Column – Commentary
Second grade historians study Ketchikan history
By DAVE KIFFER
May 02, 2022
Ketchikan, Alaska – Recently, Katie Sivertsen’s second grade students at Point Higgins Elementary School studied Ketchikan history. Each one focused on a different facet of the First City’s heritage.
They were encouraged to take on the personas of actual people in Ketchikan history. Then they presented their work at the Tongass Historical Museum. Much of the information they used came from history stories in the SITNEWS archives. Here are the presentations they gave at the museum recently. It is abundantly clear that Ketchikan has a great group of future historians to carry Ketchikan’s “stories” forward.
Vanellope – Diaz Cafe
My name is Clara Diaz and I own Diaz Cafe, a restaurant in Ketchikan. Diaz Cafe has been open since 1964 on Steedman Street. Before Diaz was open, the Diaz family had a restaurant in Newtown in the 1950s.
Our family moved to Juneau from the Philippines in 1934 and then to Ketchikan in 1955. Mama Diaz was our first owner, but she got hit by a car in the 1960s and family members took over the restaurant to help her. I became the owner in 1978, after working as a nurse in Ketchikan for 25 years.
Our cafe is important to Ketchikan because it is an institution and tradition. We have lots of locals who love to eat our Filipino food.
Lene – Teacher at Clover Pass School
My name is Edna Borigo and I am a teacher at Clover Pass School. Clover Pass School was built in 1947 on Potter Road.
In the 1940s, lots of families moved out north to Clover Pass, and soon there were enough kids out there to have their own school. That way they didn’t have to take a long bus ride to town. The families worked together to build the school, get a teacher, and the supplies for the students. The school didn’t have electricity, but we figured it out with lanterns for light, an oil stove for heat, and a barrel with water and a dipper to drink. We didn’t even have a bathroom, we had to use an outhouse!
The kids had a lot of fun at Clover Pass School. Snapper Carson used to take care of stray cats by hiding them in a stump behind the school and sneaking them canned milk from home to feed them. One day, one of the cats had kittens and I found them!
Clover Pass School closed in 1961, but the building is still on Potter Road.
Cora – Boat Builder
My name is Ott Inman and I am a boat builder and I owned the Ketchikan Shingle Mill. I came to Ketchikan in 1892. When I first came here, I built a shingle mill on Ketchikan Creek.
In 1913, I opened the Star Boat Shop on Front Street. For a little while, I helped an undertaker by building coffins for him.
I married a Tlingit woman named Virginia and we had four children.
In my boat shop, I built sturdy wooden boats without any nails in them! We even built the first ice breakers for the Yes Bay Hatchery in 1920 and four boats for the US Lighthouse Service in 1930.
I died in 1942, and Inman Street is named after me.
Jerome – New York Hotel Owner
I am George Shimizu, and I am the original owner of the New York Hotel. My family bought the New York Café on Stedman Street from the Ohashi family, then we built our hotel in 1925 . My family y was Japanese, and our hotel was in Indian Tow n, so we didn’t just serve white people in town.
At first, our hotel had 18 rooms and only one bathroom! Everybody had to share the bathroom, and we onl y allowed baths one day a week.
Our family was forced to leave during World War II, after Japan bombed Pearl Harbor. We left our hotel and other people took care of it for years, but eventually it became run down.
Fred Ochsner bought the hotel in 1984 and spent 6 years fixing it up. He even camped in one of the rooms to save money! The New York Hotel is still open today, and every room has its own bathroom now.
Josie – Fish Pirate
My name is Josie and I am a fish pirate! I was born in Ketchikan in the early 1900s. We started pirating, or stealing fish from fish traps, because us fishermen couldn’t compete with the canneries. Alaska banned fish traps in 1960.
Jackson – Miner
My name is Jackson and I am a gold miner. I came to Ketchikan in the 1880s on my way to the Klondike Gold Rush. More than 100,000 miners joined me in Alaska. Most came back empty handed, but not me.
There isn’t very much gold in Ketchikan. Most miners came through Ketchikan on our way up to the Yukon or back home to the lower 48.
There were copper and marble mines on Prince of Wales Island too, and mining companies are still looking for uranium and other rare earth metals.
