The Walter and Mary Ellen Gould cabin

The Walter and Mary Ellen Gould cabin on Dunkel Street in front of the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center has stood at this spot for more than 100 years. 

The small log cabin shown in the drawing is located at 105 Dunkel St. just to the west of the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center. It is a unique part of the downtown Fairbanks cultural landscape, being one of the oldest structures in the core area still in its original location.

When the cabin (now known as the Gould cabin) was constructed about 1910, Dunkel Street was on the edge of Fairbanks, just upstream from the riverfront business district. Photographs of early Fairbanks show a sawmill (gone by 1910) about where the visitors center is now, and at the river’s edge end of Wendell Street, just east of Dunkel Street, there used to be the ferry to the small settlement of Graehl across the river, and to the mines in the hills beyond.

The Gould cabin was one of numerous other small homes in the area, and it sat at the corner of Dunkel and West Clay streets. The Dunkel Street district was similar to other residential districts around the town’s edges, populated by what Josephine Papp and Josie Phillips, in their book on the history of Tanana Valley agriculture, call “town agriculturists.”

They wrote that most homeowners in Fairbanks, “raised gardens and berries, some had greenhouses, and nearly everyone planted flowers around their homes. Several dedicated residents experimented with flowers, shrubs and trees to the extent that much of the beauty found in summertime Fairbanks today is a result of their efforts.”

According to the Historic American Building Survey, the first known residents of the cabin were Walter and Mary Ellen Gould who purchased the cabin in 1914. Mrs. Gould was an avid gardener, raising vegetables to feed the family, as well as flowers — particularly fuchsias. The cabin is now part of the visitors center, which was constructed in 2008. The grounds around the cabin are still planted every year with heirloom varieties of flowers and vegetables that would have been grown there during the 1910s.

The cabin itself is 16 1/2-feet wide by 20 1/2-feet long, constructed of round spruce logs with saddle-notched corners. It has a low metal-covered gable roof which extends 5 1/2 feet out over the front porch. The interior is divided into two rooms. The Goulds sheathed the wall-logs’ interior side with flat-sawn lumber and then decorated with Victorian patterned wall paper. The current configuration depicts the front room as a combination living room/bedroom and the second room a combination dining room/kitchen.

This arrangement may represent the earliest version of the cabin. However Fairbanks North Star Borough property records show that for much of the cabin’s life it sported a 16-foot by 13-foot wood-frame addition tacked on at the rear, housing a kitchen and small bathroom.

The early cabin sat on a wood sill foundation, but at some point a basement with wood-crib walls was dug. When the cabin was sold to the city of Fairbanks in 2006 for the visitors center project, it was heated by a furnace in the basement.

After the cabin became part of the visitors center project, the kitchen addition was torn down and the basement was filled in. (If you look closely at the exterior back wall of the cabin now, you can see where the logs were shaved flat for the kitchen addition.)

The cabin was then rehabilitated to a version akin to it’s original state, and the cabin was decorated with period-authentic furnishings. Staff from the University of Alaska Museum of the North and members of the public and the Tanana-Yukon Historical Society assisted with the rehabilitation and decorating, with the restoration funded in part by the Fairbanks Rotary Club. It is now one of the most photographed cabin in Fairbanks.

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

Sources:

• “105 Dunkel Street Cabin.” Steven M. Peterson et al. Historic American Building Survey. 2007

• Conversation with Sara Harriger, Executive Director of the Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Center

• Fairbanks North Star Borough property records

• Signage at the Gould Cabin, and Morris Thompson Cultural and Visitors Centers information

• “Like a Tree to the Soil, a History of Farming in Alaska’s Tanana Valley, 1903 to 1940.” Josephine E. Papp & Josie A. Phillips. School of Natural Resources & Agricultural Sciences, University of Alaska. 2007