Funter Bay History: Navy Ships

February 24, 2015

As I’ve previously mentioned, the USS Marblehead visited Funter Bay in 1919 on anti-piracy duties. Cannery owners including James Barron had complained to the government about the depredations of fish pirates, leading the navy to dispatch several patrol vessels.

Below is a photo of what appears to be the Marblehead anchored in Coot Cove near the Thlinket Packing Co at Funter. The photographer was near the scow slipways.


The next photo shows the USS Marblehead from a similar angle, helping to identify the ship seen at Funter.


USS Marblehead stern view, courtesy Library of Congress

This Marblehead was the 2nd ship to bear the name, a Montgomery-class cruiser 269ft long powered by two steam engines and armed with various 5-inch guns and torpedoes (Wikipedia page). Launched in 1892, the visit to Funter Bay seems to have been one of the ship’s last missions. It was retired in August of 1919. Additional information is available here.


USS Marblehead, courtesy Library of Congress

The masts and rigging indicate a ship capable of sail as well as steam propulsion. A photo of the USS Montgomery under steam and partial sail can be seen here.

Another vessel of similar appearance visited Funter Bay on April 28, 1923; the Coast Guard cutter Unalga (Navy History page). This vessel had only one stack, so does not match the one seen in the photo from Coot Cove. The ship’s logs (p1 and p2) from that day mention the motor boat Ceasar which had broken its crankshaft off Funter Bay on the way to Tenakee. The Unalga towed the Ceasar from Funter to Tenakee Inlet. (The source for these logs,, is a project to transcribe ship logs for historic weather data. These logs also contain other interesting information such as records of towns and vessels, wildlife, and general ship operations).

A slightly more modern ship can be seen in Coot Cove in the following photo, circa 1920. Clear Point is visible in the distance, the foreground rocks were near the cannery wharf where the photographer was probably standing.


This is the USS McCawley, DD-276, a 314ft Clemson-class destroyer (Wikipedia page). When photographed in Coot Cove it may have been taking part in the 1920 inspection tour of Alaska conducted by Secretary of the Navy Josephus Daniels, Interior Secretary John B. Payne, and Pacific Fleet Commander Admiral Hugh Rodman. A note in the Kinky Bayers files reports the McCawley arriving in Juneau along with the destroyers Sinclair and Meyer on July 13, 1920, carrying Secretary Daniels and party. A photo of the McCawley in Juneau can be seen here. A photo of the VIP group visiting a glacier can be seen here. The Thlinket Packing Co was upheld as a model Alaskan industry by promoters, cruise lines, and publishers, so it easily could have been part of the inspection tour.

An article in the Seattle Times of July 10, 1918, reported that salmon packer “J. E. Barron” asked Navy Captain J. J. O’Donnell to take custody of L. Clarito, Joe Budous, and Martin F. Bolina, “Filipinos who are charged with sabotage”. The trio were brought from Funter Bay to the Juneau city jail aboard a “US Warship” and federal charges were expected to be filed. The actual “sabotage” seems to have been the un-patriotic act of inciting native workers to request higher pay.

I was not able to find a Captain J. J. O’Donnell in 1918, but as the article got J. T. Barron’s middle name wrong, it may not have been 100% accurate with the navy captain’s name either.

Funter Bay History: 1929 Ordway Aerial

February 16, 2015

The Juneau-Douglas City Museum recently posted a 1929 aerial image of Funter Bay, and gave me permission to use a high-resolution scan. This photo was taken by Frederick Ordway, “Alaska’s Flying Photographer”. Ordway opened a photo shop in Juneau in 1927 and was known for photographing many Alaskan subjects. He died in 1938 in in a crash in Oregon.

The photo was taken the same year as the US Navy’s aerial photo survey of Southeast Alaska (previously shown here and here), but offers a different angle on the bay. Click the image below to view it full size:


Funter Bay, Alaska Postcard, 1929, photograph by Fred Ordway. Image courtesy of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, JDCM 88.45.001.

