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 entrepreneurially 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), 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.
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 (about 5 miles south
of 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 and followed 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 which
was the largest re-supply post on the Knik Arm in 1910. Out of Knik, the
teams crossed Fish Creek, the Little Susitna River and then 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 the post office in the town of Iditarod.
Needless to say, winter overland mail was delivered only a few times a season,
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 in 1909. In 1911, she taught at Chignik
and in 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 to await the birth of their baby which was
due in early December.
During their six week wait, the
Nagley's enjoyed the relaxing "city life" of Knik, but continued to
conduct store business as well. They ordered 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
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 Susitna 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. They 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
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 Susitna
Station to work in the family store. While there she met Ora Dee
Clark who was scheduled to teach there that fall. However, before school
started, the new tent city of Anchorage asked Ora Dee (who had a masters
degree) to help organize their new school system and she accepted the job.
Phoebe Jane Nagley took over as Susitna Station teacher that fall.
In the fall of 1915, 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, they were married
at Knik by Rev. T.P.Howard.
In 1916, the Berg's moved their saw mill to Talkeetna and got a contract
to cut ties for the approaching railroad. In 1920, they moved to Anchorage
and built a home on L Street where they lived for 10+ years. The Berg's
next lived at 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
taken about 1930)
In 1917, Nagley had a chance to buy
back his original (1908) Susitna Station store building and he took it.
A bill of sale dated 9/15/1917 listed 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
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 settlement populated by
prospectors, trappers, railroad workers and a few wall tent stores by the
time the tracks finally reached the headquarters in 1917. The Nagley's
had a tent store in Talkeetna (built about 1916) and also a small cabin
where they spent most of their time (they hired Roland Healy to man their
old store at Susitna Station).
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 full service trading post in Talkeetna.
A common practice for early remote merchants, at that time, was the use
of privately minted tokens which they used in place of coins which were
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 as U.S. Commissioner of the Talkeetna
District. Along with this appointment came the duties of Probate Judge,
Justice of the Peace, Recorder and Coroner; he held these positions until
1934. He was also the Postmaster at Talkeetna from 3/15/1927 until the
day he retired 6/30/1946. The day after he retired, his son Horace Willard
Nagley Jr. assumed the position of Postmaster at Talkeetna.
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 investors in 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 for Seward, then 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 erosion. 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
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 such notables as 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 store
at Susitna Station, but I know they hired people to manage it for them at
least until the 1920's. It was abandoned, but still standing when my husbands
family visited Susitna Station in 1955.