Juneau's Museums are a Record of the Past
Indoor and outdoor venues are interesting and informative
Unlike most other towns in Southeast Alaska, Juneau was lucky enough to survive its pioneer days without suffering a major fire. Many original buildings still stand, from 100-year-old hotels and gold rush-era saloons to an “onion-dome” church and colorful Victorian homes.
In this way, Juneau is like one big museum, especially the downtown historic district, where every street echoes the city’s past. Be sure to grab a “Discover Juneau Downtown Map” and keep your eyes peeled for blue three-sided historic signposts.
Set into the side of Juneau’s iconic Mt. Roberts, it’s hard to miss the hulking remains of the Alaska-Juneau or A-J Mine, decommissioned in 1921. For an up close and personal look at what was at one time the world’s largest gold-producing mill, AJ Mine Gastineau Mill Tour will take you down inside an actual A-J mineshaft. In a converted mine at the end of Basin Road—watch for bears, eagles, and mountain goats—Last Chance Mining Museum features mining tools, machines, infrastructure, antiques, and other hand-on exhibits. Venture across Gastineau Channel to Douglas Island’s Sandy Beach and be rewarded with a self-guided walking tour of the historic Treadwell Mine, the ruins of a once sprawling complex complete with housing, stores, cafeterias, and even Alaska’s first indoor swimming pool—that is, until catastrophic flooding in 1917 forced its abandonment.
In true “Klondike” fashion, some of Juneau’s oldest establishments are drinking establishments. Juneau's first bar, the Missouri (built in 1891) exists today as the Imperial Bar (241 Front Street) with original pressed tin ceiling and walls from 1906. Near the downtown waterfront and adorned with ornate turn-of-the-century furnishings, the Alaskan Hotel & Bar (167 South Franklin) is listed on the National Register of Historic Sites. At the Red Dog Saloon (278 South Franklin) you’ll find a variety of Alaska memorabilia, including Wyatt Earp’s gun from his time in Nome.
Desiring a more sanctified experience? Continue up Franklin Street toward Fifth where you will find St. Nicholas Russian Orthodox Church (326 Fifth Street). Russian Orthodox Alaska Natives and Siberian gold miners built this octagonal, gold-domed house of worship in 1894 and the church remains in use today. It, too, rates as a national historic landmark.
Of course, Juneau also enjoys a rich political history, beginning with its designation as territorial seat in 1900. Since 1931, the Alaska Capitol, on Fourth Street between Main and Seward, has housed the Alaska Legislature, as well as both the governor and lieutenant governor’s offices. It also boasts locally quarried marble columns, a reproduction of the Liberty Bell, and a trove of historical photographs and paintings.
After Fourth Street becomes historic Calhoun Avenue, a two-block walk brings you to the Governor’s House (716 Calhoun), a liberal interpretation of New England colonial architecture constructed in 1912. The 14,400-square-foot building has housed nine territorial and twelve state governors. The totem pole outside—commissioned in 1939 by the Civilian Conservation Corps—represents the origin story of the mosquito.
Further up in the hills at 213 Seventh Street is Alaska State Historic Site House of Wickersham. Step back in time through the doors of this large Victorian home on “Chicken Ridge,” old Juneau’s answer to “Nob Hill.” Built in 1898, the house ranks among Juneau’s oldest grand Victorians and remains much as it was when Alaska pioneer Judge James Wickersham purchased it in 1928.
Forgot your raingear? Museums offer an indoor glimpse into Juneau’s history, culture and art. The Juneau-Douglas City Museum (Main and Fourth St.) focuses on local mining history and the life of pioneers; it also features a large three-dimensional relief map of the entire area (to help you appreciate how truly in the middle of wilderness Juneau is). Two totem poles sit outside, marking the spot where of the official 49-star U.S. flag raising, designating Alaska as a state on July 4, 1959. A comprehensive collection of Alaska Native art and artifacts as well as historical objects, books, and film collections can be found at the Alaska State Museum. Closed until April 2016, it will reopen at 395 Whittier Street and feature exhibition galleries, an auditorium, a cafeteria, a reading room, a historical library, and the state archives in inside a brand-new building.