Funter Bay History: Annexation and Air Service

April 13, 2017

As with many small rural communities in Alaska, Funter Bay both benefits and suffers from the whims of government agencies. I recently became aware of some potential changes at the federal and local level that could soon affect residents and visitors.

Funter Bay lies in a curious administrative zone, the “Unorganized Borough”. Where most US states are fully divided into Counties, Alaska calls the equivalent division a Borough and is not fully subdivided. There are only 19 Boroughs in Alaska, holding most of the population. The rest is the Unorganized Borough, home to about 13% of the State’s residents. Wikipedia explains more here.

Legally, this means that small communities like Funter Bay do not have any county or city-level services, ordinances, or infrastructure. There is no sheriff, no road crew, no fire department, no ambulance, no schools, no zoning, no tax assessor. The state and Federal governments fill some of these roles on a minor scale. State surveyors can plat land, State Troopers enforce state laws, and the Coast Guard or Forest Service can respond to fires and rescues. It is worth noting that Alaska has no State-level personal income tax, the state’s services being theoretically funded by oil revenue. Alaskans pay Federal taxes and any municipal taxes that happen to be applicable.

Larger towns and cities occasionally expand their associated Boroughs in an effort to acquire more tax base, buildable land, hydropower sites, industries, and other resources. In some cases there have been competing claims and lawsuits by different cities over who gets choice parts of the unorganized borough.

Funter Bay has long been in the sights of planners at the City and Borough of Juneau, the closest major city. City planners proposed annexation of Funter Bay every few years with various seriousness, including 1994, 2006, and again in 2017. In the past, residents have successfully fought off these attempts, arguing that the city would collect taxes on their rural properties without providing any services in return.

 

The first Annexation attempt I remember was around 1994. Juneau was hungry for the nearby Greens Creek mine and its potential property tax. Haines and Skagway were also making noises about acquiring Greens Creek, and Funter Bay was close enough to be a natural inclusion in the boundary extension. The mine’s administration decided annexation was inevitable and not worth fighting, so they petitioned Juneau as preferable to Haines & Skagway. Funter Bay fought the process, and the mine was amazed and slightly chagrined that this turned out to be successful.

1994 CBJ Boundary certificate, after Greens Creek mine annexed

I can recall my parents discussing details with city administrators, one of whom mentioned that a “benefit” would be inclusion in the Juneau School district. My folks said something to the effect of “great, when will the school bus be here in the morning?” (Funter Bay has no roads and is at least an hour from Juneau by boat). Similar questions were raised about how we could call the fire department (cell phones were not yet available), and what utilities the city could provide to a remote island.

The 1994 Greens Creek annexation also upset the town of Angoon, farther South on Admiralty Island. Residents there felt that Juneau got the benefits of taxes and jobs, while Angoon got the chemical runoff from the mine into their traditional fishing grounds. (Article here).

Another major annexation study came in 2006. Several residents, including my sister Megan Emerson, wrote to the newspaper to express their opinions on the subject: http://juneauempire.com/stories/011006/let_20060110008.shtml

A number of other residents’ comments to the Study Commission can be found here. The full study file is below:

2007 CBJ Annexation Study Commission Final Report

One of the arguments repeated by Juneau planners was that outlying communities such as Funter Bay are “socially and economically dependent” on Juneau and should thus be part of the City and Borough of Juneau. My dad pointed out that Juneau is “socially and economically dependent” on Seattle, and by such logic Juneau should be part of King County Washington.

Whether, or when, Funter Bay becomes attached to a major municipality remains to be seen.

The second major issue that has recently popped up is the proposed defunding of Essential Air Service. This program was established in the 1970s to subsidize air travel to rural parts of the United States which would otherwise not be profitable. Currently 61 communities in Alaska use the program, with the state getting about $21 million out of $175 million nationally. Wikipedia has more details here and the US DOT has details here. Historical reports are here. An article about the possible end of federal funding is here.

