the NEVA. He would also pick up students for Sheldon Jackson School on the last trip of the season.

Mo Johnson worked on building the PRINCETON HALL as a Sheldon Jackson student, and also fished with Hope. He says he was great to work for, and had a good eye. He says the joints in a timbered stern fit with no gaps, and Hope would sight down the length of each plank to check for fairness.xxiv (23a)

Most of Andrew Hope’s boats were built by eye, from half models. The models were made to a scale of one half inch to the foot. The red cedar model of half a boat sliced down the centerline was cut transversely, and the sections enlarged and set up square and plumb. Herman Kitka, another boatbuilder, built with Hope and says that there was seldom any need to fair in the molds once set up.xxv (23b)

Andrew Hope, with Herman Kitka, built the NEVA for Todd cannery. They got some spruce logs, and some yellow cedar from Crawfish Inlet, which they cut at the Sheldon Jackson sawmill. The boat was built to Hope’s design but had some design flaws, not corrected. Kitka says Hope said, let it go, we’ll never see it again, but years later Hope bought the boat, and put on a larger wheelhouse.

Hope built the TAMARA SAN for Hans Peterson, with no cannery financing. The HOPE, a troller, was built for Henry Yrjana.

The MARTHA K, later renamed the NORTH CAPE, was built by Herman Kitka for himself. He bought lumber from Hope, which was mostly fir, except for yellow cedar for the beams.

The ALLANAH was documented in 1945, built for Fred Brandes. Richard Peters, Al Rottluff, and Fred Brandes helped build the boat with Hope. The builders had $12,000 to work with, which was almost enough, as Al Rottluff recalled.

The EMPRESS, now named the MARTHA K, was built in 1946 for the New England Fish Company. The boat was built all of fir, and was designed by Hope.

The Pyramid Packing Company financed the hard-chine Edwin Monk (a Seattle marine architect) design PATRICIA MAE, later renamed the NEKA QUEEN, for John Young.xxvi Hope built the SATCHEM, documented in 1952 for “Cap” Anderson from Chichagof for shrimping. He used all Douglas fir for this boat, which is still in Sitka.

Also working with Andrew Hope were Lawrence Widmark Sr. and Richard Peters, a dockworker, who ran a pile driver. Peters built his LAVERNE II with Hope, documented in 1946. The LAVERNE II is a small hard chine seiner, now used as a troller. Her current owner says that when the breaktimber, which is the large beam at the step in the deck, was replaced, they found the two sides of the hull identical, a mark of careful workmanship.xxvii (25) Mark Jacobs Jr. says that the original LAVERNE, a small trunk cabin troller, was also built by Hope. This might have been the LAVERNE built in Sitka and documented in 1942, owned by Elis Peterson in 1948.xxviii

Herman Kitka

Herman Kitka went to the Sheldon Jackson School, then went to the Wrangell Institute in 1935, where he learned boatbuilding from plans from a Norwegian named Gus Anderson. The program consisted of one year of academic work and a year of part-time apprenticeship.

Herman Kitka has always been a fisherman, but when his small gas troller blew up and he found himself “on the beach” with nothing to do, he built himself the MARTHA K in 1939. He worked on building several boats with Hope, including the PRINCETON HALL, the NEVA, his own MARTHA K (later sold and renamed the NORTH CAPE), the SJS II, and the EMPRESS. He later bought the EMPRESS and renamed her the MARTHA K, the boat he has now. Kitka has also done some major rebuilding projects on the MARTHA K. Herman Kitka is mainly a fisherman, with his own boat since 1937. When the Sitka Marine Railway started at Jamestown Bay in 1946 he also worked there sometimes.

Andrew Hope never liked to do repair, and there were not any facilities in town for hauling boats out of the water, so when the Sitka Marine Railway opened in 1946 boats went there for repair.xxix (24)

The canneries in Southeastern Alaska went into a decline after the war, and most closed by the 1970s. They stopped financing new boats and sold off their fleets. The canneries, and the seasonal migration to the canneries and fishing grounds, were once a way of life for many in Sitka. There is only one remote cannery now operating in southeastern Alaska.

