Curry began its colorful life as a section station for maintenance of Way. In 1922 A.E.C. Chairman Fredrick Mears named the station at mile 248.5 after Congressman Charles F. Curry of California, chairman of the Committee on Territories. Charles Curry was a heavy supporter of the railroad in congress and the honor was accepted with a warm note of thanks.
Because Curry was halfway between Seward and Fairbanks, it presented an ideal spot for travelers and rail workers to spend the night during the two-day steam train trip. Furthermore, a new stylish resort would hold the potential to draw additional passenger revenue.
Billed as "a palace in the wilderness where accommodations are modern, inviting and comfortable and the cuisine of highest order," the Curry Hotel opened in 1923. A special 14 passenger gas car service operated to Willow or Montana Creeks for trout and grayling fishing.
As the popularity of the resort grew, so did its offerings. A suspension footbridge across the Susitna River was built in the summer of 1924. Amazingly, this bridge was 537 feet long, 4 feet wide and was hung between two 31 foot high metal towers. Across the bridge, atop a 2600 foot mountain, a shelter house was erected for the benefit of tourists and others. This was called Regalvista because of the magnificent view of Mount McKinley from this point. This was a 5 mile hike over the Meadow Lake Trail. By 1925, Curry was already becoming a very popular resort.
On July 18, 1926, the engine house and power plant at Curry were destroyed by fire caused when coal dust came in contact with overheated stack. A rotary snowplow and one locomotive was damaged. A new engine house and power plant were built in two separate buildings.
In 1926 a two-story annex 36 feet by 72 feet, connected by a 65 foot covered balcony to the hotel, was constructed, and tents erected to take care of the increased tourist business. The hotel grounds were improved by clearing and removing stumps from a small additional area in view of the hotel. With little additional expense, a three hole golf course, a tennis court and a small swimming pool were constructed. The deck of the suspension bridge across the Susitna River was also reconstructed. In 1927 a chicken house, hog house and barn were built. The Curry Hotel was proving to be one of the best attractions along the ARR.
The Curry engine house was destroyed by fire in 1933. A locomotive was in the engine house and was badly damaged. Since it was obsolete and due to be retired, it was not considered a loss. Construction of a 24 foot by 242 foot engine house took place soon thereafter.
In 1935-1936 an addition was built on the hotel which connected it to the annex. The expansion added twelve rooms with private bathrooms, four private bathrooms to serve four rooms in the main hotel and six multi-bedrooms without private bathrooms.
Although Curry seemed to be a "dream come true", dark clouds were looming on the horizon. With the construction of the McKinley Park Hotel in 1939 and faster train service later on, the popularity of Curry began to wane. However, the railroad continued to put its faith in Curry. In 1944 the railroad built employee's dormitories and in 1945 the lobby and several rooms were remodeled to permit the installation of a cocktail lounge and bar.
Disaster again struck Curry on June 6, 1945 when a hand fired locomotive-type steam boiler in the power plant exploded due to low water in the boiler. The plant building was demolished and a new similar building, 62 feet by 44 feet was constructed as a replacement.
The railroad also began marketing weekend excursions to Curry in 1947. These proved to be very popular so a ski slope and jumping area were cleared and a cabin built. In 1948 Army types barracks were assembled at Curry as well as Anchorage, Healy and Fairbanks. Also that same year, the railroad began promoting a "Fisherman's Special." Fisherman could catch a train from Anchorage to Curry. They would leave on a Saturday, return on Sunday. Fisherman could get off any place along the line and were picked up on the return trip.
Curry's fate was finally sealed on Tuesday morning, April
9, 1957 when a fire burned the 75 room hotel to the ground killing three
people. The Railbelt Reporter said, "All that remained of the historic
structure were smoldering ashes, two tall chimneys and a tangle of pipes."
Citing safety issues, the railroad removed or razed all structures.
Today, all that remains is a large meadow and a few interpretive sign boards.
An important footnote from section foreman Bruce Gough, dated 12/29/02: "This year the Nordic Ski Club will be going to Curry for their annual ski train trip. This will be a first for them. As you know, Curry had a ski tow lift located behind the the hotel on the east side. A part of Alaska history that is long gone but not forgotten by a small few people."
