Monday, May 24, 2010

Kenny Lake - Chitina, Alaska - 100 years of Army Roads!

Gravestone at Arlington Cemetery for
Major General Glen E. Edgerton

This year Chitina, Alaska plans to celebrate it's 100th birthday. Founded in 1910 as a town serving the railroad depot for the Kennecott Mine, it's one of the oldest towns in Alaska and was once considered a potential spot for Alaska's capital. In honor of Chitina's Centennial Celebration, I've named our Wayside espresso/gift store/burger bus operation The Terrain Depot.

Then I got to thinking about Kenny Lake's history page I wrote for back in 2007. I went and checked and sure enough, I wrote that Kenny Lake was founded in 1910 as an ARC Roadhouse on the Edgerton Highway, first called the Chitina Valdez Fairbanks Military Road. So I asked a couple old farmers up at the store why Kenny Lake wasn't celebrating their 100 year birthday. The farmers never got a chance to answer, because the new clerk jumped in and told me it wasn't a "community" until the 60s. I know that's what the state websites and state tour guides say, but they're wrong, I've already proved that. Now I'm trying to find out why Kenny Lake doesn't get to have a history. She actually said the people who lived here in 1910 didn't "feel" like they had a community.. and that's when I lost my temper and said ,"How in the hell do you know what the people felt who lived here then? Do you have any evidence for that or did you just pull that out of your..." and then I turned and walked out the door. I asked my neighbors who she is and she's the former Treasurer or Secretary of the League... and used to work for the Park. Heh.

So, instead of giving these local communitarians any more of my time, I'm thinking about why the communitarian State of Alaska isn't doing anything to celebrate the 100 year anniversary of the FIRST road ever built here, the Richardson Hwy, which goes right through Kenny Lake for at least 20 miles. It's not as if if they aren't aware of this fact:
The Richardson Highway is Alaska's oldest highway, beginning as a gold rush trail to Eagle in 1898. General Wilds P. Richardson worked to upgrade it to a wagon road in 1910 after the Fairbanks gold strike. It was made suitable for automobiles in the 1920's and was paved in 1957. Major side excursions include Chitina and McCarthy via the Edgerton Highway and McCarthy Road.

Then I thought some more and went hey! What about the Edgerton Highway? What year was it completed? And while there is nothing online at any of the sites I scoured, it's apparent that the Edgerton Highway was completed at the same time Chitina became a town..because this is the road to Chitina, it's what connects Chitina to the Richardson. So technically we have Three Centennial Celebrations in our area this summer. And most important of the three celebrations is to honor the achievements made by the Alaska Road Commission and the US ARMY CORPS of ENGINEERS who made it possible for Alaska to join the 20th century.

Now I wish I'd have thought of this a whole lot sooner, because I'd guess the US Army might be interested in assisting me in planning this celebration. I found an Alaska state library too with lots of archived documents that would reveal a lot more about the history here. I always wanted to go deeper into our region's history but that was never going to pay me a dime so I didn't do it. Now I'm planning to enter the tourism market this summer and am looking at every possible angle I can find to advertise our existence. The Chitina Centennial is sponsored by their Chamber of Commerce. My Alaska Road Commission Centennial is sponsored by my principles.

I remain dumbfounded by the level of revisionist history I see happening here, and I can't stop myself from wanting to get to the bottom of this deception. I've spent most of my time lately researching the Community Plans and the way ABCD is moving into our area. But now that I'm back to thinking about my business and the importance of advertising and marketing, I'm ashamed that my state has forsaken the men who made the state possible. Our few roads are of primary importance to people across Alaska. The first road ever built should be a big deal.

Where would all these Indians and Nature Lovers drive their SUVs if the Army hadn't built anything for them to drive on? There's no evidence they've ever built anything we all use today. How would the RVs and cars and motorcycles get here if it wasn't for the US Army (and Scottish) engineers and troops (including an all black regiment) who built the Alcan Highway and every bridge on the way to and in Alaska? Modern culture is tied to the roadways and it's possible these roads might never have been built if the country would have been left in other hands. I don't know of one young Indian who does not have or desire to have modern technology in their daily lives. Everyone has snowmachines, 4x4s, cell phones, computers, televisions and vcrs and so okay the Japanese made most of this list, but that's the point, isn't it? Don't all American cultures deserve our utmost respect for what they gifted to each and every one of us? The "white" Europeans brought many good things to the Natives of Alaska and, as far as I can tell, back then it was a good trade for all sides except the Chinese. Some say the coolies working for the RR were all murdered and a mass grave exists somewhere along the McCarthy Road.

In 1971 the US Congress granted 1100 Ahtna their choice of land in the Copper River Basin. Naturally, because their subsistence naturalist lifestyle doesn't require roads, they claimed all the land along the roads. Now only Natives have places to go cut wood around here. Whites with Native relatives brag about it all the time and make it a badge of their superior position in the community. Since this whole communitarian redistribution of land started, after the feds and the parks and the state grabbed their portions, the "rest of us" non-Natives are left with the option to buy barely 1% of the land in the entire state.

