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The History of Tok, Alaska


    Tok is located at the junction of the Alaska Highway and the Tok Cutoff to the Glenn Highway, 200 miles southeast of Fairbanks. This is Historic Mile 1314 of the Alaska Highway - Mile 0 is at Dawson Creek, British Columbia. It is called the "Gateway to Alaska," as it is the first major community upon entering Alaska, 93 miles from the Canadian border. It lies at approximately 63° 20' N Latitude, 142° 59' W Longitude (Sec. 18, T018N, R013E, Copper River Meridian). The community is located in the Fairbanks Recording District. The area encompasses 133 sq. miles of land and 0 sq. miles of water.

    The name Tok is believed to be derived from Tokyo Camp, but there are at least three other versions of how Tok got its name. Tok began in 1942 as an Alaska Road Commission camp. So much money was spent in the camp's construction and maintenance that it earned the name "Million Dollar Camp" by those working on the highway. In 1944 a branch of the Northern Commercial Company was opened, and in 1946 Tok was established as a presidential town site. With the opening of the Alaska Highway to civilian traffic, a post office and a road house were built. In 1947 the first school was opened in a room in the Alaska Road Commission building, and in 1958 a separate school was built to accommodate the many newcomers. The U.S. Customs Office was located in Tok between 1947 and 1971, when it was moved to the border.

    Between 1954 and 1979, a U.S. Army fuel pipeline operated from Haines to Fairbanks, with a pump station in Tok. The pump station's facilities were purchased as area headquarters for the Bureau of Land Management. The U.S. Coast Guard constructed a LORAN-C station (Long Range Aids to Navigation) 6 miles east of Tok in 1976, with four 700-foot towers.

    In July of 1990, Tok faced extinction when a lightning-caused forest fire jumped two rivers and the Alaska Highway, putting both residents and buildings in peril. The town was evacuated and even the efforts of over a thousand firefighters could not stop the fire. At the last minute a "miracle wind" (so labeled Tok's residents) came up, diverting the fire just short of the first building. The fire continued to burn the remainder of the summer, eventually burning more than 100,000 acres. Evidence of the burn can be seen on both sides of the highway just east of Tok.


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Map graphic used with permission from the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development