Bush plane flights to Funter Bay are currently subsidized at $13,312/year under the EAS (contracted by Ward Air) per the DOT’s 2017 report. This not only helps travelers get cheaper “seat fare” on regularly scheduled planes, but ensures weekly delivery of mail to the community. Other benefits include mail-order groceries, medicine, hardware, parts, fuel, and anything else needed for off-grid life. Regular weekly air service was a hugely important part of life at Funter Bay, allowing residents such as my family to get fresh food all winter and keep in touch with the outside world. The weekly plane was a vital way to get back and forth to town when the weather prevented boat trips. Seat Fare on an mail flight might be under $100, while loss of the federal subsidy would require travelers to charter a plane at full price ($500 and up depending on plane size).

As a Federally-supported program, for which rural Alaskans do pay taxes towards, EAS is something that Funter Bay residents have fought to retain and improve in the past. There have been years where less reliable air carriers were contracted, or when funding and scheduling has fluctuated, but the program has remained a mainstay of rural life for this and many other Alaskan communities.


Funter Bay History: Cannery Shipping and Maintenance

June 30, 2016

I recently received a few Funter Bay images from Michael and Carolyn Nore, collectors of historic Alaska postcards and photos. These show some of the Thlinket Packing Co’s operations between about 1914 and 1920. Most are prior to 1918 (based on the cards used), but some are from the same summer as the photos seen previously in this post.

The first photo is a great shot of the Cannery wharf and main buildings, marked “Front View of Cannery”. The large “Thlinket Packing Co” sign is visible above the warehouse. The mess hall and store is barely visible in the rear right, and the Superintendent’s house with its large porch is seen on the left.

funter bay2 5-18-16 copy

Moving inland, a set of two images show the rear of the cannery buildings. The large chimneys were from the main boiler house.

funter bay6 5-18-16 copy funter bay4 back view of cannery 5-18-16 copy

The previous photo shows a number of handprints marking the foreground building. I am not sure what this building is, as it does not appear on either the 1964 or 1942 property maps.

Another set shows one of the cannery’s steam-powered pile drivers. I am not sure how many of these units the Thlinket Packing co owned, the remains of a smaller one is on the beach at Funter Bay. A large unit nearly identical to the one in these pictures appears in a 1926 photo at the mine wharf (seen on this page).

funter bay8 5-18-16 copy funter bay1 5-18-16 copy

Some scows, rowboats, and a gas boat are seen at the dock and wharf in the next photo. This is a little later than the others, dated May 21 1920:

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The photo below shows a gas boat or launch under the pipeline from the cannery’s oil tank, in June 1920.

funter bay9 6-29-16 copy

The next photo is labeled “One of the company tugs with a diver repairing her rudder”. It shows a sailing vessel alongside the cannery’s steam tug Anna Barron and a variety of smaller boats. Men on the sailboat are operating an air compressor and have lowered a ladder and several pipes and ropes over the side. What appears to be a diving suit is draped over the sailboat’s boom.

funter bay3 tug repair by diver 5-18-16 copy

Moving up in vessel sizes, the next photo shows the Pacific Coast Steamship Co’s City of Seattle at the cannery wharf. The appearance of the ship dates this to 1914 or later, as the City of Seattle was completely rebuilt that year and converted from coal to oil fuel. Prior to 1914 the ship had a different superstructure and the foremast was aft of the wheelhouse, as seen here. The re-built ship can also be seen here and a description of the refit is here. Like other commercial steamers, the ship would call at canneries as needed to transport supplies, products, and workers.

funter bay5 steamer city of seattle 5-18-16 copy

Next is a photo of the “Indian Village” located Northeast of the cannery. While postcards tend to call this a village, most accounts state it was not occupied year round. The area was more of a seasonal camp for native employees of the cannery who lived there in the summer.

funter bay7 indian village near cannery 5-18-16 copy

And the last photo shows an interesting gazebo on the hill behind the cannery, with some Tlingit employees relaxing on benches. What appear to be a number of halibut can be seen hanging from the boardwalk below. The date is not given but is probably between 1914-1918.

funter bay10 6-29-16 copy

Thanks again to the Nores for sharing these great images!


