Funter Bay History III – Cannery Development & Land Hijinks

As long as I’m on the history of the Funter Bay cannery, here’s an approximate timeline for the development of the property. Ownership history is a bit tricky, as the history of salmon packing operations in Alaska is a bit of a tangled mess. Many of the companies overlap, consolidate, buy each other out, go bankrupt, and otherwise change names frequently during the early 20th century.  For example, a 1901 article mentions the consolidation of 30 canneries, including the Thlinket Packing co, into a trust under the Pacific Packing and Navigation company, but this holding company went bankrupt in 1903.

1899: James Thomas Barron, a Portland businessman, organizes the Thlinket Packing and Trading Co. They appear to have initially operated in Southern Southeast Alaska, with canneries at Point Gerard and Santa Anna near Wrangell. Early funding was likely via investors and speculators; salmon canneries were becoming popular, with the industry pushing farther and farther north up the Pacific coast.

1901: Barron sells the Wrangell canneries to the Pacific Packing and Navigation Co, using the money to finance construction at Funter Bay. (After the Pacific Packing and Navigation company went under, Barron bought at least one these canneries back at the bankruptcy sale, but abandoned the sites after presumably salvaging the equipment).

1902: J.T. Barron starts the Funter Bay Cannery. According to Barry Roderick’s “A Preliminary History of Admiralty Island“, this was the first cannery on Admiralty Island (Angoon had a herring plant and saltery prior to this), and initially employed 65 white workers, 30 Natives Alaskans, and 38 Chinese workers. The operation  used two steamships (Probably the Anna Barron and the Robert Barron, named after the owner’s children) and 30 small boats. The company initially had two fish traps. In its first year, the company packed 31,888 cases of mostly pink salmon, valued at $87,200.

Volume and profits went up and down over the next two decades, with regular updates and occasional feature articles in industry magazines like Pacific Fisherman. Employment was seasonal and included many migrant and itinerant workers of various nationalities.

Cannery Trademarks

1907: The Thlinket Packing and Trading Co reorganizes as the Thlinket Packing Co. There is an interesting article (pg 21) in the 1907 Pacific Fisherman Journal which includes a cover photo of J.T. Barron’s 11 year old son, Robert.

1913: A news article (actually a letter that was printed in a paper) claims the Funter Bay cannery is the largest in Alaska.

1920: The Thlinket Packing Company changes its name to Thlinket Packing Corporation. This seems to have been a fundraising move, as the company issued public stock that year.

Cannery stock offering 1920

1926: Sunny Point Canning purchases the Thlinket Packing Co, including their property and boats. Barron may have retained some ownership interest in the Funter Bay property until 1941, as there is no transfer to Sunny Point recorded on the survey of the property.

1931: Cannery ends most packing operations, citing a lack of reliable fresh water. Storage, docking, fish trap maintenance, and other associated activities continue. Year-round watchman remains on-site.

1941: PE Harris Co purchases the cannery. J.T. Barron passed away in this year.

The property was used during WWII by the war department to house forcibly relocated residents of the Pribilof Islands (more on this in a future post).

1950: PE Harris becomes Peter Pan Seafoods, Inc.

At some point there was also a fish buying station on Highwater Island, and several handtrolling operations located around the bay (independent fishermen who trolled from small boats with hand-cranked gear).

1959-1960: As the cannery profits declined due to lower fish stocks, and traps became regulated and then illegal, the remaining parts of the operation were eventually shuttered. Buildings were already suffering from deferred maintenance at this point.

1980s: Property sold to Bristol Bay Native Corporation

1990s: Property bought by Juneau resident and subdivided into multiple lots for cabins. Many buildings and debris cleared or demolished.

– – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – – –

As for the early development of the property, It’s well known that early development in the Western US took advantage of loopholes in land regulations. Some of these seem to have been used by J.T. Barron during development of the Thlinket Packing Co cannery at Funter Bay.

For instance, the cannery site is located on a patented mineral claim for the “Irvington Lode”, a mineral body which was apparently never worked beyond token maintenance. One of the easiest ways to acquire land in Alaska used to be via mining claims: anyone could stake a claim, and effectively do whatever they wanted with it as long as they performed some amount of work each year. There is evidence of some token prospecting at the cannery site (a few pieces of quartz bashed out of an exposed vein), but there does not seem to have ever been serious mining there.

irvington

Similarly, for many years, anyone could claim a homestead site just by staking out land and doing some minimum amount of improvements (such as cutting trees, putting up fences, building structures, etc). After a set number of years or a certain value of improvements, the homestead was “proved up” (improved to some set standard), and owned outright by the homesteader. I have heard that these were often used by cannery operators to acquire fish trap sites. They or their employees would homestead a convenient spot by a stream mouth, do the legal minimum improvements, and use the land as a base from which to build and operate a fish trap.

For example, here is a “homestead” staked in 1907 by J.T. Barron. This is on the outside coast of Mansfield Peninsula in Chatham Strait, near the Kitten islands. Locations outside of a protected bay like Funter were less desirable for *actual* homesteads, since they were more exposed to weather, and thus harder to land a boat or maintain a dock. While there are some ruins visible in the woods at this location, and I’ve heard that it was a handtrolling camp at one time, it seems unlikely that this would be the place a cannery owner would choose for his residence.

homestead

As a matter of fact, the image below (also seen in colorized postcard version in a previous post) is looking directly towards Mr Barron’s “homestead”, the land seen beyond the trap and boat, just inside the Kittens (one of the islands where the photographer is standing).

kittens

Interestingly, several of these former trap sites, now “proved up” private land, are highly valued as cabin and home sites in areas that are otherwise exclusively state or federal land!

The DNR’s Alaska Mapper, has some great ownership data and links to old survey maps.

Update 5/17/13: After perusing a few more US Surveys, I’ve found that Barron had a dozen or more “Homesteads” filed, all along the shore of Admiralty Island, and the north side of Icy Strait at Homeshore. The Hawk Inlet Fish Co also had some homesteads in the same area. “Homesteading” for industrial development was not limited to canneries, the Alaska Gastineau mine and other mines also had homestead claims in the Juneau area.

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3 Responses to Funter Bay History III – Cannery Development & Land Hijinks

  1. […] living there!). I showed a survey of cannery owner J.T. Barron’s “homestead” in this post. Below is a survey of the “homestead” at a trap site south of […]

  2. […] also had a small “Open Cut” prospect which was the basis of the mineral claim (although as mentioned, no actual mining was ever […]

  3. […] cannery land use. Some of these industries had overlapping property claims and some were known to use mining claims for other purposes. Juggling the competing interests of Alaskan industries with each other and with the federal […]

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