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Cordova is located in the foothills of Mount Eyak, on the east side of Prince William Sound, between Orca Inlet and Lake Eyak. At the turn of the twentieth century, an Eyak Indian village and some canneries were clustered at the west end of Lake Eyak. This proved to be a strategic location, however, for a railroad route to the interior of Alaska, aimed at providing access to copper mines and coalfields. Carving a path out of rocky mountainside and around glaciers, Michael J. Heney ensured the successful completion of the 196-mile Copper River and Northwestern Railway (CR&NWRy) in 1911.

The railroad yards were near the west end of Lake Eyak, where the CR&NWRy built shops and a roundhouse beginning in 1906. Obtaining a new townsite on Orca Inlet for the growing town, the CR&NWRy convinced the established businesses and residents to move to the new site. Platted in 1908, Cordova was a grid-plan town with four major streets parallel to the water, rising one above the other up the side of the steep hill. The railroad went through the middle of town, ending at a dock where the small boat harbor is now. By 1914 Cordova had a population of 870 and boasted three hotels, seven saloons, three churches, and a variety of businesses.

Cordova flourished as the terminus of the CR&NWRy, becoming the shipping point for all Kennecott copper as well as the receiving point for all goods headed for the mine and for the rest of Interior Alaska. By the time the Kennecott mines closed in 1938, 200 million tons of ore had been shipped out through Cordova. At the same time, Cordova developed its fishing industry, with new canneries appearing throughout the twentieth century; Cordova claims the title “razor clam capital of the world.” The small boat harbor was built by the Corps of Engineers in 1938, and rebuilt after the 1964 earthquake.

Cordova remains today unconnected to the rest of the state by road. An attempt to convert the CR&NWRy to a highway ended in 1964, when the earthquake damaged the Million Dollar Bridge 40 miles northeast of Cordova. There have been sporadic attempts since then to resuscitate the highway, but Cordova remains a thriving fishing village, not entirely displeased with its isolation.

Writing Credits

Alison K. Hoagland

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