This past weekend we went to Rika’s Roadhouse up here in the interior. It was quite fun actually. I thought I would share a snippet of information, and a few photos along the way. I’m sorry the pictures are a tad blurry, I didn’t realize I had the flash on, until we were almost through!
Rika’s Roadhouse is the centerpiece of the park. The house served travelers on the historic Valdez-to-Fairbanks Trail from 1913 to 1947. John Hajdukovich had the north-south section of this log structure built in 1913. The Valdez-to-Fairbanks Trail was being improved at this time and the roadhouse was a center of activity for gold stampeders, local hunters, traders, and freighters.
In 1917 Hajdukovich hired a Swedish immigrant named Rika Wallen to operate the roadhouse which prospered under her management. In 1923 she bought it from Hajdukovich for “$10.00 and other considerations,” presumably in lieu of wages. The roadhouse was named “Rika’s” following local custom. Rika operated the roadhouse through the 1940’s, although in later years guests were by invitation only.
Also located in the park is a Washington Alaska Military Cable and Telegraph System (WAMCATS) station. In 1900 it took a year to send a message from interior Alaska to Washington D.C. and receive an answer. To speed communications, the US Signal Corps, a branch of the Army, built the WAMCATS. After part of the original line burned, the line was moved to parallel the new Valdez-Fairbanks Trail.
After gold was discovered near Fairbanks in 1903, prospectors traveled to the discovery using a series of Native trails later named the Valdez to
Fairbanks Trail. The Alaska Road Commission (ARC) improved the route to a 10-foot-wide dog team and packhorse trail and then to a summer
wagon road. The ARC also installed a ferry at Big Delta to allow travelers safe passage across the Tanana River.
Even with improvements, traveling through the region was challenging. During winter, travelers experienced cold temperatures, deep snow, blizzards, and avalanches; during summer, marshy terrain, raging rivers, forest fires, and relentless bugs. Many travelers turned around before reaching Fairbanks—some experienced
hypothermia, frostbite, and even death.
ARC road improvements eventually allowed for automobiles. By 1926, the trip from Valdez to Fairbanks could be accomplished in two days.
The road—Alaska’s fi rst highway—was named the Richardson Highway to honor the first head of the ARC, Wilds P. Richardson. In the 1940s, realignment of the Richardson Highway to meet the new high-truss steel bridge bypassed Rika’s Roadhouse rendering the ferry
obsolete. With the completion of the Alcan Highway, the population of Big Delta moved to the junction of the Alcan and Richardson highways, signaling the end of an era.
There is a lot of history that I personally would never have thought about while living in the other 49 states.
From my family to yours,