The number of seiners around Sitka also declined    from twenty or thirty boats to only a few that still seine out of Sitka. One reason for this might have been the canneries= system of managing the boat’s finances, if not actually owning the boat, so the fisherman only had to fish and did not have to deal with the business aspects of fishing. This left fishermen unprepared to run their own operation when they had to.xxx (26)

The Howard Brothers Shop in the 1940s

The PRINCETON HALL

In 1941 Andrew Hope is recorded as the builder of probably the best known of the boats built at Sitka: the Presbyterian mission boat PRINCETON HALL. The 65 foot PRINCETON HALL was built to replace the Presbyterian Board of Home Mission’s boat PRINCETON, wrecked in 1939. These boats were used for transporting mission and Sheldon Jackson School staff and students around southeastern Alaska.

The PRINCETON HALL was designed by Seattle marine architect Harold Lee, and was to have been built in Seattle. Bids came in too high, and the Sitka builders took on the project. xxxi (1)

Andrew Hope had his own shop then, but he may have had a boat in it at the time, and it was smaller than the Howard shop. (The NEVA and TAMARA SAN were also documented in 1942.) The PRINCETON HALL was built in the shop of his brothers in law, George and David Howard, at the north end of Katlian Street.xxxii (2)

The Howard brothers’ shop had been built in 1940, the year before the PRINCETON HALL was built, replacing the smaller one their father, the first George Howard, had built around 1913. The new shop was then extended 25 feet for building the PRINCETON HALL. The extension was later taken off. This shop stood just east of the Seafood Producers Co op, until it was torn down in June of 1990.xxxiii (3)

The Howard brothers, especially George, and Sheldon Jackson School staff and vocational students worked on the boat. The students at Sheldon Jackson worked half days on the boat, and half a day and evenings on their schoolwork. Machine shop and metal working students under Charles Stuart installed the engine and fabricated the bronze railing, bow iron, and rudder.xxxiv (4)

The keel was fir, the ribs oak, and the deck teak. Teak is often used on yachts, and not on workboats. These were all usual materials for boatbuilding in the Northwest, and all brought up to Sitka from south. But the deckbeams were yellow cedar, either for economy, or because the builders preferred it.xxxv(5)

The boat was launched on December 4, 1941, just days before the attack on Pearl Harbor. She was soon requisitioned by the Navy for use as a patrol boat. The Navy mounted a gun on the foredeck and painted the boat gray. The Presbyterian Board of Home Missions got her back after the war, and sold her in 1961.xxxvi (5a) The PRINCETON HALL is still in use, after complete renovation, as a charter boat out of Juneau.xxxvii (6) Her current owner, Kathy Ruddy, has compiled a history of the boat’s Sheldon Jackson days.

Still other boats came out of the Howard brothers’ shop on Katlian Street in the 1940s and 1950s. The senior George Howard had died sometime in the 1920s or 1930s. His sons George and David, though they were mainly fishermen like their father, also built boats.

The NEW ENGLAND was built in the old shop, documented in 1935. The NEW ENGLAND may have been the second George Howard’s first boat. It took a while to finish, and George Howard Sr. (the third George Howard) remembers playing on the unfinished boat as a small child. This boat was built for George Ward, to replace his seiner MARY WARD, built for him in 1919 by Peter Simpson.xxxviii (6a)

In 1940 the Howards tore down the old shop and built a much bigger shop in the same place. The BETTY K, documented in 1940, may have been the first boat built in the new shop. Herman Kitka says this boat had planks half way up when Ted Kirkman purchased it, and that Kitka finished it. George Howard began the DENNY JO, documented in 1945, but in his later years he was increasingly disabled by tuberculosis; he suffered a hemorrhage when lifting something for the DENNY JO, and the boat was finished by Stanley Sutton. The JUNE K, built for Charles Bennett, was documented the same year.xxxix (7)

