Roadtrippin’: The colorful history of Creek Street and the quiet present

Published: Jun. 4, 2021 at 3:36 PM AKDT|Updated: Jun. 7, 2021 at 2:13 PM AKDT
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KETCHIKAN, Alaska (KTUU) - A boardwalk overhanging a salmon-filled creek was once the center of sin in downtown Ketchikan.

“All of this side was prostitution from here to the bridge,” said Stephen Reeve, pointing down Creek Street on a recent Wednesday afternoon. “This side was Japanese, Chinese and Filipino minorities.”

At the turn of the 20th century, minority-owned businesses and brothels were pushed to the south side of Ketchikan Creek. Their numbers rose until their peak during the Prohibition era.

“There was not a vacant lot on this creek at that time,” Reeve said.

Dolly Arthur was one of the street’s most infamous residents. She worked out of her house for decades, which is now a museum.

Reeve, a business owner on the creek and an authority on the street’s history, met Arthur and said like many of the women on the street, she was outspoken, independent and gave back.

“She looked after the fishermen, stowed their nets and did all sorts of things in the community,” he added.

Prostitution was abolished in Ketchikan in 1954 and across Alaska around the same time.

An urban renewal project later saw a nearby Native village demolished, and Creek Street almost went the same way. It was turned into a historical district before being restored.

“It’s still not done,” Reeve said. “It’s a work in progress.”

Brothels and bootleggers have been replaced by a pot shop, hotels, gift stores and the Soho Coho gallery, situated in the old Star House.

“And this was the center of everything of social life in Ketchikan,” Reeve said about the Star House. “The dance hall, blind Ernie playing the piano and women worked upstairs.”

The gallery is owned by Ray and Michelle Troll and it exhibits works by Ketchikan artists. The biggest drawcard is Troll’s iconic t-shirts.

Near the Soho Coho gallery is Married Man’s Trail, a path once used by people to escape into the forest when the street was being raided.

At the end of the street sits the Salmon Ladder, a concrete ramp that runs alongside the creek, allowing fish to bypass raging rapids and make it upstream. But the creek and the street are virtually deserted.

Michelle Troll says her gallery has been in the same location for the past 30 years, making it a fixture on the street. While online sales have been strong, Creek Street is almost empty of without the normal throngs of cruise ship passengers, making it bustling and somewhat impassable.

“It has been weird,” Troll said.

A currently quiet street with a fascinating history, just waiting to be heard.

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