Girdwood Station 1930
Girdwood as seen from a parachute
Current Population: 1817
(not a defined community by census standards)
The town of Girdwood got its start as a trading and transportation route over the Chugach Range. In 1888, the first gold strike was discovered in Turnagain Arm near Hope. By 1895, the first claims were staked in this area on California Creek. The fledgling settlement was called "Glacier City." It was later renamed "Girdwood" after Col. James Girdwood (honorary title) who staked the first claims on Crow Creek (the present Crow Creek Mine site is pictured at right). As the town boomed with the prospect of gold, it continued to serve as a trading route to the Ship Creek Basin (today's Anchorage). Part of the Iditarod Trail ran up the banks of Glacier Creek and over Crow Pass to Eagle River.
The population in 1916 was only 60 people, but on the weekends the population often swelled to 300. Girdwood has long been a favorite place for recreation. The recreational opportunities keep expanding: downhill skiing, snowboarding, cross country skiing, snowshoeing, back country skiing, helicopter skiing, paragliding, flight seeing, sled dog rides, carriage rides, biking, hiking, berry picking, skate boarding, tennis, swimming, fishing, river rafting and gold panning.
In 1915, the Alaska Northern Railroad failed, reaching Mile 71, four miles southeast of Girdwood. The Railway was then purchased by the Federal Government for $1.5 million. Though founded as a mining town, the development of Girdwood was spurred on by this new railroad construction.
Captain Austin Lathrop produced the movie, The Cheechakos" in Girdwood in 1924. The Post Office re-opened at Girdwood and the Government built Crow Creek Road.
Mining in the upper Crow Creek area continued until 1939 when mine closures by a World War II presidential order made Girdwood a near ghost town.
In 1949, Girdwood again flourished as construction began on the Seward Highway connecting the seaport of Seward to Anchorage. By October 1951, the road was open and the population took a dip again. Today, road crews and construction workers continue to live in Girdwood during the construction season.
In 1954, eleven local men formed the Alyeska Ski Corporation along with the beginnings of the hard-earned dream of a first-class ski resort. In 1960, the first chair lift and a day lodge was built. Francoise de Gunzburg, a Frenchman and a member of the Rothechild Banking family managed to secure a used chair lift from France that was dismantled, shipped to Alaska and rebuilt at Alyeska.
[From Winonah Sacks 10/28/05: "I grew up in Girdwood between 1964 and 1979. My mother, Edith Lincoln was one of the 'Girdwood eleven' who pledged $250 towards the purchase of the land for Alyeska Ski Resort in 1956. Your article stated that it was eleven 'men'. Mom was single at that time and was Girdwood's only school teacher for quite while.']
In 1962, lots in Girdwood were a hard sell at $1,000 each. Today you can't touch one for much under $50,000.
Then, tragedy struck. On Good Friday in 1964, an earthquake with the magnitude of 9.2 dropped the coastal edges along the Turnagain Arm 8 to 10 feet! The highway and old town site found themselves under water. Consequently, the town site of Girdwood moved two and 1/2 miles up the valley to the present location. Silt from the surrounding glaciers continues to gradually fill in the arm. Today, Old Girdwood is open again for housing and business.
Earthquakes weren't the only natural
disasters to strike Girdwood. In 1969, an avalanche destroyed the lower
chair terminal. In 1973, another avalanche wiped out a chair lift.
The Spring of 1999 again brought another dangerous avalanche which briefly
buried two people.
1970, Girdwood became a first-class city with a profitable ski resort and
new chair lifts being built. By 1975, the need for a new sewer system prompted
the unification with the Municipality of Anchorage. 2,500 acres of Girdwood
land was deeded to the Alaska Heritage Land Bank. Today, city planners
are discussing the prospects of opening a golf course along Glacier Creek.
In 1994, Tommy Moe of Girdwood wins the Olympic Gold & Silver Medal. A new $80+ million Alyeska Hotel opened along with a double tram to Mt. Alyeska.
Today, two gold mines are in
operation in Girdwood. Crow Creek Mine still has several of the original
buildings and is a great place for the amateur to try gold panning.
What began as a gold rush town and trading route over the glaciers, has
become a resort destination and home for approximately 1,500 outdoor-minded
Alaska Railroad near Girdwood
Page created 12/1/99 and last updated 12/2/11