The JUNE K was built from a half model carved by Stanley Sutton, and then modified by George Howard, according to his son, George Howard Sr. The half model was then cut across its length into sections, from which the full sized molds were made. The molds are made in pairs, so that the half model provides the outline of both sides of the boat. The molds are set up at the proper intervals along the keel, and the boat is then built around these molds. The second George Howard also used plans for some of his boats.xl (8)

For the JUNE K, Howard used Douglas fir and white oak, and fastened the boat with galvanized boat nails. The JUNE K might still be on the beach at Angoon.xli (9)George Howard Sr., who was a child when the shop was built, does not remember ever seeing any machinery which might have been in the old shop.xlii (11)

The GOTA, which is still fishing out of Sitka, was built in the Howard shop, but after George Howard was too sick to work on it. The boat’s builder’s certificate names Andrew Hope. Richard Peters, who worked with Hope, also worked on the GOTA, along with the boat’s owner. This one changed hands before she was finished: George Howard Sr. says she was begun by Pete Anselm, and sold to Oscar Isaacson while still only ribbands and keel. Her current owner says she had a lot of yellow cedar timbers, with many spruce planks, on oak ribs.xliii (12)

When it was in full operation, the Howard brothers’ shop had grids on both sides, for boats needing repair. To haul a boat up into the shop itself, they used the city truck, which had a winch, and ingenuity. They put timbers across the doorway to keep the truck from being pulled into the shop. The boat cradle and slipway were made stoutly of wood; the cradle would be weighted with rocks at low tide, and the boat floated onto it at high tide. The boat was attached to the cradle with temporary shores and cross ties. Then the rocks were knocked off with poles, and the boat in the cradle was hauled up the greased slipway.xliv (13)

The 1940 shop had a bandsaw, a tablesaw, and a planer, which were all bought new when the shop was built. They ran off of belts from a five horsepower electric motor in the loft. The Howards also had a wood fired boiler for steaming planks and ribs, which was young George Howard Sr.’s job to tend.xlv (10)

The second George Howard’s sons say he did mostly repair, and was mainly a fisherman, and did not do boatwork every winter. His sons worked with him sometimes in the shop and also fished with him. His brother David Howard, and George Benson, who also built double-ended boats, also worked with him at times.xlvi (14)

The JENNY was documented in 1947. George Howard signed the builder’s certificate, but the boat was completed by Oscar Isaacson, a Seattle shipwright, or by Andrew Hope. Around 1950 the JENNY was found on the rocks by Sinitsin Island, deck awash, and no sign of her owner, Nestor Laakso, except for a slipper on the foredeck. The boat was towed into town and bought and restored by George Sarvela.xlvii In the summer of 1984, owner Victor Lane was killed by his deckhand, Michael Blackhurst near Kruzof Islandxlviii (14a). This troller has left her sad past behind and is still fishing, documented out of Elfin Cove.xlix(15)

George Howard died in 1956, from complications of tuberculosis.l (16)

The Sitka Marine Railway

The Sitka Marine Railway opened in November of 1945 at Jamestown Bay, at what is now Allen Marine. Wally Sims and Robert Wheeler and crew built several good-sized boats there before first Sims left, then Wheeler divorced his wife and left in 1949. Sims may have been mainly in the financial side of the business, and he was not a builder. Wheeler’s wife’s father Earl MacDonald, who had helped them set up, ran the yard after Wheeler left. This man, Earl MacDonald, had taught boatbuilding during the war, and one man at the Jamestown Bay yard had been a student of his. Wheeler had also once been an employee of MacDonald.li (1) MacDonald’s brother had been a partner in a Puget Sound yard called Prothero MacDonald.

