FAIRBANKS - The Falcon Joslin House, 413 Cowles St., stands as testament to the determination of Falcon Joslin, the builder of the Tanana Valley Railroad and one of the earliest promoters of the Tanana Valley. It also marks the evolution of Fairbanks from a possibly temporary mining camp to a permanent community.
Falcon Joslin was born in Belleview, Tenn., in 1866, graduated from Vanderbilt University, and for a time practiced law in Seattle. When word of the Klondike gold strike reached Seattle, he joined the throngs of gold seekers headed north. In Dawson City, he organized the Dawson Electric and Power Co., and helped build the Coal Creek railroad — a narrow-gauge railroad from the coal deposits on Coal Creek to the Yukon River (The power plant in Dawson City ran on coal).
As mining activity in the Klondike wound down, Joslin joined the exodus of miners to the Tanana Valley. Recognizing the need for reliable transportation between mining camps and the riverboat docks along the Chena River, he built (with American and English backing) the Tanana Mines Railroad — later called the Tanana Valley Railroad (TVRR).
Shortly after moving to Fairbanks in 1904, Joslin commissioned construction of a two-and-a-half-story wood frame house — one of the first wood frame houses in Fairbanks, and probably the oldest wood frame house still at its original location. Construction began in 1904 and was completed in 1905.
He built the large house to entice his wife and children to live in Fairbanks. However, for most of the time that he resided here, Joslin’s family lived in Seattle and he rambled about the large house by himself.
Joslin’s home is an example of “square built” houses found throughout the Midwest during that time period. Square built houses, also called foursquare or prairie square houses, were typically built on a square or nearly square floor plan, were usually at least two stories tall, had pyramidal or hipped roofs, large porches, dormers, and simple ornamentation. The Joslin house, with its shiplap siding, fulfills all these requirements.
Anywhere in the Lower 48, it might have fit in unobtrusively. In Fairbanks in 1905, the Joslin house stood in startling contrast to the temporary tents and simple log cabins that made up most of Fairbanks. But it, along with other houses such as that of Judge James Wickersham (also built in 1904), reflected the settling down of the city.
The changing nature of Fairbanks did not bring peace to Falcon Joslin, however. The TVRR prospered as long as gold production remained high, but after 1909, as drift mines closed and the area’s population dwindled, the railroad suffered.
Joslin saw the potential for agricultural development in the Tanana Valley and he labored to expand the area’s economic base to make up for the declining mining activity. Unfortunately, his efforts did not save his railroad. The Fairbanks area’s improving road system and competing trucking businesses eventually led to the railroad’s demise. The Alaska Engineering Commission, which was building the Alaska Railroad from Seward to Fairbanks, acquired the TVRR in 1917. The year before that, Joslin sold his Fairbanks house and joined his family in Seattle. He died there in 1928.
The Fairbanks Exploration Co. bought the Joslin house in 1923 to use as employee housing and added the single-room hipped roof addition on the north side of the house. Except for that and a garage addition at the rear of the house, the home is still remarkably close to its original condition. It was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1980.
Ray Bonnell is a freelance artist and writer and longtime Fairbanks resident. See more of his artwork at www.pingostudio.us.