Funter Bay History: Locomotive Headlamp

May 26, 2016

While researching Funter Bay history I often find things that are not in their original context. Rural Alaska is a great case study of creative re-use. The cost of new equipment leads many things to be salvaged and repurposed in ways they weren’t intended. A great example is this old kerosene lantern. It had ceased being used for its original purpose, was modified into an electric wall lamp, then was abandoned again.

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The lantern is in rather rough shape, but still recognizable as a type used for headlights on small industrial locomotives.

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I suspect this lantern originally came from the Danvenport 0-4-0T steam locomotive used at Funter Bay in the early 20th century. The locomotive was abandoned around 1952 after a failed conversion to gas power, and most of the small parts were stripped between the 1950s and 1970s. The headlight may have become a decoration for one of the miner’s cabins, with a little work to allow an electric bulb to be added.

The locomotive from Funter Bay is seen below, compared to a Davenport drawing of a very similar model. The headlight mounting bracket is a U-shaped piece of sheet metal riveted to the boiler just forward of the smoke stack:

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Some details are labeled below. Intact locomotive headlights of similar design can be seen here and here.

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Keith Muldowney believes this may be from the Star Headlight Co, founded in 1889 and still in existence today as the Star Head Light & Lantern Co. Some of the company’s history can be found here. Star manufactured kerosene lights until about 1941, when they switched to primarily electric lights. Keith sent a great set of drawings for a similar Star headlight design:

headlight

Star Headlight. Courtesy of Keith Muldowney

Other possibilities for the lantern’s original use include on a ship or underground in the mine, although carbide lamps were more common than kerosene for mining. It could have also been used on the surface at the mine or by a fish trap watchman. The locomotive origin is attractive but by no means confirmed! Hopefully I’ll be able to track down more information on this interesting artifact in the future.

 


Funter Bay History: Special Agent Harold Merrin

February 16, 2016

In the 1930s Funter Bay was home to one Harold Merrin, a “Special Agent” with the “U.S. Division of Investigation”. While the title might suggest an affiliation with the FBI (which held that name prior to 1935), there was also such a division under the General Land Office. This was part of the Department of the Interior, and conducted investigations into all sorts of mineral and property rights for the US Government. Special Agents of the Land Office worked with everything from logging and grazing licenses to oil and gas surveys to mineral claims and property rights.

Harold Woodworth “Hal” Merrin was born in Ohio in 1893, to parents Ernest and Lenna. The family moved to Spokane by 1910. He grew up with a background in mining, as his father worked at various mines and was later director of the American-Scotia Mine in Orient, WA. Harold served as secretary-treasurer of this company while in college.

Merrin1

Harold attended North Central High School in Spokane, but WWI pulled him and many of his classmates away before graduation. Harold joined a trial officer’s training camp in 1918 and briefly served as a Corporal with the American Expeditionary Force in France (source). After returning to the US, Harold enrolled at the State College of Washington and received his Bachelors Degree in Mining Engineering in 1921.

Camp

After graduating, he worked as an assayer with the Santa Rita mining co, then as a land appraiser for the government land office in Portland and Santa Fe. By 1923 he was working as a government mineral examiner in Alaska and the Pacific Northwest. One of his jobs included investigating a “Mystery Metal” found in Oregon. In 1926 Harold married Bertha Thompson of Everett, WA.

In 1933 Congress authorized payments in the amounts of $124.35 and $35.90 to Harold Merrin for travel expenses to and from Alaska while under official orders. In 1935 he was reportedly working as a special agent for the U.S. Division of Investigation. In 1936 the Division of Investigations had him stationed at Funter. The WSU Alumni paper reported the birth of Harold and Bertha’s daughter Evelyn that year.