An impressive total of four boats were documented in the year 1946. The MYRTH was the first boat built there, documented in 1946 for Rudy Sarvela. Some of the wood was spruce from a mill at Hidden Falls, but most of the wood was Douglas fir. The boatyard sometimes used yellow cedar, but mainly used fir.lii (2)

The yard mainly did repair, and became the primary repair yard in Sitka; Hope preferred building to repair, and did not have a way to haul boats out of the water. The Howard shop could pull boats out of the water, by using a borrowed truck with a winch, pulling the boat up a wooden ways.

Six or eight men worked at the yard the winter of 1946 47, but later fewer worked there. HER HIGHNES, JUNIOR, and WRJ were also documented in 1946, and the PT CRAVENS and ALRITA in 1947. Some of these were built on the same transom-stern, round-bottom design, drawn by Edwin Monk, a Seattle marine architect, in two sizes: the MYRTH and WRJ have the same register length of 37 feet, and the JUNIOR and PT CRAVEN are about a foot longer. The ALRITA is a little larger, and the hard-chine HER HIGHNES smaller. (Hard-chine means that the hull, rather than being round, has a v-bottom and a hard angle where the bottom meets the sides.) The HER HIGHNES was built by MacDonald at his home. The STEPHANIE, now the CHUCK A NAN, was built at Jamestown Bay in 1955, and is also a hard-chine design.liii(3)

Al Rottluff, a fisherman who worked for the yard in winters, says that the Sitka Marine Railway could not compete with the Puget Sound builders    wages were higher, and materials more expensive here. They also had to wait on all services that had to be done in Seattle. He says Sims and Wheeler had to put things into hock to pay the workers while waiting for the yard to get paid, especially on insurance work. The yard did mostly repair work, he says, and also built seine skiffs.liv (4)

Among other jobs, the yard rebuilt the NORTH CAPE, and the TWO BROTHERS was torn down for repair at the time Wheeler left.lv (4a)

The original buildings were salvaged from military buildings at Old Sitka. They had two railways for hauling boats up, one covered. MacDonald sold the yard in 1955 to machinist Ray Woodruff, who sold the yard to someone else, who sold it to Bob Allen in 1967.lvi (5) Allen put in the fill    the tide used to come right up to Sawmill Creek Road    but one of the old buildings is still standing, with fill coming right up to its pilings. Part of one of the railways is also still visible.

Bob Modrell and Boatbuilding at Mt. Edgecumbe School

After the war, part of the military base at Japonski Island was turned over to the Bureau of Indian Affairs, which opened a boarding school for Native youth. Bob Modrell, a boatbuilder originally from Seattle, Washington, taught boatbuilding there from 1948 to 1955.lvii (6)

In 1937, Modrell had been in the first boatbuilding class at Edison Vocational School (later called Gompers, now part of Central Seattle Community College). The Seattle marine architect Edwin Monk was involved with the school, and the first edition of his book Boatbuilding has photos of a young Bob Modrell and his classmates, who included William Garden, who was to become another well known Northwest marine architect.lviii (7) After finishing his schooling, he worked at different yards; work was hard to come by because of the Depression. During the war he worked for the Navy shipyard.

Modrell’s Mt. Edgecumbe students, who included some war veterans in early classes, built a 32 foot troller to a William Garden design, on spec, which was converted to a pleasure boat. They also repaired and built a deckhouse for the shore boat ARROWHEAD. Modrell also built his lovely sailboat PUFFIN, designed for him by William Garden.lix (8)

Modrell taught boatbuilding in Hangar Two. The enormous clear spans available in the hangars were also used for carpentry classes, which built houses they moved to sites around Japonski Island. The hangars are still there – one is the B. J. McGillis fieldhouse, and the other is the Sitka campus of the University of Alaska Southeast. Though a large part of the building is now classrooms, part of the original hangar space remains.

