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Points North: Dawson City and Nome

by Johanna Blume, Eiteljorg assistant curator of Western Art | Jul 15, 2015
 Here was a big city growing before our very eyes. It recalled one of those street scenes that have become so popular at recent exhibitions, only this was before the opening ceremony, and they were hurrying up so they could get it finished in time! The footway was blocked to such an extent with men walking, or standing about, or sitting on the piles of timber, that it was with difficulty that we could get along.

—Julius M. Price, Dawson City, 1898

Dawson City, nicknamed the “San Francisco of the North,” was the center of the Yukon-Klondike gold rush. Founded in 1897 on the banks of the Yukon River and nestled at the foot of towering mountains, the city grew at a startling rate over the next few years. In the peak years of the gold rush, between 30,000 and 40,000 people called Dawson and the surrounding area home. The town boasted a public library; a variety of stores and businesses including doctors, lawyers, fortune tellers, and laundries; and a number of saloons, dance halls, and hotels.

Nome, Alaska, experienced a similar “boom and bust” period. Between the summers of 1899 and 1900 the population swelled from a small cluster of tents to a bustling city of 20,000. Perched on the shores of the Bering Sea on the far western coast of Alaska, the town sprang up almost overnight. It included a post office, shops, a U.S. military outpost, several churches, and a variety of drinking and gambling establishments.

 It may be possible to imagine a more unlikely setting for a frontier mining town, or for that matter, a town of any kind, but I can’t think where. Perhaps there is such a place in Antarctica.

—Historian William Bronson, describing Nome, 1969 

1998.34.1.34-jpg smaller

Residence of C. Lund No. 26. Above Discovery Bonanza Creek, ca. 1905
Image courtesy of the Washington State Historical Society; 1998.34.1.34

 Warner140@300ppi_8x10-smaller tent
Tents and Wooden Structures on Beach at Nome, Looking East, with Sledge Island in the Distance, ca. 1899
Photographer: Arthur Churchill Warner
Image courtesy of University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections; Warner 140

_MG_6013

Cribbage Board, 1909
Scrimshawed walrus tusk ivory
Loan courtesy of the University of Alaska Museum of the North; UA94-009-0041
Photography by Hadley Fruits

The carvings on this walrus tusk show the town of Nome, Alaska, in 1909. The back shows the skyline of the entire town.

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