McGrath was a seasonal Upper Kuskokwim Athabascan village which was used as a meeting and trading place for Big River, Nikolai, Telida and Lake Minchumina residents. The Old Town McGrath site, was originally located across the river. In 1904, Abraham Appel established a trading post at the old site. In 1906, gold was discovered in the Innoko District, and at Ganes Creek in 1907. Since McGrath is the northernmost point on the Kuskokwim River accessible by large riverboats, it became a regional supply center.
By 1907, a town was established, and was named for Peter McGrath, a local U.S. Marshal. In 1909, the Alaska Commercial Company opened a store. The Iditarod Trail also contributed to McGrath's role as a supply center. From 1911 to 1920, hundreds of people walked and mushed over the Trail on their way to the Ophir gold districts. Mining sharply declined after 1925. After a major flood in 1933, some residents decided to move to the south bank of the River. Changes in the course of the River eventually left the old site on a slough, useless as a river stop. In 1937, the Alaska Commercial Company opened a store at the new location. In 1940, an airstrip was cleared, the FAA built a communications complex, and a school was opened. McGrath became an important refueling stop during World War II, as part of the Lend-Lease Program between the U.S. and Russia. In 1964, a new high school was built, attracting boarding students from nearby villages.
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History and map graphic used with permission from the Alaska Department of Community and Economic Development