Gold was discovered in Silverbow Basin above present day Juneau in October 1880, quickly drawing dozens of gold-seekers to the area. Not long after the initial discovery, prospectors staked claims across Gastineau Channel on Douglas Island (named in 1798 by British explorer, George Vancouver, for John Douglas, the editor of Captain James Cook’s journal)
In 1881 Juneau was established on the northeast shore of Gastineau Channel and two communities sprang up on Douglas Island: Douglas, a boomtown serving area miners; and Treadwell, a company town built around the Treadwell mine south of Douglas.
Douglas Island is within the territory of the Auk Tlingit Indians, and many Tlingit moved to Douglas to work in the Treadwell mine. They established Douglas Indian Village, also called Yaa Andagan Ye (Tlingit for “where the sun rays touch first").
Douglas was beset by problems early on, including frequent fires, and a 1917 mine-shaft cave-in at the Treadwell that flooded and permanently closed most of the mine. The mine closed for good in 1922. Douglas survived though. While many residents moved on, most of the Native community remained.
A 1926 fire destroyed most of the Indian Village, including the government school. The U.S. Bureau of Indian Affairs (BIA) built a new school in 1933-34. Designed by BIA architect, N. Lester Troast, the building was constructed by local laborers, and funded primarily by the depression-era Works Progress Administration. The new school was named after nearby Mayflower Island (now called Juneau Island).
A bridge across Gastineau Channel was completed in 1935, and in 1940 Mayflower School merged with Juneau Government School. Thereafter Native children were split by grades between the two schools. In 1948 the Native schools merged with the local public school system, and the City of Douglas acquired ownership of the school building. Eventually the City and Borough of Juneau (a unified municipality) assumed ownership.
In 1982, the building, no longer used by the school system, was leased to the Alaska Department of Environmental Conservation. The building was added to the National Register of Historic Places in 1988.
The City and Borough of Juneau still owns the building but it is now used by the Juneau Montessori Center. The Montessori Center renovated the building to near-original condition between 1992 and 94. There had been few changes to the building’s exterior over the years, the primary one being the removal of the building’s small central bell tower. With the restoration of the bell tower, the building looks very much as it did in the mid 1900s. It sits on a hillside facing what is now the Douglas small-boat harbor. The building is a 1½-story wood-frame structure with full day-light basement.
As originally constructed the building housed a kitchen, recreation room, community laundry facilities, showers and lavatories on the basement level: a library, home economics rooms and classrooms on the first floor; and teachers’ living quarters on the top floor.
The building was intentionally designed to serve the community beyond the school and was open after school hours for community use. The Alaska Native brotherhood and Alaska Native Sisterhood regularly met there.
The school was designed in a Colonial Revival style, what the “Daily Alaska Empire” newspaper called a “radical departure from the old” (at least for Alaska). Colonial Revival design elements include symmetrical, rectangular massing; medium pitch, side-gable roof; 6/6 double-hung windows; centered doorways with hooded pediments, and beveled siding. According to National Park Service documents the school was planned as a model for other BIA schools in Alaska. However, it is the only BIA school of it’s type in the state.
Although no longer serving just Native youth, it is nice that the building still serves the educational needs of the community.
Ray Bonnell is a freelance artist, writer and longtime Fairbanks resident. See more of his artwork at www.pingostudio.us.
• “Buildings of Alaska.” Alison K. Hoagland. Oxford University Press. 1993
• Douglas Indian Association website, diataku.com.
• “Mayflower School, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form.” Gabrielle LaRoche & Glenda Choate. National Park Service. 1988
• “The Juneau Gold Belt, A History of the Mines and Miners.” Earl Redman. Gastineau Channel Historical Society. 1988