From colorful nature to graphic city, our journey after the Yukon Road ended in Downtown Skagway with the discovery of the buildings from the Gold Rush. Luckily for us tourists, the fire did not destroy the city. As a result, most of the original buildings still stand like the Red Onion Saloon. In addition, we stopped by the Gold Rush Cemetery and the “Railway built of Gold”. What a throwback in time!
A pinch of history
- The Tlingit people originally named the city Skagua, “windy place”. It was later spelled Skagway by the post office.
- On July 1896, George W. Carmak and his friends discovered gold while fishing and hunting. It was the starting point of the gold fever and Skagway expanded quickly.
- At the height of Gold Rush, 10,000 people lived in Skagway. Today it is a little bit more than 1,000.
Gold Rush Cemetery
As we approached Skagway from our Yukon excursion, we stopped at the old cemetery. In fact it was the 1st of the city and many of famous characters are interred there as “Soapy” Smith for example.
The “Railway Built of Gold”
We passed by the train as we drove back to downtown to return our car. You can also enjoy the charm of the Yukon via rail with the White Pass & Route Railroad. Locomotives operate for tourists during the high season (May to September) from Skagway to Carcross (67 miles). The White Pass & Route Railroad earned the designation of International Historic Civil Engineering Landmark. This recognition rewards civil engineers for their creativity and innovative spirit. Today more than 200 projects won it like the Eiffel Tower or the Statue of Liberty.
Our adventure continued on foot on Broadway Street. Streets were almost deserted by tourists who headed back on the ship as the afternoon ended. It was really nice to enjoy the city without the crowd.
The Mascot Saloon
The Mascot saloon was built-in 1905 and restored since then. All of these buildings have been transformed to museums, shops, bars, restaurants… Step inside and you may see some artifacts from before time.
Arctic Brotherhood Hall
As we continued on Broadway, we stopped at the Artic Brotherhood Hall (A.B). Built in 1899, this building is famous for his unique façade: more than 20,000 driftwood sticks cover it. Inside you will find a visitor information center.
Red Onion Saloon
Few doors down the Artic Brotherhood Hall is the Red Onion Saloon. It was one of the famous bordellos during the Golden Rush hours. Across the street you can see another famous saloon, the “Soapy” Smith Parlor.
Jefferson Randolph “Soapy” Smith Parlor
This saloon was owned by of one of the most famous criminal in town: “Soapy” Smith. His nickname “Soapy” found its origin in one of its tricks and ruses back in Denver. In 1879, he opened a soaps shop. In order to increase sales, he hid some bar of soaps with $10, $20 or even $50 dollars bills inside. “Soapy” Smith arrived in Skagway in 1898, fleeced and terrorized people with his band. One of his tricks was to sell telegrams for $5 except that there was no actual telegram line…He was fatally shot in 1898 during a gunfight. Nowadays this parlor has been converted into a museum.
National Historical Visitor Center
Originally this building, built in 1898, housed the White Pass and Yukon route railroad depot. Today it’s converted into the visitor center. You will find exhibits and information on the buildings in town.
Hell on Earth?
Skagway is a really cute town. It was not always the case, Sam Steele, Superintendent of the Northwest Mounted Police, declared it was “the roughest place in the world…little better than hell on earth.” Charming!
Our gold fever ended as we left Skagway to join our ship docked in Haines. We may not have found a Bonanza (valuable vein of gold) but we came back onboard undoubtedly richer from memories and discoveries.
- There are two car rentals in Skagway: Avis and Sourdough Rental and two gas stations (2nd avenue and State Street, and 4th avenue and Main Street).
- Rangers provide free tours in town few times per day during summer. More information at https://www.nps.gov/klgo/planyourvisit/walking-tours.htm