Tom Weatherell's cabin

Tom Weatherell’s cabin in Talkeetna, constructed in the 1920s. Ray Bonnell sketch

A May 2021 Peninsula Clarion article relates that Thomas P. Weatherell came to Alaska in 1898 as part of an ill-fortuned group of argonauts headed for the Klondike gold fields. His entourage, the Kings County Mining Company, left New York City in February 1898 on the well-provisioned sailing ship, Agate, headed around Cape Horn.

Due to bad weather, and hostilities between the U.S. and Spain, the Agate did not arrive in San Francisco to pick up additional company members until August. It finally arrived in Alaska in October, too late for the company to push on to the Klondike with several tons of supplies.

Instead, the Agate headed for the Northern Kenai Peninsula mining camps of Sunrise and Hope. However, the company was again plagued by bad luck. The Agate’s captain, unwilling to navigate Cook Inlet’s waters, convinced company members to trek overland from Katchemak Bay to Turnagain Arm (with all their supplies in tow). By December they had only made it as far a Skilak Lake, where they built cabins and overwintered. In Spring the company disbanded. Most of its members returned to the East Coast, but several remained in Alaska, including Weatherell.

U.S. Census records indicate that Weatherell joined the Cook Inlet gold rush. By 1900 he was at Kroto Creek, a tributary of the Sustina River. In 1910 his residence was Susitna Station, where he probably met store owner, Horace Nagley. When Nagley opened a store in Talkeetna in 1920, Weatherell evidently went to work for him.

Nagley employed Weatherell for many years, selling and shipping supplies to the mines in the Cache Creek area 45 miles to the west. Keeping with the tradition of other prospectors turned shopkeeps (such as Jack McQuesten) Weatherell grubstaked miners headed out to the diggings. He also served as Talkeetna’s postmaster until 1927, and was active in the Talkeetna Commercial Club, which functioned as the town’s chamber of commerce. Weatherell continued to mine on a seasonal basis in the Cache Creek Area for many years.

According to the Talkeetna Historical Society, some time during the 1920s Weatherell hired another Talkeetna resident, Hjalmer Ronning, to build him a 19-foot by 25-foot cabin on Main Street, near Nagley’s store. Ronning was a Norwegian immigrant and a skilled carpenter. He erected a 1½-story hipped-roof cabin for Weatherell, using spruce logs sawn flat on three sides, dovetailed at the corners, and held in vertical alignment with wooden dowels. A cut-out at the southeast corner, facing the street, forms a sheltered alcove protecting the front entrance. The first floor has double-hung eight-over-one windows, and the street-facing facade has a small hipped dormer on the second floor with an eight-lite window. At some point the corner cut-out was enclosed, and a gable-roofed addition was constructed at the rear of the cabin.

Weatherell moved in the 1940s, selling the cabin to another miner, Adolf “Missouri” Taraski. Since Taraski’s death the cabin has had several owners, and it gradually fell into disrepair. For several years it was listed by the Alaska Association for Historic Preservation as one of Alaska’s ten most-endangered historic buildings. In 2010 the building’s owners, Suzanne and Todd Rust, received a grant from the State Office of History and Archaeology to stabilize the unoccupied building.

Work accomplished during the project included removing the rear addition and the front entrance enclosure, installing a new foundation, and replacing the lower courses of logs and much of the flooring on the first floor. The building awaits further interior work to bring it back to habitable condition, but its fine Scandinavian log crafting is visible to anyone walking down Main Street. It is part of the Talkeetna Historic District.

Sources:

• “An unusual and difficult journey to the Kenai.” Clark Fair. In Peninsula Clarion. 5-11-2021

• “It’s the Weatherell House.” Talkeetna Historical Society and Museum web page, . 2021

• “Talkeetna Historic District, National Register of Historic Places Registration Form,” Fran Seager-Boss & Lawrence Roberts. National Park Service. 1992

• “The Weatherell House.” Fran Seager-Boss. In Alaska Association for Historic Preservation Newsletter. Volume 29, Issue 2, Fall 2011

• “U.S. Census records, Third Judicial District, Southcentral, Alaska: 1900, 1910, 1920, 1930.” Coleen Mielke. On Researching our Alaska Family Roots website, <http://freepages.rootsweb.com/~coleen/genealogy/south_central_alaska>

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