Sep 092018
 
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Historic buildings in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

A recreated Gold Rush Town, an outdoor Alaskan feast, and a musical comedy revue about history and northern life in Pioneer Park, Fairbanks, Alaska

(Disclosure: Thanks to Explore Fairbanks for hosting my visit. Opinions and observations, as always, are my own.)

The museums and old buildings in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska provide an interesting glimpse into Fairbanks’ past amid modern-day amenities.

Pioneer Park opened in 1967 as the Alaska Centennial Exposition celebrating the 100-year anniversary of the U.S. purchase of Alaska from Russia. It is home to many of Fairbanks’ early cabins and buildings, moved from their original locations to the park.

Gold Rush Town

The relocated buildings have been placed on a series of pedestrian streets to create a Gold Rush Town. Fairbanks got its start in 1902 when gold was discovered in the area. Signs on the outside walls of the buildings identify where they came from and when they were originally built.

This white wood church, now in Pioneer Parks, was the first church in Fairbanks, Alaska

The first church in Fairbanks

Log Palace Hotel and Bath House, circa 1906, in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

The Palace Hotel and Bath House was constructed in 1906. It was located on 4th Avenue. The bath house was on the first floor.

Georgia Lee House with covered front porch and decorative pillars in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

Georgia Lee House was used by a prostitute in the 1920s in Nenana during construction of the Alaska Railroad. In 1928, the building was moved to 4th Avenue in Fairbanks.

Log cabins in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

The majority of the buildings in Gold Rush Town are log cabins, which I came to associate with Fairbanks because of the number I saw there. Although the log cabins in Pioneer Park are from the past, log cabins are not just relegated to history in Alaska. I came across many newer-build log cabins as well.

Old log cabinwith dogsledonroof in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

One of the earliest cabins in Fairbanks, this cabin was built by two Finns and was located on 2nd Avenue. Original mud can still be seen between some of the logs.
Note the dogsled on the roof.

Turquoise log cabin in Pioneer Park Fairbanks, Alaska

Doc Stearns, the first veterinarian in Fairbanks, built this cabin himself.

Turquoise trimmed log cabin, once a motel unit, in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

This cabin was one of several built in 1948 and used as motels that were later rented as homes. Rumour has it the cabins saw many lively parties.

Sign on building in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska indicates 1967 flood level

Fairbanks experienced an historic flood in 1967 when the Chena River spilled over and the city became a lake for more than a week. Signage on one of the buildings indicates how high the floodwaters were.  The Chena River Lake Flood Control Project was subsequently constructed to protect Fairbanks from future floods.

Inside many of the historic buildings, you’ll find food concessions and modern-day gift and specialty stores.

The Little Willow log cabin in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

The cabin that now houses The Little Willow store was the home of Lee. B. Loomis of Loomis Security. It was built in 1903 and has leaded windows.

Former ranger cabin in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

This ranger cabin was owned by Henry (Harry) Peter Karstons, co-founder of the first climb on Mount McKinley/Denali.

Street view of Gold Rush Town in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

Other buildings contain museums, such as the Pioneer Museum, filled with artifacts of early Fairbanks.

The Wickersham House museum in Puoneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

The Wickersham House, built by Judge James Wickersham in 1904, is now a museum with free admission.

Kitty Hensley House in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

Kitty Hensley House

The Kitty Hensley House was originally located on Eighth Avenue. In 1914, Kitty Hensley’s friend Captain Smythe, a retired riverboat captain, remodeled the 1900s cabin with lumber from one of his sternwheelers that had been badly damaged during spring break-up. It is now a free-admission museum furnished with authentic period furniture.

Other museums located in Gold Rush Town are the Riverboat Nenana and the Tanana Valley Railroad Museum.

Harding Car railroad car on display in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

At the edge of Gold Rush Town, you’ll find the Harding Car, built in 1905 in Chicago, Illinois. It carried passengers until 1945. It is the train car President Warren G. Harding rode in when he came to Alaska in 1923 to drive the Golden Spike for the Alaska Railroad. The Golden Spike signified the completion of the 500-mile-long line.

Salmon Bake

Shaded seating area for the Salmon Bake dinner in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

At the other end of the park, picnic tables under the shade of birch trees provide a lovely setting for the popular Salmon Bake dinner. All-you-care-to-eat wood grilled salmon, beer battered cod, and slow roasted prime rib, accompanied by roasted potatoes, baked beans, sourdough rolls and a salad bar, are served buffet-style.

Salmon Bake meal at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

Golden Heart Revue

Palace Theatre in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

During summer months, the Palace Theatre in Gold Rush Town stages an evening performance, the Golden Heart Revue. The show is named after the city’s motto, the “Golden Heart City”. The name comes from the city’s gold mining history, its location in the heart of Alaska, and its hospitality. The Golden Heart Revue is a musical comedy covering highlights of Fairbanks history and providing a humourous look at life in the north. A little on the corny side, the show is a lot of fun. Old sing-along tunes, comic misfortunes of early Fairbanks history, a drag dancing girl from the seamier side of Fairbanks, a present-day fashion show in which the model wears so many layers in winter she can barely move, and Fairbanks’ winter theme song (“Honolulu” sung to the the tune of the “Hallelujah Chorus”). It will make you laugh and you’ll leave with a smile on your face.

Scenes from the Golden Heart Revue in Fairbanks, Alaska

Scenes from the Golden Heart Revue

Visiting Pioneer Park

Other attractions in Pioneer Park include children’s playgrounds, the Bear Gallery (art gallery), the Pioneer Air Museum, miniature golf, volleyball, bocce ball, horseshoe and kayak and canoe rentals.

Evening concert in gazebo in Pioneer Park in Fairbanks, Alaska

The gazebo in Gold Rush Town hosts evening concerts in the summer.

Pioneer Park is open year-round, 24 hours a day. Admission to the park is free, but many of the museums and activities charge admission. The concessions, shops and museums in Pioneer Park are open from Memorial Day weekend through Labor Day weekend. The Salmon Bake and Golden Heart Revue take place nightly from mid-May to mid-September.

I enjoyed walking through Pioneer Park. I did not have the time to visit all the museums, but would certainly do so on a future visit. I recommend both the Salmon Bake and the Golden Heart Revue for anyone visiting Fairbanks.

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  2 Responses to “A Taste of Interior Alaska History at Pioneer Park in Fairbanks”

  1. Really interested in the replica gold rush town. The buildings look pretty authentic although I think of a Gold Rush town as being a little more beat up.

    • Ken, I think it looks authentic because the buildings are all original – they’ve just been moved from their original locations. They are also well looked after – I do think of a Gold Rush town as little more beat up – or maybe just muddier from mud streets, etc.

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