The town, located about 53 miles southeast of Copper Center on the Edgerton Highway, was a bustling operation following the discovery of copper ore along the northern edge of the Chitina River valley around 1900 – although Athabascan Indians had lived in the area for centuries. Before 1900, it was the site of a large village, but the Native population was slowly decimated by the influx of prospectors, homesteaders, disease and conflicts.
The construction of the Copper River and Northwestern Railway enabled Chitina to develop into a thriving community by 1914. It boasted a general store, clothing store, meat market, stables, a tinsmith, five hotels, several rooming houses, a pool hall, bars, restaurants, dance halls and a movie theater.
When the mines closed in 1938, the remaining support activities moved to what is now the Glennallen area. Chitina became a virtual ghost town. In late 1977, jeweler Art Koeninger bought the Chitina Tin Shop, and in 1979, the site, formerly known as “Fred’s Place” and “Schaupp’s,” was placed on the National Register of Historic Places. It has won two historic preservation grants and currently houses the Spirit Mountain Artworks.
Chitina now is a popular place for Alaskans to go dip netting for salmon in the summertime!
By Laurel Bill