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HORACE WILLARD "H.W." NAGLEY
1875-1966

Alaska Pioneer Merchant
at
Susitna Station, McDougal and Talkeetna


by Coleen Mielke  2014

Protected by Copyscape Plagiarism Detection

Horace Willard "H.W." Nagley (1875-1966) was one of 13 children born to Jefferson Jackson Nagley and Louisa Jane (Beaman) Nagley of Utsalady, Camano Island, Washington Territory.

In 1905, he came to Alaska aboard the SS Bertha, landing at Seldovia. There he found summer work as a purser on the SS Neptune, a 200 ton freighter and spent his winters in Seattle.

Watching the influx of "hopefuls", it didn't take the entrepreneurial minded Nagley long to recognize that prospectors in the Susitna and Chulitna Gold Mining Districts needed better access to merchandise. So, in 1907, he moved to Alaska permanently, and with the  financial backing of Frank Churchill and Arnold Litchfield (prospectors who came to Alaska in 1898), Nagley opened a general store at Susitna Station which was on the east side of the Susitna River, approximately 1½ miles below its confluence with the Yentna River.


  This is only a section of the
  1910 D. H. SLEEM MAP OF CENTRAL ALASKA

One year later (1908), when Churchill and Litchfield backed out of the business arrangement (and sold everything to the Alaska Commercial Company), Nagley decided to build his own store. He found a spot that he thought would make a good store location, but it was already owned  by Susitna Chief "Big Evan", so on 6/10/1908, Nagley traded the Dena'ina Chief for a piece of land that Nagley owned (Deed Vol. 1 pg. 264 Susitna)
and built a store. He stocked it with merchandise that he bought (on credit) from O.G. Herning's Knik Trading Co. and on 8/1/1908 the store opened for business, offering mosquito tents, rain coats, rain hats, hardware, shoe packs, sox, food, sheet metal stoves, sleds, ammunition and of course, the all important Post Office.



In 1910, the U.S. Army's Alaska Road Commission brushed out a trail starting at the end of the railroad tracks (Kern Creek mile 71) and ending at Nome. Originally called the "Seward to Nome Mail Trail", it was later dubbed the Iditarod Trail and was the main overland route for would-be prospectors (on foot/snowshoes or by dog team). The new trail was also used by commercial dog teams hauling freight, mail, gold shipments and the occasional wealthy sightseer.

Getting mail to remote locations was an arduous undertaking in early Alaska since post offices were few and far between with no road access. Mail was delivered to Seward (year round) by steamship. From there, it was transferred by train to the end of the railroad tracks at Kern Creek on the Turnagain Arm (about 5 miles from Girdwood). During the summer months, gasoline launches picked up the mail at Kern Creek and delivered it to Sunrise, Hope, Tyonek, Knik and Susitna Station. Winter mail delivery was a very different story.

Winter mail left Kern Creek (elevation 100') by dog sled following the Iditarod Trail. The teams mushed up Glacier Creek and over Crow Creek Pass (elevation 3,600') to the head of Eagle River. From there, they followed the river almost to the mouth at Eagle Bay, then (roughly) followed the shore of the Knik Arm, crossing Clunie Lake, Fire Creek, Peters Creek and Eklutna River. Next, the teams crossed the Knik River, the Matanuska River and the Palmer Slough before they dropped off the first mail at Knik, the largest re-supply post on the Knik Arm in 1910. Out of Knik, the teams crossed Fish Creek, the Little Susitna River and dropped off mail at Nagley's Post Office at Susitna Station. Nagley's was the last re-supply stop before the 350+ mile journey to Iditarod's Post Office. Needless to say, winter overland mail was delivered only a few times a season, at best.



KNIK   1914
 
Horace Nagley's wife, Jessamine Elizabeth (Millikan) Nagley (1872-1955) was the daughter of William and Sarah (Brown) Millikan of Indiana. Jessamine attended Purdue University in 1891-1892 and completed two years of teachers training in Indianapolis. She taught for two years in Puerto Rico, then spent several years teaching in Indiana before she came to Alaska to teach school at Hoonah 1909-1910. In 1910-1911, she taught at Chignik and in 1911-1912 she was hired to teach at Susitna Station where she met and married Horace Willard Nagley in the summer of 1912 (she was 40 and he was 37).

In late October of 1913, when the Nagley's were anticipating the birth of their first child; they hired someone to run their store and temporarily moved to Knik and awaited the birth of their baby which was due in early December.

During their six week wait, the Nagley's continued to conduct store business by ordering store goods (19 boxes of eating apples, 8 boxes of oranges, 5 cases of eggs and 1 box of onion sets) which they planned to take back to Susitna Station after the baby was born. They also spent time visiting with friends and enjoying the relaxing "city life" of Knik.

On the evening of 12/2/1913, Jessamine gave birth to a stillborn baby. The couple was devastated and remained in Knik for another six weeks before returning to Sustina Station.

In 1914, the Nagley's opened a second branch of their store at McDougal which was at the mouth of Lake Creek on the Yentna River. Nagley hired John Lindeboom to man the store which served mainly the Cache Creek Gold Mining District.



Horace Willard "H.W." Nagley's signature found in a
1914 McDougal/Lake Creek receipt book

 


SUSITNA STATION AT HIGH TIDE

In 1915, the Nagley's purchased two building lots at the SW corner of 5th Avenue and B Street in the new tent city of Anchorage; the price of the first lot was $395 and the second lot was $245.

