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Alaska Nellie's Homestead

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1920s. Mile 23 Seward Hwy.

One of Alaska's larger-than-life characters, Nellie Neal arrived in Seward in 1915 and ran several roadhouses for the Alaska Railroad during its construction. In 1923 she married Billie Lawing and moved to the site of a roadhouse at mile 23, then called Roosevelt. With the completion of the railroad, the need for roadhouses was ebbing, but Nellie foresaw that this site on Kenai Lake would be a good tourist spot and an excellent location for a restaurant.

The Lawings converted the roadhouse to a restaurant and room for Nellie's big-game hunting trophies, which included three glacier bears. Trains stopped for ten minutes to hear Nellie's lectures on Alaskan wildlife, and famous people came to visit her. In 1924 a post office was established at Roosevelt, with Nellie as postmistress; the name chosen for the post office was Lawing.

Although the original roadhouse no longer stands, Nellie's store does, a two-story structure constructed of round logs, saddle notched at the corners. In her autobiography, Alaska Nellie, she vividly describes how she and her husband moved the building to this site from its original location across the lake. Because of the dismantling and reconstruction necessary in moving a log building, this passage describes the construction of a large building, as much as moving one.

We anchored the boat on the bay, near where the building stood. He began by taking off the roofing paper, while I took out the doors and windows. The lumber from the roof was then taken off, which gave me the job of removing the nails.

Billie carefully marked each log, to make it easier when rebuilding. The logs were rolled into the lake, making a raft on which we loaded the doors, windows, and lumber; then the raft was towed by the boat to a small bay at Lawing, near where we had cleared the lot on which to build. With the hoist, I pulled the logs from the water, while Billie did the rigging.

… We began by putting in the stringers for the foundation; the first logs and the floor were then put down. I pulled the logs with the hoist, while Billie placed them where they belonged, and put in the drift bolts to hold them.

Small logs were used as stringers for the second floor. The heavy lift came when the last two rounds of logs were put on. We had to work from a scaffold when putting up the rafters. After the roofing lumber was put on, we cut and prepared the roofing paper, which was put on over the lumber.

I heated the tar used in sealing the seams of the paper, then carried it up the ladder, where Billie did the work of sealing and nailing down. The windows and doors were then put in place. We were several weeks tearing down, hauling and rebuilding this two-story loghouse, which added a much needed building to our tourist resort. They said “it couldn't be done,” but we did it. (pp. 92–93)

Also at the site is her house, a one-story, wood-frame building with an irregular plan, evidence of several additions over the years. Clad with vertical boards, with battens in places, the house has a Yukon stove in the living room and oilcloth on the walls.

Writing Credits

Author: 
Alison K. Hoagland
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Data

Citation

Alison K. Hoagland, "Alaska Nellie's Homestead", [Seward, Alaska], SAH Archipedia, eds. Gabrielle Esperdy and Karen Kingsley, Charlottesville: UVaP, 2012—, http://sah-archipedia.org/buildings/AK-01-SC049.

Print Source

Buildings of Alaska, Alison K. Hoagland. New York: Oxford University Press, 1993, 110-111.

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