The most common questions that get asked about the history of Healy are ‘How did Healy get its name?’ and ‘What are the three valleys that make up Tri-Valley?’
This year happens to be the 100th birthday of Healy and there is someone who tries to answer those questions. Longtime resident Beverly Hall Mitchell will offer a free slideshow presentation about the history of Healy at 6 p.m. today at the Denali Chamber of Commerce and Visitor Center.
I got a preview of answers to some of those pressing questions. First, the Tri-Valley question: The three creeks are Nenana Creek, Healy Creek and Dry Creek.
“I know that Dry Creek seems silly, but Barb McFarland is the one who told me that and she is the one that named it,” Mitchell said. “There was a contest to name it and she won.”
Some people may think the third creek is actually Riley Creek, but Mitchell said that is not true. Tri-Valley School was named before students in the Denali area began attending Tri-Valley School, she said.
How did Healy get it’s name?
There is no official date for the founding of Healy, Mitchell said. However, railroad construction and coal mining both began there in 1919. The 1920 census shows about 200 people lived in the area.
“If the census had been taken a year earlier, the census taker could have counted the residents on his fingers,” Mitchell said. “There were only a few trappers and prospectors.”
It was originally named Healy Fork, after the Healy River. No one is sure who the river is named after. The name Healy Fork was often shortened to Healy, but it was not officially changed until 1968.
No one knows for sure who the river or town was named after. It might be after John J. Healy of the North American Trading and Transportation Company. Or it might have been after Michael A. Healy, a captain in the U.S. Revenue Cutter Service.
“I’ve done a lot of research on this and haven’t found anything definite,” Mitchell said.
Longtime Denali area resident Tom Walker has also researched Healy history and points out that there were two well-known Alaska/Yukon gold rush-era figures named Healy — U.S. Coast Guard Captain Michael A. Healy and trader John J. Healy. Two other men named Healy also lived in the Interior in the 1920s. One was a riverboat captain on the Yukon and Tanana Rivers and the other was a real estate salesman from Nenana.
“I believe that Healy Fork was named by S.A. ‘Silent Sam’ Bonnifield for his longtime friend John J. Healy of the North American Trading and Transportation Company,” Walker said.
Bonnifield was an early respected Klondike stampeder who moved on to mine in Fairbanks and the central Alaska Range. That region is named the Bonnifield Mining District and Bonnifield Creek is just over the hill from Healy Fork.
In addition, explorer-geologist Marcus Baker left a written record in his 1902 Dictionary of Alaska Place Names
“He states plainly that Healy was named for trader John J. Healy,” Walker said. “How he knew this is un-recorded.”
Fourth of July
Healy’s Fourth of July celebration begins at 11 a.m. Thursday with its annual parade, from the Totem Inn parking lot, down the Healy Spur Road, to the Tri-Valley Community Center. A community barbecue follows at 12:30 p.m. at Otto Lake. The centennial cake will be cut at 12:45 p.m.
Old-fashioned games begin at 1 p.m., including the three-legged race, watermelon eating contest, sack races, egg catch, pie-eating contest, water brigade and more. There will be bouncy houses for kids and Healy 100 merchandise for sale.
Reach columnist/community editor Kris Capps at firstname.lastname@example.org. Call her at the office 459-7546. Follow her on Twitter: @FDNMKris.