ExploreNorth, your resource center for exploring the circumpolar North

Return to the Home Page The ExploreNorth Blog About ExploreNorth Contact ExploreNorth

Search ExploreNorth

The Founding of Port Chilkoot at Haines, Alaska

An Explorer's Guide to Haines, Alaska

    Many variations of this story appeared in newspapers across North America in September and October 1946. The article that follows has been compiled from several of them. The title graphic below is from the article on page 4 of The Nebraska State Journal (Lincoln, Nebraska) of October 14, 1946.

    When spring comes to the Alaskan port of Chilkoot barracks, a cooperative enterprise organized by a group of war veterans expects to have a new town well under way, on a site which for many years was an army post.

    Major Carl W. Heinmiller of Berea, Ohio, now on terminal leave from the army after six years in the army, is one of the founders of the Veterans' Alaska Cooperative Co. He described the project as "a pioneering set-up. It won't be too easy at the start, but within two or three years we should have a thriving community of a thousand families.

    The cooperative bought the post from the interior department under the Surplus Property Act, at the ceiling price of $105,000.

    Here is what it got: A tract of 400 acres, of which 66 are cleared; 86 buildings, including a 13-bed hospital, two barracks buildings and a fire station. It is located 15 miles south of Skagway.

    "Chilkoot is an ideal spot," said Heinmiller. "We have everything ready to move in - the town has all utilities, many of the houses are furnished, we have running water and oil heat, sewage and other conveniences.

    The idea is to name the place "Port Chilkoot." It started in 1904 as Fort Seward, and during the last war was an army recreation camp.

    At first, says Heinmiller, the new town will emphasize the tourist and resort trade, and serving as a communications point for water and road traffic. Other enterprises are expected to include timbering, furniture manufacturing and possible crab and shrimp fishing. Eventually the town will have various small businesses, a newspaper and radio station, says the major.

    Heinmiller says that 800 applications to join the cooperative were received. The first settlers are all veterans, each with a $100 common share in the cooperative. Non-veterans recommended by veterans who are members may join. All must purchase stock, and each has a vote in the affairs of the cooperative, which will concentrate the activities within the community and operate a general store. Each member, said Heinmiller, must have a $2,000 backlog to carry him along until returns from the project start coming in.

    The cooperative gained ownership of the former army installation after hearings in Washington over the qualifications of the bidders. Originally, on August 5th, the award was made to Kenneth E. O'Harra, a former Ohio State university student who operates the O'Harra Bus Line, the largest in Alaska. O'Harra, who had been known as "the richest corporal in the army," also bid the ceiling price.

    In a 27-page decision, Assistant Secretary Warner W. Gardner of the Interior Department ruled that under the "veterans' small business" provisions of the Surplus Property Act, O'Harra was disqualified, being the operator of a large business. Gardner's opinion held that O'Harra's company controls about 75 per cent of the highway motor transportation business in Alaska.

    A party of 200 people, including a doctor, a dentist and nurses, were expected to lave for Alaska by November 1st, A tank landing craft and a five-passenger plane have been purchased to help bring in supplies, and Major Heinmiller expressed hopes of having a thriving community there by spring.