Jacob – Commercial Diver
My name is Greg Updike and I am a commercial diver. I own the Alaskan Salvor. The Salvor was built in 1953 in San Diego, California. Our ship can support hard hat diving, which has been happening in Ketchikan since the 1920s. Hard hat divers helped fix fish traps, worked on the underwater parts of docks and roads, and pulled important things from the bottom of the ocean, including cars and boats that sunk. Hard hat divers dove before scuba diving was invented, so they had to be connected to an air pump at the surface by a hose to breathe.
The Alaskan Salvor is important to Ketchikan today, because we helped build the new cruise ship dock in Ward Cove.
Hunter H. – Weaver
My name is Delores Churchill and I am a Haida weaver. I was born in 1929 in British Columbia and started weaving when I was 5 years old. I came to Ketchikan in the late 1930s or early 1940s and went to high school at Kayhi. I worked at the hospital in Ketchikan, and when I retired, I really focused on learning and teaching weaving.
I am important to Ketchikan because I taught adults and kids about Alaska Native and Haida culture. I help our community by teaching Ravens tail weaving and Haida language. You can find my art all over Alaska, and even in the Smithsonian Museum in Washington DC
Grace – Tatsuda’s Grocery Store
My name is Jimmy Tatsuda and I opened Jimmie’s Grocery Store in 1916. I came to Ketchikan in 1904 from Japan. My grocery stores have always been open on Stedman Street, which used to be in Indian Town. My family and our store helped the people who lived in Indian Town because they didn’t have to walk so far to get groceries. We also sold groceries to people on credit, when they didn’t have enough money to buy food for their family.
During World War II, our family members in Ketchikan were sent to a detention camp, but people in Ketchikan took care of our store. We had two fires in our stores, but we were always able to rebuild. In 2020, a rockslide destroyed our store and we tried to stay open, but our family closed our business in 2021.
Forrest – Bruce Johnstone
My name is Bruce Johnstone and I came to Ketchikan in 1920. I killed Old Groaner, a famous old bear, in 1935 on the Unuk River. It took three shots to kill Old Groaner! I came to Ketchikan when I was 11 years old with my family. I worked as a miner, hunting guide, trapper, logger, fisherman, and mill worker.
Anders – Pilot
My name is Bob Ellis and I am a pilot. I was born in Vermont in 1903 and joined the Navy, where I learned how to fly. I was a navigator on the first non-stop flight between Seattle an d Juneau in 1929.
I founded Ellis Air Transport in Ketchikan in 1936, which we renamed Ellis Airlines in 1940. I would fly groceries, mail, and even cash for people in small villages all over Southeast Alaska.
I flew all over Alaska during World War II . I even helped free Attu and Kiska Island s from Japan. After the war, my airline grew and grew, until it became part of Alaska Airlines in 1968.
I famously flew the Gruman Goose, an amphibious aircraft, and was Ketchikan’s first flying Santa Claus. I di ed in 1994.
Emery – Commercial Fisherman
My name is Emery and I am a commercial fisherman. Fishing has always been important to Ketchikan, starting with Tlingit people fishing on Ketchikan Creek since time immemorial. White people came to Ketchikan and began fishing for salmon and halibut in the 1880s, and fishing still gives us lots of jobs today.
Hunter R. – Coast Guard
My name is Hunter and I am in the Coast Guard. The Coast Guard has been in Ketchikan, in one form or another, for over 115 years. The US Lighthouse Service began helping ships safely move in the Inside Passage since the 1880s. The Coast Guard base was built in 1918, and in 1939, the Lighthouse Service and Coast Guard were combined. The Coast Guard is one of Ketchikan’s biggest emplo yers today, and still helps keep Ketchikan safe.
Judah – Logger
My name is Judah and I am a logger.
Ketchikan lives in the middle of Tongass National Forest, which has 17 million acres.
Ketchikan had sawmills as early as 1902.
Fishermen overfished our salmon, and Ketchikan needed a way to make money and give people jobs, so our government started to focus on timber.
Ketchikan’s pulp mill was built in Ward Cove in 1954, which gave us around 2000 jobs and 100 million dollars e ach year.
All of these jobs led Ketchikan to build houses, apartments, and roads.
But, the timber industry shrunk after about 20 years. The pulp mill closed in 1997.
The Discovery Center was built where Ketchikan Spruce Mill once stood.
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Dave Kiffer is a freelance writer living in Ketchikan, Alaska.
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