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The History of Wrangell, Alaska

A Guide to Modern Wrangell, Alaska

    The City of Wrangell is located on the northern tip of Wrangell Island, 155 miles south of Juneau and 89 miles northwest of Ketchikan. It is near the mouth of the Stikine River, an historic trade route to the Canadian Interior. It lies at approximately 56 28' N Latitude, 132 22' W Longitude (Sec. 25, T062S, R083E, Copper River Meridian). The community is located in the Wrangell Recording District. The area encompasses 59 sq. miles of land and 34 sq. miles of water.

    Wrangell is one of the oldest non-Native settlements in Alaska. In 1811, the Russians began fur trading with area Tlingits, and built a stockade named Redoubt Saint Dionysius in 1834. The Island was named for Ferdinand Von Wrangel, manager of the Russian-American Co. around 1830. The British of Hudson's Bay Co. leased the fort in 1840, and named the stockade Fort Stikine. A large Stikine Indian village known as Kotzlitzna was located 13 miles south of the fort. The Tlingits claimed their own ancient trade rights to the Stikine River, and protested when the Hudson Bay Company began to use their trade routes. But two epidemics of smallpox, in 1836 and 1840, reduced the Tlingit population by half. The fort was abandoned in 1849 when furs were depleted. The fort remained under the British flag until Alaska's purchase by the U.S. in 1867.

    In 1868, a U.S. military post called Fort Wrangell was established, named for the Island. The community continued to grow as an outfitter for gold prospectors in 1861, 1874-77, and in 1897. Riotous activity filled gambling halls, dance halls, and the streets. Thousands of miners traveled up the Stikine River into the Cassiar District of British Columbia during 1874, and again to the Klondike in 1897. Glacier Packing Company began operating in Wrangell in 1889. The Wilson & Sylvester Sawmill provided packing boxes for canneries, and lumber for construction. By 1916, fishing and forest products had become the primary industries - four canneries and a cold storage plant were constructed by the late 1920s. In the 1930s, cold packing of crab and shrimp was occurring.

    Abundant spruce and hemlock resources have helped to expand the lumber and wood products industry. The Alaska Pulp Corporation sawmill, Wrangell's largest employer, closed in late 1994.

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