I am tired of hearing how I need to honor the Indians and their way of life over my ancestors contributions to this state and this country. I know it's a communitarian divide and conquer technique, but that doesn't make me immune to it. And then part of my disgust is the level of complicity played by the tribes in implementing LA21 plans. But I really don't want to dwell on all the negative things going on around here.... not yet anyway. It's summer. It's time to make money and have lots of fun doing it!

Back to the celebrations!

Major Glen E. Edgerton was the engineer for our portion of the ARC Military Road, still not sure the exact date it was completed. At some later date the Highway was named for him. There's not a lot online about him but what there is shows an interesting fellow with connections to many names you'd recognize. I would LOVE to have access to copies of his orginal ARC blueprints!

1940-1944, Born in Parkerville, Kansas, on April 17, 1887, Glen E. Edgerton was the son of John Edgar and Alice Edgerton. Graduated from Kansas State College in 1904; from the Military Academy at West Point, in 1908; and from the U.S. Army engineering school in 1910; advanced through the grades to major general in 1942. In 1914 he married Cordelia I. Hessin.

Edgerton was assistant engineer of the Panama Canal from 1908 to 1909, then he was chief engineer of Alaska Road from 1910 to 1915; director of the War Department Sales from 1921 to 1923; chief of the Federal Power Communication from 1925 to 1929; assistant professor of the Engineering School of the U.S. Military Academy in 1930. He returned to Panama as Panama Canal maintenance engineer from 1936 to 1940, then he was appointed Governor of the Panama Canal Zone on July 11, 1940, and served in that position until 1944.

During his tenure, several administrative changes occurred: the organization formerly known as the Bureau of Clubs and Playgrounds was designated the Panama Canal clubhouses; the special construction division and the special engineering division were consolidated under the title of the special engineer division.

During his administration, also, the highway and railroad bridge across the Canal at the existing Miraflores locks was officially opened to vehicular traffic in 1942, thus providing the first permanent bridge connection between the east and west banks of the Canal since the Canal was opened in 1914, and the excavation for the third locks project was initiated.
Edgerton retired on April 30, 1949. He died in 1956.
The gravestone pictured above looks like it says he died in 1976, not 1956?

I found one tutorial he wrote:

Wooden and Combination Highway Bridges. by Captain Glen Edgar Edgerton; 36 pages, 18 illus. Price 3.50 {Item No.6221} [Includes: Introduction, Design: Substructures, Superstructures. Construction, Costs] [Good technical article on prefabricated light wooden truss bridges]

Edgerton renovated the White House under Truman and chaired the Selectoon Board that inducted the first 333 women into the US Army Officer's Corps.

Edgerton was also a member of the exclusive Alfafa Club, and one year he was their "candidate" for president. According to their official story, they are a secret club whose members just have fun and makes jokes. Edgerton's name comes up in a David Ike forum about the club

It's also been fun to see how many websites took their information from what I wrote on I can tell who did because I spelled Edgerton's name wrong.


Rita A. Miraglia said...

I find your ignorance and your dismissal of the Native people of the region you pretend to know the "history" of appalling. I can only hope the views you express are those of a tiny minority. The roads you are so excited about were built along Native trails, and in the process of building them, Native people were chased out of their homes, and the graves of their ancestors, and even their recently buried loved ones were either pushed out of the way or paved-over. Where would the roads have gone, if it hadn't been for the Native trails? I don't doubt there are acheivements to be celebrated, but ignoring the facts and sanitizing the history leaves us open to repeating the mistakes and the injustices of the past.

Niki Raapana said...

I'm not dismissing the Native people, or their trails, or their graveyards or their ancestors. I'm recognizing the entire state's dismissal of the contributions made by the people who brought the roads. And nobody here celebrated, nobody cared, because nobody knew.

I'm just a self taught anti communitarian legal researcher. I'm not an Alaskan historian. I'm sorry I didn't tell the whole story about the terrible injustices that are part of the Native story everywhere there was anything built in Alaska. The people of Nenana have a similar story with the ARR. I've lived in Alaska long enough to know about the schools in Eagle and the kidnappings of village kids. I understand how the families were separated which pretty much ended the traditional cultures. I also understand how our area history is being rewritten to fit the Copper River Country vision for our future. I study which groups and corporations accept the grant funds used to change our system.

I listen when my Native neighbors tell me that Ahtna is the government here. I am appalled when I hear local tribal councils have considered requiring all non Native hunters and fishers to have a Native guide who can teach them how to honor Mother Earth. There are a lot of political actions underway here. UN NGOs are using numerous groups to change the political structure of the Basin. There's not a corporation or nonprofit in this area that isn't part of LA21 regional planning.

Rita, you assumed I'm some sort of insensitive racist and attacked me for not including the Native side to a story which never got told. My whole point with this blog post was to piece together who these people were that built our hwys. But, because I was blogging and have been irritated about this for a while now, I shared my feelings about the issue and how it affects my life. That was personal, but the facts about the land use here are indisputable, as are the facts about the No Trespassing signs everywhere and the restricted access to the river.