Mount Robert Barron dominates the skyline in this image, showing nearly its full 3,475′ elevation (the very top seems to be cut off by the edge of the photo). The cannery is seen in the middle left, with Coot Cove (“Scow Bay”) in front of it. Across the bay is the AAGMC mine camp. Floating fish traps are visible in the foreground, just above the title text. These would be moored in a shallow area for winter storage, to prevent storm damage.

The view looks a little different today, as a section of the mountain experienced a landslide in the 1990s after heavy rains.


Another interesting feature from the 1929 postcard is visible in Crab Cove beyond Highwater Island. This white blob is in the right location to be the camp of the Mansfield Mine. I have not previously seen this mine photographed, so despite the lack of detail it’s still an interesting white blob!


Close up of Funter Bay, Alaska Postcard, 1929, photograph by Fred Ordway. Image courtesy of the Juneau-Douglas City Museum, JDCM 88.45.001.

A survey from 1915 shows the Mansfield Company’s “Hidden Treasure Millsite”. The land claim seems to have been cancelled or denied, as it does not appear on master title plats for the area (it overlapped some other mineral claims). Unfortunately the accompanying field notes are largely illegible, so there are no details about the size and construction of buildings. The survey plat for MS 1035B shows a cabin and shed near the location photographed above.

Hidden Treasure Millsite

Today all that remains of the Mansfield camp is a faint rectangle of decaying logs where the cabin and shed used to be. Anecdotal evidence describes a stable for pack mules at this location. The Mansfield Mine hauled some equipment up to their tunnel site, including track and a single ore car, seen in a previous post.



Funter Bay History: Census Takers and Logging Camps

February 4, 2015

Related to an an earlier post about population and census-taking, the following excerpt comes from the account of one Joseph Hewitt, census-taker for part of Northern Southeast Alaska in 1909-1910. Hewitt’s diary “Forty One Days of Census Taking in Southeast Alaska” describes his travels to “all the towns, camps, ranches and settlements located on Chatham Strait, Icy Strait and all their bays and inlets”. He traveled by gasoline launch chartered by the government and operated by its owner, B.F. Dennison, and Dennison’s 11 year old son Dewey. The census enumeration was performed in winter to ensure transient native populations would be in their home villages. Larger communities with schools were expected to provide a census via the local teacher, with people like Hewitt filling in the details for smaller outlying settlements like Funter Bay.

The full document is available here, both in original written form and typed transcription.

“The next day I enumerated twelve at Funter Bay. This is the site of the “Klinket Cannery”. This is a large establishment and it was their logging camp we found in Kelp Bay. We came into Funter Bay on Friday Jan 7th and had the delectable experience of being bottled up by a storm for six days. In shifting the boat one dark night from one part of the bay to another, a thing we frequently had to do to escape destruction during that siege, we lost one of our anchors overboard. The wind and waves seemed bent on driving us out of that bay. The storm outside was so fierce as to tie up the big steamers. Inside it was playing “puss in the corner” with us, and every time it said scat we had to hike. Had it not been for a small island and an unused steamer that was anchored out I don’t see how we could have escaped being driven on the rocks. On Monday morning we made an attempt to escape but were very glad to come back in and fight it out where the trouble started . Finally on Wednesday morning we got away.”

The description of Kelp Bay earlier in the manuscript reports a logging camp abandoned before the first snow, along with a few hundred new cut piles (pilings for dock and fish trap construction). Kelp Bay is on the NE side of Baranof Island, across from the southern end of Admiralty Island about 65 miles from Funter Bay. Although Hewitt reports the logging camp deserted, he did find around 15 people in the Kelp Bay area. A Tlingit family is listed in the 1910 census as associated with the Kelp Bay logging camp, including James Hanson, employed as a woodcutter, and his wife Mary. The court case between Funter canneryman James Barron and rival Claire Alexander (discussed in this post) also mentions Thlinket Packing Co superintendent Fred Barker towing logs from Kelp Bay to Funter for use at the cannery. The cannery tenders Buster and Anna Barron were used to tow rafts of trap piles.

