Dyea, Alaska: A Ghost Town in the Klondike

From gold rush boom town to Klondike ghost town: Dyea, Alaska (Image: NPS. The ghost town of Dyea, Alaska)

Booking a trip online is easy today. But imagine setting out on a life-changing journey that could potentially last years – if not forever – with nothing but newspaper reports, word of mouth, and quite hearsay to guide you. That’s what Gold Rush prospectors and stampeders did, and when countless hopefuls decided to head north to the gold fields of Alaska, there were definitely no internet reviews to guide their way.

Seattle was the jumping-off point for Alaska and, according to the National Postal Museum, between 1897 and 1899 more money was spent at Seattle merchants than was actually found in the Klondike. From there, stampeders had two choices: head to Dyea and pick up the Chilkoot Pass, or head to Skagway and take the White Pass. The two towns were under 10 miles apart. For those who didn’t need the deep harbour of Skagway, Dyea was the place to go.

19th century prospectors in Dyea, Alaska (Image: National Archives via NPS)

Dyea, Alaska – little more than a ghost town today – was originally founded as a seasonal fishing village. But word of gold spread south in the spring of 1897, and by the following year the settlement was getting busy. It was expanding fast in order to handle the volume of settlers that were moving through, and even though only 8,000 people lived there at the height of its popularity, tens of thousands stopped off Dyea on their way to the Klondike.

Dyea Cemetery in the Klondike (Image: Joseph. Grave markers in the old Dyea Cemetery)

But a deal had to be brokered first. According to the National Park Service, the authorities needed to come to an agreement with the Chilkat Tlingit people before hopeful prospectors could venture to Dyea and up Chilkoot Pass. The route had been used for First Nations trade for years, and it wasn’t until 1879 that the deal was made.

The Healy and Wilson trading post in Alaska (Image: National Archives via NPS. The Healy & Wilson building in Dyea)

The Healy & Wilson trading post was established in the mid-1880s, cooperating with First Nations people to help prepare adventurers for the trek north. In the boom days that followed, Dyea prospered. Two breweries, bankers, freight companies, two hospitals, a dentist and several doctors, real estate agents, drug stores, two newspapers, two telephone companies, and photographers set up shop in the Klondike town, all under the watchful eye of the US Army.

The ghost town of Dyea, Alaska (Image: James Brooks. A surviving ruin)

Then, on April 3, 1889, the devastating Palm Sunday Avalanche swept across the Chilkoot Trail. More than 70 people were killed, and the flood of people into Dyea slowed to a trickle. Once routes on the Yukon River and the White Pass & Yukon Route Railroad opened in Skagway, Dyea began its rapid decline.

(Image: Joseph. “Shot in the mountains…”)

By 1903, there were fewer than six people left in the Klondike ghost town. The community’s post office had closed the previous year. Fire later destroyed many of the buildings – including the Healy & Wilson trading post – and major flooding during the 1940s and 1950s completed the destruction.

(Image: Luigi Zanasi. The abandoned townsite seen in 2005)

Though a few hardy folk still live in the valley, the ghost town of Dyea stands largely abandoned. The ruined townsite is now part of the Klondike Gold Rush National Historical Park. The deserted settlement is located near a campground on the aptly-named Dyea Road, Skagway, AK.

Read Next: Abandoned Alaska: 12 Ghost Towns & Ruins of the Last Frontier


About the author: Debra Kelly




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