Few and Far Between

Since its discovery, Alaska has been seemingly infamous for its obstacle-filled terrain, extremely harsh weather, and sparse population. In the late eighteen hundreds and early nineteen hundreds when the territory was being settled and businesses began to rise, it was hard for immigrant workers and American settlers to come by a warm place to stay while traveling on cold winter nights. Roadhouses started to pop up sporadically along trails and roadways. The term “roadhouse” is used very loosely and is implied more as a safe haven for travelers than a set structure. It can refer to an elaborate hotel-like building or a dirt-floor tent. Usually, the roadhouses offered a hot meal and place to sleep. Costs for meals and bedding were low and the hospitality was invaluable (Parrish). They were built roughly fifteen to twenty miles apart because that was about a day’s journey by wagon or dog sled. There were as many as 3,000 roadhouses in Alaska at one point in time.
The need for the roadhouses decreased as roads and transportation methods improved. For some roadhouse owners, their ownership was temporary and the money they received from their guests was saved for a special project until their need for funds was met and they sold the house to someone else (ExploreNorth). For instance, John Hajdukovich owned what is now known as Rika’s Roadhouse from 1909 until 1917 when he handed it over to a woman named Rika Wallen. This roadhouse still exists today and is listed on the National Register of Historic Places (Rika’s Virtual Tour). We learned a lot about John and Rika while on our tour of Rika’s Roadhouse and the surrounding structures.
John bought the land that Rika’s is on in 1909. The Valdez-to-Fairbanks Trail passes through the land, which came with a roadhouse and McCarthy’s Trading Post. John tore down the existing roadhouse and in 1913 built what is now Rika’s. Being the busy entrepreneur that he was, John could not keep up with the logistics of running a roadhouse so he handed it over to Rika in 1917 and then she bought it from him in 1923 for $10 and “other considerations.” Rika grew her own garden and raised her own chickens to cook food for her guests. Apparently, although the food was fresh, she was not that great of a cook and the neighboring roadhouse across the Tanana River gave her a run for her money. The roadhouse was still a rather nice place to stay and she kept it running until the late 1940s. Apart from Rika’s Roadhouse, there are very few remaining that have withstood the test of time. Most have burned down or have given into the elements.

Until recently, the Copper Center Lodge, built in 1898, functioned as a hotel for tourists and visitors to stay and experience what it was like to stay in one of the more luxurious roadhouses in Southern Alaska (Going Places). It regrettably burned down this year (2012) due to the building’s bad wiring. We visited the location where it once stood and brooded over its loss. It would have been a nice experience to stay there!

Note: I had trouble with labeling the transitions in this video so, the first part is general knowledge of roadhouses and Rika's Roadhouse, and the second part is Tori's reaction to the "remains" of Copper Center Lodge (we were all very upset!). ENJOY!

-- Alex Robin

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