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The History of Chitina, Alaska

Chitina, Alaska - a Community Guide

    Chitina is located on the west bank of the Copper River at it confluence with the Chitina River, at mile 34 of the Edgerton Highway, 53 miles southeast of Copper Center. It lies outside the western boundary of the Wrangell-St. Elias National Park and Preserve, 66 miles southeast of Glennallen. It lies at approximately 61 31' N Latitude, 144 26' W Longitude (Sec. 14, T004S, R005E, Copper River Meridian). The community is located in the Chitina Recording District. The area encompasses 29 sq. miles of land and 1 sq. miles of water.

    Athabascan Indians have reportedly occupied this region for the last 5,000 to 7,000 years. Archaeological sites are located to the south and east of Chitina. Chitina was historically a large Native village whose population was slowly decimated by the influx of people, disease and conflicts. Rich copper deposits were discovered at the turn of the century along the northern flanks of the Chitina River valley, bringing a rush of prospectors and homesteaders to the area. The Copper River & Northwestern Railway enabled Chitina to develop into a thriving community by 1914. It had a general store, clothing store, meat market, stables, a tinsmith, five hotels, rooming houses, a pool hall, bars, restaurants, dance halls and a movie theater. Almost all of Chitina was owned by Otto Adrian Nelson, a surveying engineer for the Kennecott Mines. He supplied electric power to all structures with a unique hydroelectric system. After the mines closed in 1938, support activities moved to the Glennallen area, and Chitina became a virtual ghost town with only the Natives and a few non-Natives staying on. In 1963, the Nelson estate was purchased by "Mudhole" Smith, a pioneer bush pilot, who sold off the townsite and buildings.

To Community Histories Index Alaska DCCED Community Database Online

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