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
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.
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
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.
"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!!
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
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
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
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
"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
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.