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WILLARD "H.W." NAGLEY
Alaska Pioneer Merchant
McDougal and Talkeetna
by Coleen Mielke 2023
Willard "H.W." Nagley (1875-1966) was one of 13
children born to Jefferson Jackson Nagley and Louisa
Jane (Beaman) Nagley of Utsalady, Camano Island, Washington
In 1905, he came to Alaska aboard the SS Bertha,
landing at Seldovia. There he found summer work as a purser
on the SS Neptune, a 200 ton freighter, and spent his winters in
As purser, Nagley recognized that prospectors flooding into the Susitna
and Chulitna Gold Mining Districts needed better access
to merchandise. So, in 1907, he moved to Alaska permanently,
and with the financial backing of Frank Churchill and Arnold
Litchfield (prospectors who came to Alaska in 1898), Nagley opened
a general store at Susitna Station which was on the east side of the Susitna
River, approximately 1½ miles below its confluence with the Yentna
This is only a section of the
D. H. SLEEM MAP OF CENTRAL ALASKa
year later (1908), when Churchill and Litchfield
backed out of the business arrangement (and sold everything),
Nagley decided to build his own store. The location that he wanted to
build on was owned by Susitna Chief "Big Evan", so on 6/10/1908, Nagley
traded land parcels with the Chief (Deed Vol. 1 page 264 Susitna)and built
his own store.
Nagley stocked the new store with merchandise that he bought (on credit)
from O.G. Herning's Knik Trading Co., and on 8/1/1908 the store opened
for business, offering mosquito tents, rain coats, rain hats, hardware,
shoe packs, sox, food, sheet metal stoves, sleds, ammunition and of course,
a Post Office.
Mail was delivered
to Seward (year round) by steamship. From there, it was transferred
by train to the end of the railroad tracks at Kern Creek (about 5 miles
south of Girdwood). During the summer months, gasoline launches picked
up the mail at Kern Creek and delivered it to Sunrise, Hope, Tyonek, Knik
and Susitna Station. Winter mail delivery was a very different story.
Winter mail left Kern Creek
(elevation 100') by dog sled and followed the orignal Iditarod Trail.
The teams mushed up Glacier Creek and over Crow Creek Pass (elevation
3,600') to the head of Eagle River. From there, they followed the river
almost to the mouth at Eagle Bay, then (roughly) followed the shore of
the Knik Arm, crossing Clunie Lake, Fire Creek, Peters Creek and Eklutna
River. Next, the teams crossed the Knik River, the Matanuska River and
the Palmer Slough before they dropped off the first
mail at Knik which was the largest re-supply post on the Knik Arm in 1910.
Out of Knik, the teams crossed Fish Creek, the Little Susitna River and
then dropped off mail at Nagley's Post Office at Susitna Station. Nagley's
store was the last re-supply stop before the 350+ mile journey to the
post office in the town of Iditarod. Needless to say, winter overland mail
was delivered only a few times a season, at best.
wife, Jessamine Elizabeth (Millikan) Nagley (1872-1955) was the
daughter of William and Sarah (Brown) Millikan of Indiana. Jessamine
attended Purdue University in 1891-1892 and completed two years
of teachers training in Indianapolis. She taught for two years in
Puerto Rico, then spent several years teaching in Indiana before she
came to Alaska to teach school at Hoonah in 1909. In 1911, she taught
at Chignik and in 1912 she was hired to teach at Susitna Station
where she met and married Horace Willard Nagley in the summer of
1912; she was 40 and he was 37.
In late October of 1913, the Nagley's hired someone to run their store
while they temporarily moved to Knik for the birth of their 1st child.
During their six week wait,
the Nagley's enjoyed the relaxing "city life" of Knik, but continued
to conduct store business as well. They ordered store goods (19 boxes
of eating apples, 8 boxes of oranges, 5 cases of eggs and 1 box of
onion sets) which they planned to take back to Susitna Station after
the baby was born.
On the evening of 12/2/1913, Jessamine gave birth
to a stillborn baby. The couple was devastated and remained
in Knik for another six weeks before returning to Susitna Station.
In 1914, the Nagley's opened a second branch of
their store at McDougal which was at the mouth of Lake Creek
on the Yentna River. They hired John Lindeboom to man the store which
served, mainly, the Cache Creek Gold Mining District.
"H.W." Nagley's signature found in a
1914 McDougal/Lake Creek receipt
SUSITNA STATION AT HIGH TIDE
In 1915, the Nagley's purchased
two building lots at the SW corner of 5th Avenue and B
Street in the new tent city of Anchorage; the price of the first lot
was $395 and the second lot was $245.
That summer, Nagley's sister, Phoebe Jane, came to
Susitna Station to work in the family store. While there she met
Ora Dee Clark who was scheduled to teach there that fall. However,
before school started, the new tent city of Anchorage asked Ora Dee
(who had a masters degree) to help organize their new school system and
she accepted the job. Phoebe Jane Nagley took over as Susitna Station
teacher that fall.