WU Alumni 2

I have not found the exact nature of Harold’s government work at Funter, but property and mineral issues would likely have kept him busy. Several mines were active at Funter, which would fall under Harold’s area of expertise as a mineral surveyor. Other activities could have included homestead claims, fish trap locations, hand logging, and 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 government was likely a full time job.

Harold’s government work appears to have led him into the private sector after a few years. In 1937 he was superintendent of the Alaska Empire Mine at Hawk Inlet, across the mountain from Funter (source). In 1938 he was back at Funter Bay, after “exposing his family to six months in the civilization of the outside world”.

In 1939 the WSU Alumni update described Harold as having a “Leasing and private practice at Funter”.

Merrin 3

By late 1939 the Merrin family had moved to the Flagstaff Mine in Kasaan Bay, near Ketchikan. They soon moved back to Washington, and Harold passed away in Yakima in 1940 at age 47.

 


Funter Bay History: A Congressional Visit

November 30, 2015

In the summer of 1905, a party of Congressmen visited Funter Bay on a tour of Southeast Alaska. The group was attending the Lewis and Clark Exposition in Portland, and was invited to visit Alaska courtesy of the Cities of Seattle & Tacoma and the Pacific Coast Steamship Company. A member of the party, Major Alexander McDowell, was photographed with Tlingit basket sellers on the cannery wharf at Funter:

Chief Mak-do-well 2

Winter & Pond photo, Courtesy of Alaska’s Digital Archives

Members of the tour included Joseph G. Cannon, speaker of the House of Representatives, Alexander McDowell, Clerk of the House, Henry Casson, Sergeant-at-Arms, and his wife, Joseph C. Sibley, Congressman from 25th district, PA, William A. Rodenberg, 22nd district of IL, and wife, H.C. Adams, 2nd district, Wisconsin, and wife, C.L. Bartlett, 6th district, GA, and wife, J.A. Hemenway, Senator from Indiana, with children, J.A. McAndrews, 5th District, IL, H.C. Loudenslager, 1st District, NJ, and wife, J.A. Tawney, First district of MN, with wife and daughther, Blaine Harrington, secretary to Congressman Sibley, and L. White Busby, secretary to Speaker Cannon, and his wife. Senator Piles and Congressman Humphrey from the State of Washington also accompanied the party.

Cottage City 1905

Steamship Cottage City at Skagway in 1905, Case & Draper Photo.

The steamer Cottage City departed Seattle June 5th and brought the Congressmen to Ketchikan, Metlakatla, Juneau, Douglas, Haines, Skagway, Funter, Killisnoo, Sitka, and Wrangell, stopping at Vancouver on the way back. The trip was mainly for pleasure, but the group studied and discussed all sorts of matters, from the representation of Alaska to fishing enforcement and communications. The Washington Post stated that:

“The Congressmen went north with the idea that Alaska’s coast was covered with glaciers and polar bears, but all returned with words of praise, confident of its great future” (“The Tour of the Statesmen in the Far and Golden North”; Washington Post; July 2, 1905)

The article mentions baskets and curios for sale by local Tlingit natives at various ports. I have found a few other references to Tlingit crafts for sale to tourists at Funter (on the cannery wharf), but this is the first time I have identified a photo of such.

McDowell Baskets

As the Post explains:

“Maj McDowell, Clerk of the House of Representatives, created a great deal of fun for the party, and his photograph with the Indian women at Funter Bay was purchased as a souvenir by every member of the party.”

More information on Major Alexander McDowell can be found here.

Various commentators claimed the visit would bring greater representation to Alaska, and in fact a new at-large congressional district for Alaska was created in 1906.


Funter Bay History: Annual Cannery Reports

August 8, 2015

Salmon canneries such as the one at Funter Bay were required to file annual reports to the government, detailing statistical information on their catches, employees, and financial situation. These are recorded in the National Archives Record Group 22, Records of the US Fish and Wildlife Service (Formerly the US Fisheries Bureau). A number these records can be downloaded from the NOAA document library, although they are not clearly indexed. I was able to find the annual reports for 12 of the 29 years (1902-1931) that the Funter Bay Cannery was actively working. The original PDF files can be downloaded at the bottom of this post.

