Historic Capital

June 24, 2014 No Comments

The Tlingit people have fished, hunted, trapped, and traded in the Juneau region for thousands of years. In 1880, Tlingit Chief Kowee helped lead prospectors Richard Harris and Joe Juneau to Silverbow Basin, where they found sizable gold nuggets and staked their claim. The two men set up a small townsite nearby, igniting the first Alaska Gold Rush. It wasn’t long before the tiny Auk fish camp transformed into a burgeoning boomtown.

The mining industry drove Juneau’s growth for several decades, leading Congress to move the central government from Sitka to this isolated region at the turn of the 20th century. When the Alaska-Juneau Gold Mining Company opened in 1917, it became the world’s largest operation of its kind. By the time it closed in 1944, the mine had produced nearly 3.5 million ounces of the precious metal—about $80 million in today’s dollars. Cruise guests can embrace Juneau’s mining past by panning for real gold the same way that miners did over a century ago.

When Alaska entered statehood in 1959, Juneau experienced another growth spurt. Today, nearly half of the state capital’s 33,000 residents are employed by the government, and many of downtown’s top attractions are government-related. The capitol, circa 1931, houses Alaska’s legislative chambers and offices, as well as a display of historic photographs and documents. Free guided tours are available every half hour on most days in the summer.

Across the street from the capitol is the State Office Building, where an eighth-floor observation deck offers expansive views. The nearby Governor’s House is the official residence of Alaska’s governor. While there aren’t tours of the private estate, its impressive white-columned exterior makes a great photo backdrop.

Prior to the United States’ purchase of Alaska in 1867, the territory was inhabited by a group of Russian whalers and fur traders. Their influence is evident throughout Juneau, specifically at the ornate St. Nicholas Church, with its characteristic onion dome. The octagon-shaped National Historic Landmark is the oldest original Russian Orthodox church in Alaska that’s still in use. Services are held on Saturdays and Sundays.

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Delight in Juneau’s breathtaking natural scenery as you fly high above lush green Tongass National Forest before trekking across a massive glacier on foot.

Embark on a helicopter ride high above Juneau’s untamed wilderness before landing on Norris Glacier for an Alaskan dog-sledding adventure.

Set sail from charming harbor town as you join a welcoming crew onboard a waterjet-powered catamaran in search of whales.

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