It may seem strange that the T.P. Co would harvest timber so far from the cannery, but a possible explanation lies in the geography of Kelp Bay. Not only is it protected from storms, the bay offers very steep hillsides along the shore, an ideal place for gravity-assisted hand logging. The best trees could be selected and cut so as to slide into the water below. Around Funter Bay, most of the near-shore land is flat, and would require logs to be hauled by equipment or animals. (Limited near-shore logging did happen at Funter, as discussed here). Kelp Bay continued to be logged and clearcut into the 1990s.


Funter Bay History: More 1929 Photos

August 20, 2014

I recently came across some additional photos from the 1929 Alaskan Aerial Survey, conducted by the US Navy. Thanks to Richard Carstensen for sharing these! Richard had an excellent website at Also thanks to Kim Homan with the Southeast Alaska GIS Library for providing some reference information. They have put together An ArcGIS interface for locating and viewing additional aerial photos from this set.

These are very large photos, click to open them full size (may take a while to load on a slow connection).

Funter Bay viewed from the North, looking almost directly South down Chatham Strait towards Chichagof Island:


1929 US Navy Alaska Aerial Survey Expedition (Sargent, R. and Moffit, F. 1929. Aerial photographic surveys in Southeast Alaska. USGS Bull 797-E.)

Green Mountain is in the foreground on the left. Mt Robert Barron is further ahead on the left. The large island at the head of the bay is Highwater Island, with a medium tide filling the estuary behind it, but not covering the sandbar connecting it to shore.

The next photo is not at Funter, but across Lynn Canal at Swanson Harbor (behind Point Couverden). This location was used by the Thlinket Packing Co to store fish traps in the winter, and as a convenient harbor for packers during rough weather. I found it interesting because several complete and partial fish traps are seen stored in the shallows at the head of the harbor.


1929 US Navy Alaska Aerial Survey Expedition (Sargent, R. and Moffit, F. 1929. Aerial photographic surveys in Southeast Alaska. USGS Bull 797-E.)

This area goes dry at low tide, as seen in the modern photo below:


Photo from NOAA Alaska Shorezone ( used as public domain.

The traps have long since disintegrated from weather and tides, ending up as mossy logs on the beaches. The pilings driven into the mudflats in the 1929 photo have also disappeared.

In addition to use as a fish trap staging area, Swanson Harbor was tied to Funter by mail service. A few homesteads and fox farms at Point Couverden received their mail at the Funter Bay post office. A cannery was reportedly begun at Swanson Harbor around 1902 by Buschmann, Thorpe & Co, but the company failed before construction was completed. There may have been a cannery or saltery prior to this, 1897 nautical charts indicate a cannery in the same location.  An 1880 map of Swanson Harbor shows an “Abandoned Indian Village” in the location of the structure seen in 1929. This is drifting further off topic, but I found it interesting enough to include here:

Swanson 1880

Funter Bay History: Piledrivers

July 19, 2014

Construction in intertidal zones relies heavily on pilings. These posts are driven into the sand and mud of the tide flats and ocean bottom. This common construction method was (and still is) used to install docks, fish traps, wharves, and buildings extending out into the water. Pilings are similar to telephone poles in length and diameter. Installing pilings is much like hammering a nail, a large heavy object is used to repeatedly hit the top of the pole, driving it into the ground.


Diagram of a piledriver, from Foster, Wolcott C, “A Treatise on Wooden Trestle Bridges and Their Concrete Substitutes: According to the Present Practice on American Railroads”. 4th Edition, New York, John Wiley & Sons, 1913.

In the above design, the hammer (usually a cast metal weight) slides up and down on the vertical section of the tower, pulled by cable from a winch at the rear. Piledrivers could be mounted on skids, barges, rail cars, or other platforms as needed. This design is essentially unchanged from Roman times, when drivers were powered by animals or humans. They later evolved to use steam and then internal combustion power, but the appearance largely stayed the same until the advent of diesel impact, pneumatic, and vibratory hammers.

Tractor-powered pile driver in Alaska in 1942, courtesy Library of Congress:

Piledriver hammer found underwater at Funter Bay and pulled out on shore. Note the slots on the side where the hammer would ride the vertical support rails:

Closeup showing the maker of the hammer: Vulcan Iron Works of Seattle:

Some information on Vulcan pile driver history can be found here.