In the fall of 1915, a Swedish immigrant named Charles Albert "Carl"
Berg moved to Susitna Station with a small saw mill. He and
Phoebe fell in love and after a very short courtship, they were married
at Knik by Rev. T.P.Howard.
In 1916, the Berg's moved their saw mill to Talkeetna and got a contract
to cut ties for the approaching railroad. In 1920, they moved to Anchorage
and built a home on L Street where they lived for 10+ years. The Berg's
next lived at Platinum Village in the Good News Bay District, where they
operated a hotel in 1940 according to the census records.
"Carl" and Phoebe (Nagley) Berg had three children: Virginia,
Carl Albert and Frances Mary. Charles Albert Berg died at the age
of 88 in Seattle and Phoebe Jane died in Renton, Washington at the
age of 109!!
Charles Albert "Carl" Berg
and Wife Phoebe Jane (Nagley) Berg
Children: Virginia b.1917, Carl Albert b.1919
and Frances Mary b.1921
(photo taken about 1930)
In 1917, Nagley had a chance to buy
back his original (1908) Susitna Station store building and he took it.
A bill of sale dated 9/15/1917 listed five warehouses, plus the old store
building and two log dwellings and some caches (one of the caches was
at McDougal); it only cost him $1,250.
Engineering Commission was chosen to oversee the construction of
the Alaska Railroad expansion to Fairbanks, and in 1915 and they chose
Talkeetna as their headquarters. It was a small settlement populated
by prospectors, trappers, railroad workers and a few wall tent stores
by the time the tracks reached Talkeetna in 1917.
TALKEETNA TENT CITY
In 1916, the Nagley's
built a tent store in Talkeetna and a small cabin where they spent most
of their time (they hired Roland Healy to man their old store at Susitna
The Nagley's were expecting another baby in March of 1918,
so in mid-January, they traveled from Talkeetna to Anchorage (by
train) to await the birth. Horace Willard Nagley Jr. was born on 3/21/1918
at the Alaska Railroad Hospital, delivered by Dr. J.B.Beeson.
In 1920, the Nagley's built a full service trading post
in Talkeetna. A common practice for early (remote) merchants, at
that time, was the use of privately minted tokens which they used in
place of coins which were hard to keep on hand. Nagley's Talkeetna store
coins came in two denominations: there was a 25¢(25mm) coin and
a 50¢ (31mm) coin. These old coins are collectors items today and
sell for about $50 each.
Nagley's privately minted tokens
his Talkeetna store
1921, Horace Nagley was appointed as U.S. Commissioner of the Talkeetna
District. Along with this appointment came the duties of Probate Judge,
Justice of the Peace, Recorder and Coroner; he held these positions
until 1934. He was also the Postmaster at Talkeetna from 3/15/1927 until
the day he retired 6/30/1946. The day after he retired, his son Horace Willard
Nagley Jr. assumed the position of Postmaster at Talkeetna.
From 1926-1936, Mrs. Nagley and her son spent their winters
living in Anchorage so Horace Jr. could attend school. It
was during these years that the Nagley's invested heavily in Anchorage
real estate (they were one of the original investors for the Westward
Mr. Nagley enjoyed telling stories about the old gold
rush days. He said that "gold trains" used to move gold
out of the Iditarod, Flat and Tolstoy Gold Mining Districts
about once a year. These "trains" consisted of multiple
dog teams pulling sleds full of gold bricks valued at
$250,000 to $350,000. He described how the dogs battled hazardous
trails, glaciers, ice flows and snow storms and had to be "roped"
over Crow Creek Summit in order to reach the railroad at Kern
Creek where the gold was put on the train for Seward, then loaded onto steamships
headed for Seattle.
"Gold Team" from Iditarod District arrives at
Knik 1/12/1912 carrying $750,000 worth of gold
In 1945, Nagley's Talkeetna store,
which originally sat near the bank of the river, had
to be moved due to erosion. It took George Weatherell's tractor
several days to move the old building 3 blocks to the east.
Old timers say that the store stayed open for business during the
In 1947, the Nagley's retired
and sold their Talkeetna store to Donald G. Barrett.
Jessamine died after a stroke in a California hospital in
1955 at the age of 83 and Horace died (in Seattle) in 1966 at the age
of 91; they are both buried in Anchorage. Horace's funeral
was held by the Anchorage Elks Lodge; pallbearers were such notables
as Oscar Anderson, Donald G. Barrett, Victor Johnson, Paul Nilsen,
Harold Koslosky and Victor Gill. Honorary pallbearers were
Franklin Landstrom and Carl Johnson.
Horace and Jessamine's
only son, Horace Willard Nagley Jr. passed away in
2007, he is also buried in the Anchorage Memorial Park Cemetery.
Their only grandson, Horace Willard Nagley III lives in
NOTE: I do not know exactly when the Nagley's closed their
store at Susitna Station, but I know they hired people to manage it for
them at least until the 1920's. It was abandoned, but still standing when
my husbands family visited Susitna Station in 1955.