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Collection Meeting of Frontiers

Gold Rush

This essay was published in 2000 as part of the original Meeting of Frontiers website.

July 4th Parade, 1915, Nome, Alaska. LC Carpenter Collection. Nome matured quickly from a rambunctious mining camp to an important commercial center with ties to Siberia.

Alaska's gold rush began in 1896-97 when gold was discovered in the Klondike in Canada's Yukon Territory. Lured by the hopes of quick riches, thousands of prospectors streamed through the Pacific Northwest and Alaska, demanding goods and services. With the best gold fields claimed by 1898, many began searching in Alaska. Major strikes occurred in Nome in 1898 and near Fairbanks in 1902.

Most of these stampeders did not get rich, but a good number decided to stay in Alaska afterwards, quickly transforming its population. Between 1897 and 1907 prospectors founded more than fifty gold-mining camps in various parts of Alaska, some of which, such as Nome and Fairbanks, grew into major towns. In the early years of the twentieth century railroad lines began to link mines and ports. Then, between 1915 and 1923, the Alaska Railroad was built, and Anchorage was founded as its construction base. By the early twentieth century the Russian presence in Alaska seemed a distant past, although many buildings and the Orthodox heritage survived.


Unlike Sitka, which had its roots with the Russian colonization of Alaska, Anchorage was a thoroughly American settlement. It appeared almost overnight in 1915, when the corporation contracted to build the Alaskan Railroad from Seward to Fairbanks established its headquarters in the vicinity of Ship Creek Landing. The massive construction project attracted a flood of workers and merchants. In an amazingly short period of time, what had begun as a tent city managed by the Alaska Engineering Commission blossomed into Alaska's largest city.


The Russian presence in Sitka dates back to 1799, when the Russian-American Company established Mikhailovsky, or Redoubt St. Michael, a few miles north of the present-day city center. Tlingits destroyed the post in 1802, but two years later the Russians returned to establish a more permanent settlement. Named soon thereafter as New Archangel, this city would serve as the capital of Russian Alaska from 1808 until its sale to the United States in 1867. Several buildings from the Russian era survived well into the twentieth century, lasting monuments to that country's role in the early history of the region.