Personal memories of Curry
U.S. Army 714th Railway Operating Battalion 1943-1944
"The Curry Hotel was used mainly for an overnight stay for passengers arriving on Number 2 on each Tuesday evening at 7:00 PM providing they were on time and used on Thursday evening for an overnight stay. They only ran one train, one round trip a week when I was in Alaska. We had several of our G. I.'s stationed there, such as cooks, maintenance personnel, and if I remember correctly, an operator ticket agent also. The passengers could eat in the dining room at the hotel and the G. I.'s and civilian railroaders ate in a large room in the basement next to the kitchen. If you look at the picture of the Curry Hotel, there was a pretty good sized building to the left (south). That was a railroad dormitory and where I was assigned a room. To then south of the dormitories were a few houses. I think mostly were lived in by section men and roundhouse employees. When the trains came in, all of us would gather on the platform to see the passengers unload. It was kind of fun on the nights of passenger lay over. They would congregate out on the platform to watch us unload merchandise out of the way cars for Curry. Watching us check everything, orders and so forth"
Retired Alaska Railroad engineer
From a February 11, 2003 email:
"I went to live at Curry in 1949 along with my wife. I more or less had to go there as it was the only place I could hold a job. I bid a hostler job in that lasted 6 months. The next time it came up for bid, I bid it again, making my stay there one year. I can honestly say that it was the best year I ever spent on the Railroad. No car to worry about. Only lived about a block from work. We made a grocery list out once a week to the commissary and it arrived every Monday on the local. Had lots of friends there. In fact, I knew about everyone that lived there and some that didn't. We had parties and dances and stuff like that. I even built a boat while there. I built but didn't buy the materials. Another old guy paid for them. We all had a great time running the river. Old money bags name was Jim Smith. My best friend was named Jim Reekie. He and I have know each other since we were kids in Anchorage back in the early 30's.
"I read in the article written by the ex GI. That he thought the bridge towers were made of steel. Really they were built of big timbers. They tore the bridge down after the big fire in 1957. It was getting pretty rickety at the last. Wasn't there when the power plant blew up, but knew that the fireman was killed. Curry had two side tracks and a wye.
"There was a roundhouse cat that climbed the water tank one day and stayed up there for three, four days before some one got up enough nerve to go after it. Before Mark Reasoner climbed up, we at the bottom got a big tarp and held it under where we thought the cat would land. Mark finally let the cat fall. It howled all the way down, thinking it was done for. It landed on the tarp, bounced up and took off for the roundhouse. It never went back up again as far as I know.
"I hated to leave the place. Oh, I have been back a number of times, but never as a hostler. Never to live there again. And ever since, it has gone down hill. Finally, all that was left was the old army style mess hall with rooms up stairs for snow fleet guys when they had to stay over."
From a February 12, 2003 email answering John Combs'
[Describing his living accommodations] "I shipped up a little house trailer. I went to the railroad and explained my situation to them and they let me ship it free. After I arrived with the trailer, I moved it next door to my friend's Quonset hut. You can see the trailer in the picture taken from the ski area. Only had two rooms in it, no bath. We used an outhouse, or any place that we could, like the hotel or my friends house. [The trailer] was heated with oil. The railroad furnished the oil. It was rent free. I even climbed the electric pole out it front and hooked up my own electricity.
[Describing the bridge across the Susitna River and the Meadow Lake Trail] "Went across the bridge lots of time. Also walked back up the that place you call Regalvista. I have never heard it called that. We all called it 'The Lookout.' You had a perfect view of Mt McKinley. The whole mountain. I have a picture of 'The Lookout.' A bunch of snow machiners went up there a couple years ago and restored it as much as possible using the picture they borrowed from me to do it. What I understand is that a bunch of B and B [bridges and buildings] guys off the railroad hauled all the materials back by hand. For those that felt like walking, it was worth it. I remember walking up there and the first thing you saw was the top of the mountain. It got bigger and bigger as you walked up. There are no trees to block your vision. A really beautiful sight."
Retired Locomotive Engineer Albert Bailey's Stunning Curry Photo Collection
Retired Road Foreman Weaver Franklin's Photo Collection
Also see Excerpts from Charlie
Rainwater's Memoirs and Curry Ski
Hill 1947 to 1957
Page created 2/8/03 and last updated 10/2/10