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The History of Tanana, Alaska

Tanana is located in Interior Alaska about two miles west of the junction of the Tanana and Yukon Rivers, 130 air miles west of Fairbanks. It lies at approximately 65 10' N Latitude, 152 04' W Longitude (Sec. 17, T004N, R022W, Fairbanks Meridian). The community is located in the Ft. Gibbon Recording District. The area encompasses 17 sq. miles of land and 5 sq. miles of water.

Due to its location at the confluence of the Tanana and Yukon Rivers, Tanana was a traditional trading settlement for Koyukon and Tanana Athabascans long before European contact. In 1868, a trading station that was initially named Mercier was founded by a French Canadian company. In 1880, Harper's Station, an Alaska Commercial Company Trading Post, was established 13 miles downriver from the present site. In 1881, Church of England missionaries from Canada built a mission 8 miles downriver. Between 1887 and 1900, an elaborate school and hospital complex, the St. James Mission, was constructed. It became an important source of services and social change along both rivers. In 1898, Fort Gibbon was founded at Tanana to maintain the telegraph line between Fairbanks and Nome. A post office was also established, and several other trading posts developed around the turn of the century. Gold seekers left the Yukon after 1906. Ft. Gibbon was abandoned in 1923. The St. James Hospital was transferred to the BIA administration in the 1920s.

During World War II, an air base was established near Tanana as a refueling stop for the lend-lease aircraft program. New hospital facilities were built in 1949; and during the 1950s, hospital administration was transferred to the U.S. Public Health Service.

The City of Tanana was incorporated in 1961. The hospital complex was a major employer during this period, employing 54 persons with a payroll of $1.6 million, but was closed in 1982. During 1982, Tanana incorporated as a First Class City in order to assume control of the local school system. The hospital facilities were remodeled for use as a health clinic, nurse's quarters, tribal office, and day care center.

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