Haines was founded as a Presbyterian mission in 1879 near the site of several Chilkat Tlingit villages. The land was deeded to the Presbyterians by the Chilkats and lies 10 miles southeast of Skagway on the opposite shore of the Lynn Canal. In 1881, Rev. Eugene Willard and his wife, Caroline, arrived, and the settlement was named after Frances Electra Haines, secretary of the Presbyterian National Committee of Home Missions. By 1885 eighty-five students attended Haines Mission, which developed into both a boarding school and day school under contract to the government.
Discovery of gold in the Porcupine District 35 miles northwest of Haines and the town's propitious location near the origins of the Chilkat, Chilkoot, and White Pass routes into the Klondike further increased its importance at the end of the nineteenth century. The construction of Fort William H. Seward here in 1902–1904 and the development of several salmon canneries in the area contributed to Haines's prosperity.
The town has a variety of early twentieth-century houses, ranging from modest one-story cottages to more elaborate bungalows. Main Street is lined with commercial buildings and extends down to the water. Architecturally, however, Haines is dominated by the adjacent military post, Fort Seward, a cohesive collection of imposing structures.
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