From My Lens

Sullivan Roadhouse – Delta Junction Alaska

The terminus of the historic 1,422 mile Alaska (or Alcan) Highway lies at the heart of Delta Junction, Alaska. At that junction, travelers headed north to Fairbanks, Fort Wainwright or Eielson Air Force Base will find the Sullivan Roadhouse – the oldest original roadhouse left in Interior Alaska.

Following the lure of the Klondike gold rush to Alaska in the 1890’s, Jack Sullivan and Florence Hamburg joined thousands of others hoping to strike it rich. It was in Nome, Alaska that they met and were married in 1900 before moving to Fairbanks and finally establishing a home and roadhouse on the newly cut Valdez to Fairbanks trail system in 1905.

In 1902, General Wilds P. Richardson was commissioned to clear a trail between the deep water Port of Valdez, Alaska and Fairbanks. The 380-mile trip through the mountainous terrain often took up to two weeks to complete by open-air stagecoach. As such, roadhouses were located approximately every twenty-five miles (considered a days journey) and were a welcome sight to travelers hoping to find a warm meal and a place to rest. According to history, "Ma" Sullivan was a consummate hostess and the big, comfortable roadhouse was among the nicest stops on the trail.

Fate dealt the Sullivan’s a blow in 1906 when the Alaska Roads Commission moved the Donnelly-Washburn Cut-off, a winter short-cut, 4.5 miles east in an effort to bypass some of the steeper mountain grades on the trail. Undeterred, Jack and Florence moved the roadhouse log-by-log back to the trail and rebuilt and improved the building. Improvements made to the main trail in 1917 to make the trail passable by automobile and the abandonment of the Donnelly-Washburn Cut-off in 1921 was the beginning of the end for the Sullivan Roadhouse. Jack and Florence packed a few personal belongings and said good-bye to their home in 1922 and headed to Fairbanks. The Roadhouse became a forgotten relic, left to return to the earth from which it came.

Left almost completely furnished the former Sullivan Roadhouse found itself, some 20 years later, on the edge of the Oklahoma Bombing Range on the grounds of the newly developed Fort Greely US Army Base. Used by troops as temporary shelter, the building was maintained and protected from wildfires for almost 30 years. Thanks to improvements made by the Sullivans in the 1906 move and continuing care by the US Army, the building survived long after the vast majority of other Valdez to Fairbanks Trail roadhouses collapsed.

In the early 1970’s the US Army sent a young soldier to clean up the site of the Sullivan Roadhouse. His orders were to bulldoze the artifacts left in and around the buildings by the Sullivans into a hole and cover them with dirt. Fortunately for future generations, the young soldier understood the historical value of the items and couldn’t bring himself to bury them. Defying a direct order, he secretly gathered and hauled the items out and hid them in his barn.

In 1996, one of the last acts of the Army Legacy Fund, a Congressional Historical Preservation program, was to move the Sullivan Roadhouse from what appeared to be its final resting place in the Alaskan wilderness to a new home in Delta Junction, Alaska. Once moved, the building was then gifted to the city of Delta Junction, who renovated the building with hopes of turning it into a museum. Once complete, the building was ready to be opened to the public, but sadly, there were very few items original to the old building. That is until a local benefactor, who has chosen to remain anonymous, stepped forward to tell the tale of a disobeyed order and a treasure trove of original artifacts.

Thanks to the actions of that young man, future generations will have the opportunity to tour the Sullivan Roadhouse to catch a glimpse of what life was like for those early pioneers. The Roadhouse is open 7 days a week from Memorial Day to Mid September. The next time you find yourself passing through Delta or with a free afternoon, stop by and visit Sullivan’s Roadhouse in beautiful Delta Junction, Alaska.

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July 20, 2009 - Posted by | Digital Buffet | , , , , , ,

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