Haines Alaska


     After World War II a group of friends who had served together bought Fort William Seward, lock, stock and barrel. The fort had been built about 1902 to help bring government to Alaska. It was very traditionally arranged, with imposing homes for officers at the top of the hill, overlooking a large parade ground surrounded by barracks buildings, a hospital, a gymnasium, a mule barn and various other buildings. The whole place overlooks Port Chilcoot Bay, one of the most beautiful places on earth. 

     Fort Seward captured our imagination. We were told by one of the summer residents that the same families still own the buildings that haven’t been sold off, and they obviously still maintain all the ones that are empty. The Fort is a national historical site, and also an integral part of the town of Haines which adjoins the place. Nowadays some of the buildings are occupied as restaurants, a B&B, a Tlingit Tribal house, a native art co-op, some private residences and a craft distillery. But it still retains its character as a proper army outpost built to military standards of architecture and arrangement. 

       I couldn’t get by the fact that quite a few of the buildings, including the one remaining huge barracks building, still haven’t found a use. These old buildings housed what had to be a very happy community. The placards show pictures of dances with lots of local girls, sleigh rides, hunting trips and just enjoying this lovely little fishing village. The friends who bought the place had to have done so as a labor of love and a celebration of camaraderie.  After two more generations the work of discovering the perfect use for the fort continues.  Folks in Haines spoke in real animated tones of how lots of uses have been considered, including a community college, or condominium units, or a Native American heritage center. So far nothing has caught on completely, especially for the three story barracks that’s almost too big for any single use in this town of 1700 or so people.

     For me that’s the mystique of Haines.  Half the town is there, and yet still not fully developed.  Out of a noble and distinguished past, there’s a future to be discovered. Those WWII veterans who embarked on a gigantic common commitment, bigger than the Bubba Gump Shrimp Company, are still working out the details. 

     There just has to be a happy ending in here somewhere!  Anyway, here’s my pictures of Haines.  We love this place.

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