Wiseman, Alaska, an arctic village steeped in history

Published: Jun. 24, 2018 at 2:37 PM AKDT
Email This Link
Share on Pinterest
Share on LinkedIn

Wiseman, Alaska, just off mile 189 of the Dalton Highway, is one of those places where the past and present truly come together.

Established in 1908, the town of Wiseman was once a bustling community after gold was discovered in the nearby creek. Today it’s home to just a handful of people, but evidence of its rich history is not hard to find.

Rusted remains of old mining equipment still line the streets. Wind turbines and solar panels power cabins some of which date back to the early 20th century.

“There’s 29 old cabins built between 1905 and 1950,” said Jack Reakoff, one of the town’s few year round residents.

“There’s only around 25-30 percent of the cabins that used to be here. A lot of cabins were torn down and burned for firewood. World War II really killed the economy of Wiseman when the president stopped the purchase of gold.”

Reakoff lives with his fiancée in one of those historic cabins. Like most residents of Wiseman, they live off the land, hunting, trapping and farming for their food. He also shares his wealth of knowledge with visitors, taking them on tours of the town.

Reakoff’s mother also called Wiseman home until she passed away a few years ago, but her voice lives on in the hundreds of meticulously handwritten sermons she left behind.

“You couldn’t get into her bedroom without tripping over all these sermons,” said Reakoff, flipping through a large binder inside the town’s chapel. “On Sunday mornings I read one of these sermons. They’re in chronological order.”

The chapel is another one of Wiseman’s historic cabins. Originally built in 1915, it was repurposed into a chapel in the 1990s. Reakoff says the building is featured in Robert Marshall’s book “Arctic Village: A 1930s Portrait of Wiseman Alaska” and has changed very little over the decades.