Bob Modrell said that while some of the vets were interested in boatbuilding as a career, none of the high school students were; they were mainly interested in being able to repair their own boats. After the boatbuilding program was cut in 1955, Modrell went over to the Public Health Service, which administered the government installations on Japonski Island. He maintained the shore boat fleet, which ran passengers between Sitka and Mt. Edgecumbe until the O’Connell Bridge was built in 1972.

Bob Modrell painted, maintained and repaired the shore boats at the covered boat ways, which is still there, at the foot of the O’Connell Bridge. He had his shop in one side of the building, and the other side was storage. A large winch pulled the boat, in a cradle, up a railway track. When the boathouse did not have a shore boat in it, federal employees used it to haul out their own boats, through the Service Activities for Federal Employees (SAFE). For a time, after the

During World War II the military also had a second boat house, which they also used for maintaining their fleet of patrol boats and shore boats. The second one was a floating boathouse, located inside the 600 foot long pier, which extended toward the present bridge. Boats could be hauled out of the water with slings and hand cranks. There was a small shop in one end. Bob Modrell used it for painting, and never used the hoists.

Modrell also built harbor floats, and worked on the piers and floats of SAFE Harbor, on the Island side of the channel. He also ran the PHS tug, which they ran back and forth to Sitka with a scow.

After the O’Connell Bridge was built in 1972, Modrell went over to the carpentry shop, although he maintained the boathouse ways, the only covered ways in Sitka after the Sitka Marine Railway burnt, until he retired in 1981.

The World War II boathouse is now part of the Japonski Island National Monument. The boathouse is part of the University of Alaska Sitka campus.

Most of the shore boats had been built during the war, at the Bremerton Navy yard: the TEDDY in 1941, the ARROWHEAD in 1942, and the DONNA in 1943. The others were the DIANE, which had no document, and the DOROTHY, built for government contractors, in Seattle.lx (8a) They were all sold after the bridge was built.

Other boatbuilding

In 1946 Dave Halleck and “Pinky” Bergdahl built the SKEETER near the SeaMart Downtown store. Bergdahl had been in the military in Sitka in World War II. Halleck, his father-in-law, had been working for Pyramid cannery, and was also a carpenter and fisherman. They logged the yellow cedar for the boat, cut at Sheldon Jackson sawmill and at Baranof Warm Springs, and launched the boat in a cradle over the beach wall at the Crescent. They only fished a few years, then sold the boat, which is still fishing around Sitka.lxi (8b)

The SHARON ANN, documented in 1947, was built by some people named Rowley on the turnaround side of the Siginaka Way spit (near Thomsen Harbor), and used for carrying freight. A member of the same family may have built the MINNIE R, a halibut boat documented in 1945.lxii (8c)

Also in the 1940s, a man was building skiffs at Herring Cove.lxiii (8d)

Since the 1950s a few more fishermen have built their own boats. Paul Morgan designed and built the C RAE in 1962, across from where SeaMart is now. Morgan had done carpentry, and worked a winter at the Jamestown Bay yard. He used spruce planking because he got a good deal on some from the Columbia sawmill, but most of the boat is Douglas fir. He hauled the completed hull out Halibut Point Road after a snowfall, and launched her at Old Sitka.lxiv (9) The boat unfortunately burned in 1993, but not before providing years of service and enjoyment to the Morgans.

Harry Jimmy built the 33 foot 8 inch ANNETTE in 1955 on Back Street and in 1967 the PERIL STRAIT to a William Garden design, using mostly local materials.lxv (10) Gary Erb built the CHANCY, which he built using mostly lumber he had cut and milled himself, to his own design.lxvi (11)

Boat building and boat repair is still a living part of Sitka’s economy, and dozens of shops and individual tradesmen repair everything from electronics to planking.

Wooden boatbuilding has become unusual today in Sitka. Few wooden boats have been built anywhere in the Northwest since the 1950s. While the seine and troll fisheries were expanding in the first part of the century, there was a big demand for boats. Fewer small fishing boats are built now, and the ones that are are now built mostly of fiberglass, aluminum, and steel, which can be made into hulls more quickly. Labor is relatively more expensive now, and good boatbuilding wood is harder to come by.

