The Hazelet home

George Hazelet came to Alaska in 1898 and helped open the Copper River Basin to development. He also played an important role in the development of Valdez and Cordova. The drawing shows Hazelet's house in Cordova, built in about 1910, as it looks today. 

George Cheever Hazelet was a resident of Omaha, Nebraska, when news of the Klondike gold strike reached the contiguous United States in 1897. Even though he had a wife and children, Hazelet headed north to seek his fortune.

In March 1898, he and his partner, A.J. (Andrew Jackson) Meals, landed at the tent settlement at the head of Valdez Bay. They traversed the treacherous Valdez Glacier route to the Copper River Basin but ventured no further. His party prospected the upper Copper River Basin, discovering gold along the Chisna River near the Chistochina River’s headwaters.

For three years Hazelet’s men mined there. Although the diggings were rich, the area’s difficult geography, almost non-existent transportation system and undependable weather made the operation unprofitable.

Hazelet and Meals abandoned Chisna and settled in Valdez, eventually bringing their families north to join them. In 1901 they acquired 720 acres of land west of “old” Valdez and platted it into a townsite. Referred to as Hazelet’s Hay Ranch or Hazeletville, the area is where Valdez moved to after the 1964 Good Friday earthquake.

Hazelet labored as a booster for the Valdez area for several years. He tried to entice businesses in old Valdez to leave the lowlands on the east side of the bay, and to attract developers to build a railroad from Valdez to the rich Wrangell Mountain copper deposits. He also became the local agent for the Copper River and Northwestern Railway.

According to Elizabeth Tower’s book, “Icebound Empire,” in 1902 coal was discovered near the Bering Glacier 200 miles southeast of Valdez. Hazelet and several other Valdez businessmen decided that a location on the sound’s eastern edge would be best for developing the Bering River coal fields, and in 1905 they reserved a townsite at Odiak Slough on Orca Inlet.

This was the location Mike Heney chose in 1906 as the terminus for his Copper River Railway. In 1908, after the Copper River and Northwestern Railway bought out Heney’s operation and moved its headquarters to Cordova, Hazelet moved there. As a townsite trustee, he became an avid booster for the townsite and region. When Cordova incorporated in 1909, Hazelet was elected as the city’s first mayor.

Cordova stairsteps up the lower slopes of Mount Eyak, and Hazelet built a 11/2-story Craftsman-style house on Fourth Street at the upper limits of the townsite. Although the house’s exact construction date is unknown, the December 1910 issue of Alaska-Yukon Magazine, devoted almost exclusively to Cordova and its environs, features photographs of the house.

The wood frame structure, shown in the drawing, has commanding views of the town and Orca Inlet. It displays many of the hallmarks of Craftsman architecture, including deep overhanging eaves with exposed rafters and under-eave brackets, a large front porch — in this case covered by a pergola, tapered square columns supporting the pergola (closer inspection shows the tapered column motif carried over to the vertical molding around the windows), the use of natural materials like stone and shingles, and double-hung windows with multi-lite upper window assemblies.

As it is now finished, the house’s exterior façade looks much like it did in the early 1900s. Most of the exterior is sheathed with beveled wood siding, while portions of the basement, fireplace, chimney, and second floor are covered with wood shingles. The fireplace and chimney originally showcased rockwork. The dormer windows are a recent addition but meld perfectly with the original architecture.

Not prone to idleness, Hazelet went on to participate in the short-lived Chisana gold rush, as well as partner with Falcon Joslin in developing an oil field in the Katalla area. He died at Cordova in 1926.

Ray Bonnell is a freelance artist, writer and longtime Fairbanks resident. See more of his artwork at www.pingostudio.us.

Sources:

• “Cordova, The New Gateway Metropolis.” Sydney D. Charles. In “Alaska-Yukon Magazine.” December 1910

• “From Fish and Copper. Cordova’s Heritage and Buildings.” Nicki Nielsen. Cordova Historical Society. 1984

• “Hazelet’s Journal.” George Cheever Hazelet. Old Stone Press. 2012

• “Icebound Empire: Industry and Politics on the Last Frontier – 1898-1938.” Elizabeth A. Tower. No publisher. 1996