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
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
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.
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.
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.
(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, the Nagley's were anticipating the birth of their
first child. They hired someone to run their store and temporarily moved
to Knik (where there was a doctor) 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 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.
"H.W." Nagley's signature found in a
1914 McDougal/Lake Creek receipt book
SUSITNA STATION AT HIGH TIDE
The Nagley's purchased two building lots
at the SW corner of 5th Avenue and B Street in the new tent city
of Anchorage in 1915; the price of the first lot was $395 and the
second lot was $245.
In the summer of 1915, 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 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, the family 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.
"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.
Albert "Carl" Berg and Wife Phoebe Jane (Nagley) Berg
Children: Virginia b.1917, Carl Albert b.1919 and Frances
In 1917, Nagley had a chance to buy
his original 1908 Susitna Station store back from the Alaska Commercial Company.
He had high hopes for the growth for his store business now that his only
competition was gone.
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, but
the new Alaska Railroad was pulling business away from Susitna Station; it's
days were numbered.
Talkeetna Tent City 1917
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 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 (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
his Talkeetna store
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 when the Nagley's closed their Susitna Station
store. It was still in operation in 1930, but was abandoned when my husbands
family explored the building in 1955.