A 1926 photo of a pile driver in Funter Bay can be seen below:

While modern docks generally use creosote-coated (or metal) pilings for rot resistance, early installations used untreated pilings. These have largely decayed and disappeared above the water line, although the buried sections and pilings that are above mean water level are more preserved.

Pilings at Scow Bay, as seen previously on this site:

Stubs of pilings which seem to have been cut off at ground level:

Complex piling structure supporting the approach ramp to the cannery dock:

An old pile driver is abandoned on “The Point” in Crab Cove. This was a smaller unit mounted on a skid base, it may have been part of Ray Martin’s scheme to build a logging railroad dock there, or could be leftover from some other project in the bay. The A-frame support collapsed sometime in the last 20 years, I remember when it was still standing. Power was provided by a small stationary gas engine. The large cubical tank or boiler nearby is of unknown origin.


Funter Bay History: 1926 Aerial Photo

March 13, 2014

As a follow up to previous aerial photos and maps of Funter Bay, here is some imagery from 1926 taken during a US Navy coastal survey. The US Forest Service and The National Archives office in Anchorage were very helpful in finding these for me!

1929 Aerial Composite

The above is my attempt at creating a photomosaic from multiple frames. The resolution is a bit lower than later aerials, and I have not taken the time to match levels across each frame, but they give a good overview of the bay in the year they were taken. The original format of these images is a little different, as seen below:


As with the 1929 photo mentioned before, these were part of a systematic effort to obtain aerial imagery of the Alaskan coast and islands. The Navy used a number of Loening OL aircraft to obtain the photos, while support ships housed the developing lab and carried extra fuel. More information on the project can be found here.

A few notable features have been labeled in the image below. The exact date of this flight is not given, but based on the location of the fish traps I would assume it to be Fall. The traps have been pulled in to shallow estuaries for winter storage. The boats clustered around the cannery could be independent fishermen rather than cannery vessels.


Other images from this project can be obtained from the National Archives at Anchorage,  a finding aid can be requested that gives flightlines and serial numbers. The citation/location information for the images used here is as follows:

Record Group 57 / USGS Alaska Aerial Survey
Box 135
Flightline T-26
Photographs #853-863
Location: Admiralty Island
Shelf Location: 02/10/14(2)

Funter Bay History – Fish Trap Locations

August 10, 2013

I’ve talked about fish traps in several previous posts. Recently I came across a set of maps showing the locations of  traps around Southeast Alaska in 1918. This is a fascinating series, part of a government report from that year on the Southeast Alaska fishing industry.  An excerpt from the Lynn Canal and Stevens Passage map is below, highlighting the region around Funter Bay (click to view a larger version). I will link to the originals at the end of this post.

1918 Fish Traps

I have yet to find the original report which goes with these maps, so unfortunately there’s no key corresponding to the trap numbers. However, a quick glance at this map tells you a lot about where the salmon were to be found! The area of densely packed traps between Excursion Inlet and Point Couverden is known as Homeshore, and is still a popular fishing area today. Across all three maps in this set, covering most of Southeast Alaska, that one stretch of shoreline has the most fish traps per area.

Note that most of the traps shown on the map are the “permanent” pile-driven type. A 1919 report stated that the Thlinket Packing Co at Funter Bay had 21 traps that year, only 4 of which were floating traps. Pile-driven pound nets seem to have fallen out of favor towards the middle of the century, probably due to the expense of maintaining them and repairing winter ice and storm damage. By the time fish traps were banned at Alaska statehood, floating traps predominated.

I have previously noted some traps on the beach at Funter Bay in old aerial photos, floating traps were often taken ashore or anchored in shallow water for winter storage. The traps at Funter have all been beaten into individual logs by decades of storms, but I recently noticed a few semi-intact traps in Excursion Inlet. These are visible on the Alaska Shorezone project’s imagery.

beached traps

The full versions of the 1918 trap location maps are available through the Office of Coast Survey Historic Map and Chart Collection. They are as follows:

Lynn Canal and Stephen’s Passage

Clarence Strait Revillagigedo Channel and Portland Canal

Dixon Entrance to Chatham Strait Alaska