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Fairbanks History

Athabascans, one of the many groups of Native Alaskans, have lived in the Fairbanks area for thousands of years. The area around present-day Fairbanks was an important meeting place for Native Alaskans in the region.

The gold rush of a century ago led E.T. Barnette to the Interior of Alaska with hopes of establishing a trading post. In 1901, after his riverboat became grounded and nearly got stuck in the shallow Chena River, Barnette ended up at a spot hundreds of miles from where he wanted to be.

But as luck would have it, prospector Felix Pedro discovered gold in the area near Barnette's trading post in 1902, and thousands of miners stampeded to the area.

Barnette, hoping to attract the attention and resources of the federal government, named the new town Fairbanks in honor of Charles W. Fairbanks, a powerful senator from Indiana at the time. Charles Fairbanks would go on to serve as Theodore Roosevelt's vice president.

The town grew quickly, with Barnette serving as the city's first mayor. An early visitor said the town along the Chena River "grows as you watch it and it grows as you give up the watching and turn for a few moments of sleep." In this town that appeared in an instant, people came in search of instant riches. Some found what they were looking for, but others discovered something more valuable after the gold fever subsided, a sense of community.

Military projects during World War II, including the completion of the Alcan Highway, provided a burst of growth. The construction of the trans-Alaska oil pipeline in the 1970s was another watershed for Fairbanks, which serves as the economic hub for Interior Alaska.

The twists and turns of the first 100 years have given Fairbanks a rich heritage and created a unique settlement known as much for the spirit of its people as anything else.


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