1904 header

Some of the information in the reports seems to contradict other sources in regards to the size and number of boats, demographics of workers, etc. I am not sure which sources are the most reliable, but the official nature and later requirement for notarized reports suggest some degree of accuracy with these. That does not necessarily mean they are *complete*, as there are plenty of hints elsewhere of “creative” legal loopholes. For example, boats described elsewhere but not listed here may have been owned privately by company executives rather than the company itself. It is also not clear if wages were calculated before or after any deductions for room & board, company store, etc.

In 1904 the Funter cannery was valued at $150,000 and had $80,000 in stock. It paid $27,000 in wages to 75 plant employees, including 25 White, 20 Native Alaskan, 30 Chinese, and 20 Japanese workers. In addition, 28 Fishermen were employed, including 17 Whites and 3 Natives. There was one 82 ton steam vessel worth $17,000 with a crew of 5, 8 skiffs, 3 lighters, 3 scows, and 2 pile drivers, together worth $12,500. The cannery handled mostly Red (210,000) and Pink (330,000) salmon, with smaller numbers of Silver (48,000), Dog (6,500), and Kings (800). Market value of the catch for 1904 through Ocbober was $147,463. All traps were in Icy Strait, Chatham Strait, or Lynn Canal.

In 1906 the value of the plant had increased to $300,000, and wages to $51,000. The number of fishermen dropped to 20 White men, while Cannery workers increased to 12 White, 35 Native, 44 Chinese, and 18 Japanese. An additional steamer was added but was not in regular use. One pile driver, 3 skiffs, and all 3 lighters vanished from the roster, the small boats were replaced by (or perhaps reclassified as) dories. Two more scows were added. In 1906 the cannery handled 600,000 Pink salmon, 220,000 Reds, 110,000 Dogs, 42,000 Silvers, and 900 Kings, worth $214,719.

In 1910 the reporting form changed slightly. The cannery was reportedly worth $500,000 and had 3 resident superintendents and 20 salaried clerks and employees. Wages for salaried employees were $18,600, cannery workers $47,800, fishermen $25,000 and transporters $3,600. The total work force included 51 White, 106 Native, 77 Chinese, and 38 Japanese. The cannery had 2 steamers, 15 rowboats, 10 lighters and scows, and had added back one pile driver for a total of two. Eight fish traps were reported. The sailing vessel General Fairchild is mentioned as being owned, but not used. Production is listed this year in terms of cases, with 9,610 cases of Coho (Silver), 16,668 of Dog (Chum), 40,805 of Pink (Humpback), and 31,583 of Red (Sockeye). Reds were in two can sizes.  In addition, pickled or salted fish are reported in this year, including 2 barrels of whole King salmon and 11 barrels of King bellies. Total value appears to have been $392,081.80 (from 1910 to 1915 the totals are not given explicitly, and the income sheet seems to have been used as a scratch pad). This year also introduced the notary requirement, with company secretary M.G, Munley acting as notary for owner James T Barron.

signatures 1910

In 1911 there were 61 White, 90 Native, 75 Chinese, and 48 Japanese employees. The company now had 25 rowboats and 11 lighters and scows. There were 12 stationary fish traps. 10,946 cases of Coho, 20,224 of Dog, 43,844 of Pink, 341 of King, and 23,928 of Red salmon were produced, apparently worth $415,477.06. No pickled fish were reported this year. Manager Fred Barker signed off on the 1911 report instead of Barron.

The 1912 report deals mostly with the type of salmon caught, and does not contain income, equipment, or employee data (one or more pages may be missing). 750 Kings were caught in Icy Straight between Excursion Inlet and Point Couverden (the Homeshore stretch). 187 Kings were caught in Chatham between Funter Bay and Point Retreat. All Kings were caught between June 10 and July 10. A total of 351,309 Reds were caught between June 12 and Sept 1. 508,050 Pinks were caught between June 20 and Aug 20. 69,853 Coho between July 15 and Sept 12, and 354 Dog salmon between June 12 and Sept 12. Most of the fish of each species were caught in the traps at Homeshore.