Even though wood is not a common boatbuilding material any more, businesses in Sitka continue to build boats, now in other materials, when the need arises   for example rugged welded aluminum skiffs, custom built by various welding shops; fast custom fiberglass boats by Gerald Gangle; and large aluminum passenger boats, the largest 100 feet long, built by Allen Marine, many of which they still run in their own business, and recently have built some for New York City ferries.

Although the boats are not usually built of wood any more, the basic reasons for building are probably what they have always been. When the boats they could buy are too expensive or unsuitable, or when they just feel like a challenge to their skills and ingenuity, Sitkans still build boats, carrying on an old tradition as valid now as ever.

i Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Two Brothers), Herman Kitka, Sr., interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska October and December 1988 and March 3 1992 (rebuild), Carlos Schwantes, phone interview, 16 November 1988 (galley below).

ii City of Sitka Death Records, #1167

iii W. Leslie Yaw Sixty Years in Sitka: With Sheldon Jackson School and College (Sitka, Alaska: Sheldon Jackson College Press, 1985), p. 70 (sketch).

iv Yaw, pp. 60-83 (SJS and sawmill).

v Verstovian, January 1937, p. 2 (lower shop floor).

vi Yaw p. 70 (workers on SJS).

vii Yaw pp. 60-83 (SJS & sawmill); 1936-37 Sheldon Jackson Annual, Sheldon Jackson Archives #814 (mill only one in town); Hinckley, pp. 329-30 (1902 log haul); Verstovian, Sept 1940, p. 1 (Hope runs mill); Yaw, pp. 175-195(Simpson taught sawmill).

viii Yaw pp. 60, 64, 65, 74. 75 (school boats)

ix Yaw, p. 24 (Merchant Marine) Yaw pp. 60, 64, 65, 74. 75 (school boats); Yaw, pp. 175-195 (staff).

x Sheldon Jackson School Verstovian, December 1942, p. 2 (10 boats for Navy); Yaw, pp. 175-195 (staff).

xi Isabella Brady interview (boats for Grandma); Verstovian, March 1936, p. 1 (Mrs. S. dies).

xii B. Sarvela interview (modeled on Davis, y c, easy to row); Bahrt interview (?).

xiii Loken, pp. 11-14 (hand trollers).

xiv G. Howard interview (do it once).

xv Brady interview; Paul interview; Sentinel, 31 December 1947, p. 1 (activities); Verstovian, Thlinget various issues (activities).

xvi Yaw, pp. 91-99 (SJS II); Simon Anderson, phone interview by author, 14 or 15 November 1988 (planking Laverne); Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Peters).

xvii A. S. Harris, Sitka Spruce. USDA Forest Service American Woods circular series number FS-265 (Washington, D.C.: US Department of Agriculture, 1971) p. 5 (cut in WWI).

xviii Kitka interview (spruce on big boats) Yaw p 99 (materials on SJS II), Simon Anderson interview (Laverne II materials).

xix A. S. Harris, Alaska-cedar. USDA Forest Service American Woods circular series number FS-224. (Washington, D.C.: US Department of Agriculture, 1971) (yellow cedar booklet)

xx U. S. Navy Bureau of Ships, Wood: A Manual For Its Use As a Shipbuilding Material, First Collected Edition (Kingston, Massachusetts: Tea Party Books, 1983) (Douglas Fir).

xxi Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Hope’s boat); Mark Jacobs Jr., note on draft 1992 (Laverne); Seesz interview (Satchem built by Hope).

