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Norwegian Heritage at Newtown: Formerly Known as a Fishing Suburb of Alaska's First City — Ketchikan

Updated on January 21, 2020
State flag of Alaska
State flag of Alaska | Source
Flag of Norway
Flag of Norway | Source
The Lutheran Church on Tongass Ave in Ketchikan, Alaska
The Lutheran Church on Tongass Ave in Ketchikan, Alaska | Source
Ketchikan's Newtown neighborhood, between Downtown and the West End, its two largest neighborhoods. First Lutheran Church, at the right edge of this photo, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places.
Ketchikan's Newtown neighborhood, between Downtown and the West End, its two largest neighborhoods. First Lutheran Church, at the right edge of this photo, is listed on the National Register of Historic Places. | Source

"They that go down to the sea in ships, that do business in great waters..." / "De som fór ut på havet i skib, som drev handel på store vann..."

I have included this quotation from Psalm 107.23 — including a Norwegian version — because it seems fitting for the subject matter of this hub. The depicted Norwegian Lutheran Church building — like many such edifices around the world — is not in the Nordic homeland of its original adherents; a tribute to the avowedly far flung distances which Norwegians involved in the fishing industry have in the past travelled and in some cases settled.

This particular spired building is situated in Alaska. Ketchikan, located within the Inside Passage, is sometimes known as Alaska's First City; and what was at first known for a short while as North Ketchikan and subsequently as Newtown emerged at the beginning of the 20th century (1). Mining and prospecting were significant, early activities associated with the Ketchikan area; it is the expanded fishing industry — which attracted many Norwegians — with which the early decades of Newtown's existence was identified.

Today, an historical panel close to the water's edge at Newtown, which I was interested to see, lists many Norwegian surnames linked with those who lived and worked in Newtown in the early 20th century; these include names such as Carlsen, Roning, Olberg and Ness.

The depicted Norwegian Lutheran Church building on Tongass Avenue dates from 1930. Referred to as First Lutheran Church, it is executed in wood, its simple lines follow some familiar, recurring Gothic features such as pointed arches. The building is included in the U.S. National Register of Historic Places. The structure was designed by W. G. Brust of Seattle, WA (2); local builder Carl Foss was responsible for construction.

Flat land is relatively at a premium at Newtown, and generations of churchgoers at the Norwegian Lutheran Church approaching from the street below have had to negotiate a steep series of steps to the main entrance.

Visiting Newtown, one receives an historical impression of hardy, Norwegian families in the early 20th century almost clinging to hillsides in pursuit of the fishing industry.

Interestingly, the city flag of Ketchikan includes the image of a salmon, a tribute to the immense importance of this species of fish to a major local industry (3).

Land access to Newtown was improved in the mid-20th century by the creation of a road tunnel which connects the suburb with Downtown Ketchikan. The City is located on Revillagigedo Island, in Alaska's Alexander Archipelago.

January 9, 2020


(1) See also:

(2) Other works by Architect Brust include Phinney Ridge Lutheran Church (1929), Our Redeemer Lutheran Church (1946-47) and Hope Lutheran Church (1948); see also:

(3) Halibut has also been a very important species of fish landed at Ketchikan. It is interesting that the US-Canadian Halibut Treaty of 1923 was historically the first instance of a treaty negotiated by and signed only by Canada, independent of Great Britain; issues relating to stocks of halibut in the North Pacific informed these negotiations; the Treaty was spearheaded by Canadian Prime Ministry William Lyon Mackenzie King and signed by US Secretary of State Charles Evan Hughes and Canadian Marine and Fisheries Minister Ernest Lapointe.

Some sourcing: Wikipedia

 Map location of Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Alaska, United States
Map location of Ketchikan Gateway Borough, Alaska, United States | Source

Also worth seeing

In Ketchikan itself, the spired St. John's Church also exhibits Gothic features; visitors to the city often frequent the many gift stores specializing in Native Alaskan and other artwork; the city is well known for its totem poles; located in the Tongass National Forest, the Deer Mountain National Recreation Trail leads to the landmark for which it is named, which, at 915 metres / 3,001.97 feet overlooks the city.

Misty Fiords National Monument (distance: 64 kilometres / 40 miles), governed by the US Forest Service, consists of 9,246 km2 / 2,294,343 acres of often near vertical glacial valleys, some of which rise to 600 to 900 metres / 2,000 to 3,000 feet above sea level and descend to 300 metres / 1000 feet below it; boat and floatplane tours [NB: Please check the FAA status of these floatplane tours] are organized from Ketchikan.

How to get there

Alaska Airlines and Delta Connection fly to Ketchikan International Airport, (distance — travel via ferry — from Downtown Ketchikan: 2 kilometres / 1.43 miles) from Seattle/Tacoma, WA, with wide North American connections; Princess Cruises and other cruise companies offer services to Ketichikan, often on a seasonal basis; some facilities may be withdrawn without notice. You are advised to refer to appropriate consular sources for any special border crossing arrangements which may apply to citizens of certain nationalities.

MJFenn is an independent travel writer based in Ontario, Canada


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