The 1913 report goes back to detailing workers and boats. This year saw 79 White, 48 Native, 44 Chinese, and 44 Japanese employees at the cannery. There were 13 stationary traps and 3 pile drivers. One skiff had disappeared since 1911. 6,164 cases of Coho, 19,766 of Dog, 60,230 of Pink, 220 of King, and 25,494 of Red salmon were packed. No salt/pickled fish were reported. Total value seems to have been around $413,192. A detailed report similar to the 1912 data is appended showing how many fish were caught where on which dates.

The 1915 report changed format again, now reporting vessel names (Gas launch Buster and Steamer Anna Barron were the two large boats, there was also an unnamed gas launch). 17 staked traps were listed. Employees included 62 White, 51 Native, 75 Chinese, 30 Japanese, 4 Filipino, 1 Korean, and 4 Mexican (earlier reports did not have so many categories, and could have lumped Filipino and Korean workers into another category). Sockeye were packed in three different can sizes, for a total of 22,231 cases, King production was 339 cases, Coho 4,996, Pink 48,450, and Chum 16,873. Total value was $311,547.64.

1916 saw 107 White, 63 Native, 64 Chinese, 38 Japanese, and 4 Filipino workers, with total wages paid of $100,000. 23 staked traps are listed. The pack included 134 cases of Kings, 15,560 of Red, 15,028 of Coho, 65,809 of Pink, and 25,292 of Chum worth $495,015.80. A note stated that the cannery did not count individual fish, but estimated catch numbers based on cases packed and average weights. superintendent H.W. Chutte signed off on the 1916 report.

1918 saw 93 White, 50 Native, 46 Chinese, 44 Japanese, 14 Filipino, and 3 Mexican employees, paid a total of $129,500. The gas boat Barron F was added to the roster. The number and type of traps stayed the same. More species were packed in different can sizes, including 1/2 lb “48s”, 1lb flat cans, and 1lb tall cans. 6,570 cases of Coho were packed, 41,590 of Pink, 28,732 of Chum, 577 of King, and 26,274 of Red, worth $568,438.46. James Barron went back to signing off on the reports.

1920 saw a change in name from Thlinket Packing Company to Corporation. The fishing method also started to shift drastically towards floating traps (12 reported) and away from staked traps (9 reported). Buildings were valued at $257,500 and trap sites at $400,000. Workforce included 94 White, 22 Native, 40 Chinese, 44 Japanese, and 7 Filipino, and wages were $115,500. One floating trap worth $1,200 was reported lost. 5,126 cases of Coho, 12,663 of Chum, 17,971 of Pink, 167 of King, and 15,445 of Red were packed, for $262,916.23.

After 1920’s drastic decrease in sales, 1921 saw a smaller workforce of 52 White, 65 Native, 24 Chinese, 15 Japanese, and 8 Filipino, paid a total of $63,152.42. The Steamer Anna Barron was reportedly taken out of state. The company by now had 31 rowboats and 16 scows. 1 pile driver is listed. Only 5 staked traps and 6 floating traps are listed, along with 1 rented trap and 6 trap frames which were hauled out on the beach and not in use. Production ceased on the smaller cans (except for Reds), total pack was 8,250 cases of Coho, 10,114 of Chum, 13,820 of Pink, 126 of King, and 9,916 of Red, worth $187,095. Sales Manager C.F. Whitney signed off on this year’s report.

1922’s report had 68 White, 42 Native, 23 Chinese, and 25 Filipino employees, paid $51,020. 4 staked traps and 6 floating traps were used, 3 trap sites were leased from another company. 2 Floating traps were reported washed away, for a loss of $8,400. The smaller cans made a reappearance and were especially popular for Sockeye, with a total production of 4,901 Coho cases, 4,017 Chum, 17.023 Pink, 30 King, and 11,755 Red. Value was $103,025.