xxii Hays interview; Sentinel. 15 April 1968; Andy Hope III, Founders of the Alaska Native Brotherhood ( ) (ANB, legisl, etc.); Verstovian, October 1941; Yaw, p. 77-78 (Hope Fished SJS); Verstovian, October 1949, p. 4 (Reelected to Common Council); Chronology p 217 (Hope’s terms in Legislature and Common Council)

xxiii

xxiv Johnson interview (Hope’s careful workmanship)

xxv Kitka 1992 interview (work methods of Hope).

xxvi Kitka interview 1992, Coast Guard Documentation Office, and Kitka 1992 (Martha K to North Cape, Empress to Martha K, Patricia Mae to Neka Queen); Kitka 1993 (Neva, Tamara San, Hope); Al Rottluf interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska November 21 1988 (Allanah, Satchem); Chronology p. 150 (Patricia Mae on Monk Design); Don Seesz phone interview by author (Satchem).

xxvii Coast Guard Vessel Documentation, Anderson interview (Peters), Kitka 1992.

xxviii Jacobs, note on 1992 draft, Coast Guard Documentation Office.

xxix Kitka interviews (his career)

xxx Johnson interview (decline of canneries, seiners).

xxxi Yaw, pp. 79-83 (P-H)

xxxii G. Howard interview, Jacobs interview (Hope had shop then); Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (two doc 1942).

xxxiii G. Howard interview (shop extended).

xxxiv Yaw, pp. 79-83 (P-H); Jacobs interview (kids worked)

xxxv Yaw, pp. 79-83 (who built); Ruddy interview (materials).

xxxvi Yaw, p. 90 (requisition Jan 4, 1942); Coast Guard Documentation Office (Princeton Hall sold 1961)

xxxvii Ruddy interview (restoration).

xxxviii Mark Jacobs, Jr. note on draft, 1993 (Mary Ward).

xxxix G. Howard interview, Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (boats built in shop).

xl G. Howard interview (June K).

xli ibid.

xlii ibid.

xliii G. Howard interview, Ernie Matteson, phone interview, 23 November 1988, Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Gota).

xliv G.Howard interview.

xlv ibid.

xlvi G. Howard interview.

xlvii Kermit Olsen, interview by author, Sitka Alaska 1994 (Jenny).

xlviii Sitka Sentinel Nov. 19, 1984; Nov. 28, 1984; July 1 1985; July 2, 1985; July 16, July 26, etc. (Blackhurst)

xlix Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Howard built); Jacobs interview (Hope built).

l Howard interview; Sentinel. 17 January 1956, p. 2 (obit, no mention of boatbuilding).

li Al Rottluff, interview 21 November 1988 (father); Rudy Sarvela, interview, December 1988 (uncle); Robert Modrell, interview 24 October 1988 (uncle); Chronology p. 98 (opened Nov. 23, 1945).

lii R. Sarvela interview, Coast Guard Vessel Documentation (Myrth).

liii Paul Morgan and Al Rottluff, interview December 1988; Rottluff interview; Kitka interview (yard).

liv Rottluff interview

lv

lvi Bob Allen, phone interview by author, November or December 1988; Rottluff interview; Morgan and Rottluff interview (yard after) Chronology p. 120 (sold to Woodruff 1955).

lvii Robert Modrell, interview by author, tape recording, Sitka, Alaska October 24, 1988 (Island)

lviii Modrell interview; Edwin Monk, Modern Boat Building (New York: Charles Scribner’s Sons, 1939).

lix Modrell interview (activities on Island).

lx Modrell interview

lxi Pauline Bergdahl phone interview by author

lxii Olson interview, Coast Guard Documentation, Chronology p. 98 (Minnie R)

lxiii Olson interview

lxiv Morgan and Rottluff interview (C-Rae); Sentinel, 20 March 1962, p. 1 (C-Rae).

lxv Coast Guard Vessel Documentation, Harry Jimmy, interview by author, tape recording, November 16 1988 (Peril Strait).

lxvi Gary Erb, interview on tape, Cas/Spe/44-19, Kettleson Memorial Library(Chancy); Matteson interview (Amanda Rose).

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