Wickersham State Historic Site
House of Wickersham - Home of Alaska's Pioneer Judge, James Wickersham
Built in 1898 and listed on the National Register of Historic Places
Hours of Operation:
Open May 16, 2016 - late September 2016
Open Sunday Through Thursday, 10:00am to 5:00pm
James Wickersham was a statesman, author, historian and scholar. Evangeline Atwood, author of Frontier Politics, had this to say about Judge Wickersham - "...No other man has made as deep and varied imprints on Alaska's heritage, whether it be in politics, government, commerce, literature, history or philosophy. A federal judge, member of Congress, attorney and explorer, present-day Alaska is deeply in debt to him."
Gold and Law in Alaska
The gold discoveries of the Klondike and Nome had attracted hordes of prospectors and, along with them, corruption and claim jumping. By 1900, new criminal and civil codes, as well as the expansion of the U.S. District Court system brought the first law and order to the Interior. The 3rd Judicial Division, comprised of 300,000 square miles, was the responsibility of the new District Court Judge, James Wickersham.
Eagle City, a town on the Yukon River, was the official headquarters for the 3rd Judicial District. Here, after building his modest log home, Wickersham began settling mining claim disputes and collecting saloon license fees.
Seven Terms as U.S. District Court Judge (1900-1907)
The Eagle to Rampart circuit comprised 1,000 miles round-trip which Wickersham covered by steamer or with a dog team.
Wickersham held "floating court" in the Aleutians and elsewhere along the coast aboard U.S. Revenue cutters
He also reestablished the court and confidence of the people of Nome after Judge Noyes was removed from office for abuse of judicial power in 1901.
At age 45, Wickersham was the first white man to attempt to climb up Mount McKinley. He had climbed every major peak of the Olympic Peninsula before coming to Alaska. While a delegate to congress, Wickersham won legislation creating Mt. McKinley National Park.
Wickersham's Scholarly Contributions
47 personal diaries, 1900-1939, documenting his years in Alaska.
7 volumes of Alaska Law Reports, compiling the decisions made by the District Court Judges in Alaska.
A bibliography of Alaska Literature, 1724-1924 containing the titles of 10,380 books and documents the Judge had collected.
Old Yukon: Tales, Trails, Trials, an account of his years as a pioneer judge.
The new Tanana Valley gold strike had started a stampede in 1902, and gold seekers poured into the area surrounding Barnette's Cache. Wickersham struck a bargain with Barnette that if he would rename the townsite Fairbanks, after the senator from Indiana, he would move the district headquarters from Eagle to Barnette's Cache. In 1903, the headquarters were moved to Fairbanks.
Delegate to Congress (1909-1920 and 1931-1933)
During his seven terms as Alaska's non-voting delegate to Congress, he was able to persuade an uninterested Congress to pass legislation of major importance to Alaska.
Home Rule 1912 - Wickersham prized most of all his accomplishment of winning an elected legislature for Alaska. As part of the Organic Act of August 24, 1912 (Wickersham's 55th birthday), Home Rule brought to Alaskans a privilege that had been denied for 45 years.
Alaska Railroad 1914 - In the face of bitter opposition from powerful private corporations, Wickersham, an eloquent speaker, delivered a 5 1/2 hour successful speech to Congress, which appropriated funds for construction.
Alaska Agricultural College & School of Mining 1917 - Wickersham believed that with a college, railroad and Home Rule, Alaska would move closer to becoming the independent state it deserved to be. Later, the college became the University of Alaska.
First Statehood Bill 1917 - Wickersham introduced the idea of statehood to congress 43 years before it became a reality.
Deborah (Bell) Wickersham (1863-1926) was the judge's wife for 46 years. They had three sons, Darrell, Andrew and Howard. Darrell was the only one that lived to adulthood. He had no children of his own.
Grace (Vrooman) Bishop, a widowed school teacher with no children became the Judge's second wife in 1928. After his death in 1939, she continued to live in their Juneau home until her death in 1963.
House on the Ridge
Some of Juneau's most prominent early residents lived in this Victorian home.
Frank Hammond - Superintendent of the Sheep Creek Mining Co. wanted a residence suitable for a mine official. The house was built on the ridge overlooking town in 1898.
John Malony - Lawyer for Alaska Treadwell Gold Mining Co. & founder of Juneau Cold Storage. Malony was persuaded to sell the house to Bartlett Thane who needed a big place in which to entertain.
Bartlett Thane - Manager & Director of the Alaska Gastineau Mining Company. Thane, a highly respected promoter of the mines, entertained Charles Haden, New York investment banker and Daniel Jackling, comptroller of the nation's copper industry.
James Wickersham - Lawyer, judge, delegate to Congress, collector and author. Wickersham purchased the home in 1928 and lived there until his death in 1939 at age 82.
Preserving The Past
Upon Judge Wickersham's death, the house passed to his wife and eventually to her niece, Ruth Allman. Recognizing the historical value of the Judge's accomplishments and the collection of historical photographs, artifacts, diaries and scrapbooks she now possessed, Mrs. Allman opened her home to visitors. For over 25 years she shared her stories of the Judge's life and Alaskan history with hundreds of tourists.
In 1984, the house and its contents were purchased by the State of Alaska with the Division of Parks and Outdoor Recreation designated as the managing agency.
Today the stories surrounding James Wickersham and the Gold Rush Era are told through historical photographs, Alaskan artifacts, memorabilia, and the period furnishings on display at the house.
House of Wickersham
Step back in time thorough the doors of the House of Wickersham, the first large Victorian home built on "Chicken Ridge", the "Nob Hill" of Juneau, Alaska. Sip tea from an elegant bone china cup and drink in the history of Alaska's territorial days as seen through the life of the man responsible for "Home Rule", the Alaska Railroad, the University of Alaska and Mount McKinley National Park (now known as Denali National Park).
For more information:
Alaska State Parks
Southeast Area Office
400 Willoughby Ave., Suite 500
P.O. Box 111071
Juneau, AK 99811
House of Wickersham
213 7th Street
Juneau, AK 99801