A Guide to Delta Junction, Alaska
Arriving at the "End of the Alaska Highway" interpretive center at Delta Junction a couple of weeks ago, I was surprised to see a large one-storey log building on the other side of the
road. While my group went into the Highway center, I went to investigate the building that I somehow hadn't noticed before. What I found was an excellent museum in the relocated Sullivan Roadhouse.
Hundreds of photographs, lots of artifacts, and very helpful staff make this a must-see when you reach Delta Junction.
Roadhouses were a vital part of the transportation system in early Alaska, providing shelter and
sustenance to those who braved roads such as the
Overland Trail between Whitehorse and Dawson City.
The Sullivan Roadhouse was built in 1905 by John and Florence Sullivan on a part of the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail known as the Donnelly-Washburn Cut-Off. It was
considered to be one of the best roadhouses on the trail, with a main lodge, guest quarters, blacksmith shop, barn and stable.
John "Jack" Sullivan and Florence Hamburg Sullivan had come North separately, and were among the first stampeders to head over the
Chilkoot Pass to the Klondike gold fields. They then joined the 1899-1900 rush to Nome, which is where they finally met
and were married. In 1904 they moved to the booming town of
Fairbanks, then out to the Valdez-Fairbanks Trail to build the roadhouse the following year.
The Donnelly-Washburn Cut-Off was built in 1905, and cut almost 2 days off the trip between Valdez and Fairbanks, However, it was considered by many to be too steep, and 2 years later the
Alaska Road Commission built a new road which passed over 4 miles away from the Sullivan Roadhouse. The Sullivans tore the roadhouse apart, and re-assembled it alongside the new road. During the rebuild,
a metal roof was installed, providing long-term protection that the former sod roof could not.
When cars started to be used on the road, fewer roadhouses were needed. The building of the Alaska Railroad signalled a new era in tranportation to Fairbanks, and in 1922 the Sullivans
walked away from their roadhouse, leaving it almost fully furnished.
In 1942, Fort Greely was established, and the roadhouse was occasionally used for shelter by troops on manoevers. This led to the military repairing the main building. Largely due to those
repairs, the building was able to be listed on the National Register of Historic Places in 1980. That designation spurred interest in moving the roadhouse to a safer and more visible location.
In 1996, the U.S. Army Legacy Fund, a program to preserve historical resources, funded the $250,000 relocation of the Sullivan Roadhouse to its current location at the intersection of the
Richardson and Alaska Highways. In May 1997 the new museum was dedicated and turned over to
the Delta Chamber of Commerce, which now operates this wonderful window to the past.
There are still a few roadhouses in Alaska which serve their original function. On the
Valdez Trail (now the
Richardson Highway), the Copper Center Lodge, originally built in 1898, and the
Paxson Inn, built in 1903, still welcome travelers.
Photographs are © 2000-2017 by Murray Lundberg