As a youngster growing up in the 1960s in Pennsylvania, my idea of a roadhouse was the orange-roofed Howard Johnson’s in the center section of the New York State highway. My brother and I always begged to stop for one of those special hot dogs in the funny square roll. Now, after living in Alaska for over 40 years, I understand roadhouse as a different dynamic!
The first Alaskan Roadhouse I learned about was the Grandview located in Lawing, Alaska just past the town of Moose Pass as you head toward Seward. It was operated by one of the most dynamic and iconic Alaskan women I had ever heard of – Alaska Nellie, or Nellie Neal Lawing. While working with the Resurrection Bay Historical Society I read everything I could about her. Of course, the roadhouse was gone by then, but I could still walk to its spot along the railroad tracks, close my eyes and go back to 1915.
Recently, in the Cordova Historical Archives, we came across a series of good photos from a collection that were taken by a man who was working for Cap Lathrop and his transfer business — hauling coal, luggage, etc., from the Steamship Dock. Later, the man was sent to work at Cap’s Healy Coal Mine and photos of his road trip will make you appreciate today’s Richardson Highway – frost heaves and all!
The first photo shows the Copper Center Lodge, once known as Blix’s Hotel. Born in Norway in 1872, Ringwald Blix came to Alaska in July 1900 and made the first discovery of gold on Rainey Creek; in 1901, Blix was named the first postmaster along the Valdez-Eagle Trail. Blix’s Roadhouse featured spring beds and a modern bath.