That summer, Nagley's sister, Phoebe Jane came to Alaska to help in the family store. There she met Ora Dee Clark who was scheduled to teach school at Susitna Station that fall. Before school started, the new town of Anchorage asked Ora Dee (who had a masters degree) to organize their school system and she accepted the job. She also asked Phoebe Jane Nagley to fill in for her at Susitna Station, which she did.
                    
Later that year, a Swedish immigrant named Charles Albert "Carl" Berg moved to Susitna Station with a small saw mill.  He and Phoebe fell in love and after a very short courtship, were married at Knik by Rev. T.P.Howard.  

The Berg's moved their saw mill to Talkeetna in 1916 and got a contract to cut ties for the railroad.  In 1920, they moved to Anchorage and built a home on L Street where they lived for more than 10 years. The family next lived in Platinum Village in the Good News Bay District, where they operated a hotel in 1940 according to the census records.

"Carl" and Phoebe (Nagley) Berg had three children: Virginia, Carl Albert and Frances Mary. Charles Albert Berg died at the age of 88 in Seattle and Phoebe Jane died in Renton, Washington at the age of 109!!




Charles Albert "Carl" Berg and Wife Phoebe Jane (Nagley) Berg
Children: Virginia b.1917, Carl Albert b.1919 and Frances Mary b.1921

(photo taken about 1930)
~~
In 1917, Nagley had a chance to buy back his original (1908) Susitna Station store building from the Alaska Commercial Company and he took it.

A bill of sale dated 9/15/1917 listed the items that Nagley bought from the ACCo.: five warehouses, the old store building, two log dwellings and some caches (one of the caches was at McDougal); it only cost him $1,250.


Talkeetna Tent City 1917

THE BEGINNING OF THE END FOR SUSITNA STATION

The Alaska Engineering Commission was chosen to oversee the construction of the Alaska railroad expansion to Fairbanks in 1915 and they chose Talkeetna as their headquarters. It was a small town populated by prospectors, trappers, railroad workers and a few wall tent stores when the tracks finally reached there in 1917. The Nagley's built a small cabin in Talkeetna and spent most of their time there (while they hired Roland Healy to man their Susitna Station store).

The Nagley's were expecting a baby in March of 1918, so in mid-January, they traveled from Talkeetna to Anchorage (by train) to await the birth. Horace Willard Nagley Jr. was born on 3/21/1918 at the Alaska Railroad Hospital, delivered by Dr. J.B.Beeson.

In 1920, the Nagley's built a trading post in Talkeetna. A common practice for many Alaska merchants, at that time, was the use of privately minted coins or tokens to use in place of change which was often hard to keep on hand. Nagley's Talkeetna store coins came in two denominations: there was a 25¢ round (25mm) coin and a 50¢ round (31mm) coin. These old coins are collectors items today and sell for about $50 each.




Nagley's privately minted tokens for
his Talkeetna store


In 1921, Horace Nagley was appointed to be the U.S. Commissioner of the Talkeetna District. Along with this appointment came the duties of a Probate Judge, Justice of the Peace, Recorder and Coroner; he held these positions until 1934. He was also the Postmaster at Talkeetna from 1927-1947 when he retired.

From 1926-1936, Mrs. Nagley and her son spent their winters living in Anchorage so Horace Jr. could attend school. It was during these years that the Nagley's invested heavily in Anchorage real estate (they were one of the original owners of the Westward Hotel).

Mr. Nagley enjoyed telling stories about the old gold rush days. He said that "gold trains" used to move gold out of the Iditarod, Flat and Tolstoy Gold Mining Districts about once a year. These "trains" consisted of multiple dog teams pulling sleds full of gold bricks valued at $250,000 to $350,000. He described how the dogs battled hazardous trails, glaciers, ice flows and snow storms and had to be "roped" over Crow Creek Summit in order to reach the railroad at Kern Creek where the gold was put on the train and taken to Seward and loaded onto steamships headed for Seattle.


"Gold Team" from Iditarod District arrives at Knik 1/12/1912
carrying $750,000 worth of gold


In 1945, Nagley's Talkeetna store, which originally sat near the bank of the river, had to be moved due to flooding. It took George Weatherell's tractor several days to move the old store three blocks to the east. Old timers say that the store stayed open for business during the entire move.

In 1947, the Nagley's retired and sold their Talkeetna store to Donald G. Barrett.  Jessamine died (in California) in 1955 at the age of 83 and Horace died (in Seattle) in 1966 at the age of 91; they are both buried in Anchorage. Horace's funeral was held by the Anchorage Elks Lodge; pallbearers were Oscar Anderson, Donald G. Barrett, Victor Johnson, Paul Nilsen, Harold Koslosky and Victor Gill.  Honorary pallbearers were Franklin Landstrom and Carl Johnson.

Horace and Jessamine's only son, Horace Willard Nagley Jr. passed away in 2007, he is also buried in the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery. Their only grandson, Horace Willard Nagley III lives in Washington.



NOTE: I do not know exactly when the Nagley's closed their Susitna Station store. It was still in operation in 1920's, but was abandoned when my husbands family explored the abandoned building in 1955.



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