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These falling numbers may have led to the property’s 1926 sale to Sunny Point Packing. The marked decline of the salmon runs after 1920 was due to overfishing and the ongoing proliferation of fish traps (which peaked around that year). After 1920 there were many new regulations and attempts at protecting the fish stocks, but by 1953 Alaska’s salmon industry was declared a major disaster by the Federal government. Fish traps were outlawed after statehood in 1959, and modern boat-based fisheries are more tightly managed and regulated.

For those still awake and wanting more statistics, the original reports are below:

1904 Report of Salmon Operations for Funter Bay Cannery
1906 Report of Salmon Operations for Funter Bay Cannery

1910 Report of Operations by Funter Bay Cannery
1911 Report of Operations by Funter Bay Cannery
1912 Report of Salmon Operations by Thlinket Packing Co
1913 Report of Operations by Thlinket Packing Co
1915 Statistics of Fishing Industry by Thlinket Packing Co
1916 Statistics of Fishing Industry by Thlinket Packing Co
1918 Statistics of Fishing Industry by Thlinket Packing Co
1920 Statistics of Fishing Industry by Thlinket Packing Corporation
1921 Statistics of Fishing Industry by Thlinket Packing Corporation
1922 Statistics of Fishing Industry by Thlinket Packing Corporation


Funter Bay History: Helen Antonova, Mining Engineer

May 28, 2015

One of the first women to graduate with a degree in Mine Engineering, Helen Anatolievna Antonova arrived at Funter Bay in the fall of 1929. Born in Russia in 1904, Antonova traveled through China and Japan with her mother before moving to the United States. Her early life was spent in Siberian mining towns, and despite early work in theater, she always dreamed of becoming a mining engineer. She enrolled in the University of Washington’s College of Mines, the only woman to do so at the time (though not the first in the US).

Antonova3

University of Washington Libraries, Special Collections, Tyee 1928, pg 57. Courtesy UW Digital Archives.

As a female student in a traditionally male field, Antonova encountered much skepticism from officials and unfriendliness from classmates. She would later experience mistrust from coworkers (and their wives). Despite being told by the dean that no one would hire a woman for mine work, she led a successful career as a mine engineer, working throughout the US. On several occasions she was offered roles in theater and in Hollywood, but preferred surveying and assay work over acting.

After finishing her thesis and graduating in 1928, Antonova found a job with a mining company in Funter Bay. She recalled that the owner initially assumed her to be male, writing that he was surprised an engineer would have a woman’s name. Helen described Funter Bay as a small mining town, but noted that nothing could be purchased there. Despite its small size and remote location, Funter was home to a fellow female UW alumni. May Sophia Otteson (Tubbs) was a graduate of the class of 1916 and daughter of Charles and Mary Otteson, who ran another mine close to the one which employed Helen.

Conditions at Funter were spartan, a house was provided for Helen and her mother but was poorly insulated and had almost no supplies. The mine owner’s wife suggested they bring their own wood-burning stove with them. Groceries and goods were brought out on the weekly steamer from Juneau. Some medical care was available from a nurse living at the nearby cannery. Running water and electricity came from a waterfall, and stopped working during the winter. Helen took these conditions in stride, sometimes standing in icy water while surveying. The mine was reportedly very happy with Antonova’s work, and begged her to return after she moved back to Washington state.

Helen eventually married a Russian miner from Juneau (She mentioned that many Russian miners worked in Alaska, some sneaking over from Siberia illegally in rowboats). Her new husband became jealous of Helen’s superior position and income, and demanded they move back to Washington so he could pursue a degree of his own. She divorced him after his attitude and anger grew worse.

After moving back to the Lower 48, Helen held various jobs at mining and refining companies. She later married Nicholas All from New York (Her last name is sometimes listed as Antonovall). Helen Antonova All was interviewd in 1978 by author Joan Dufault, whose book Vintage: The Bold Survivors! contains more details of her life and experiences.