Tenakee Springs is located on an inlet on Chichagof Island just west of Admiralty Island and, because of its natural hot springs, it has served as a modest resort since the nineteenth century. Miners wintered in Tenakee Springs beginning in the 1880s, but a measure of stability was not achieved until the establishment of Snyder Mercantile in 1899. Its owner, Ed Schneider, also built rental cabins continuing to attract a transient clientele. By 1902 enough permanent residents existed to establish a post office. In 1917 a cannery opened, the first of several salmon and crab canneries that operated until 1974. Today, the community is primarily a vacation and retirement center with a population just over one hundred.
The town consists of a single street occupying a thin strip of land along the shore of the narrow inlet, with hills rising steeply behind on the north. The town stretches for a mile or so along the road, from which automobile and truck traffic are prohibited. The street, varying from about 4 feet to 12 feet wide, is a slightly meandering path for pedestrians and small vehicles. Small, simple houses line both sides of the road, standing on high pilings on the water side, with a commercial center near the port facilities. There are no public utilities, and Snyder Mercantile, operating a noisy generator, sells electricity to the community.
There are two distinctive vernacular house types. One type is known locally as the cannery cottage because buildings of that type were moved from elsewhere on Chichagof Island where they were built to house cannery workers. They are wood-framed buildings ranging from 10 feet by 10 feet to 12 feet by 20 feet, with one or two rooms. Entry to the one-story buildings is through a distinctive inset corner. One has been adapted to serve as the post office. The other common house type is a log cabin, similar in size and shape to the cannery cottages. They are mostly built of hewn logs and have various types of notched corners. In the context of these simple buildings, the recent Tenakee Inn, though picturesque from a distance with its mansard roof, seems an inappropriate addition to the waterfront when seen up close. The dramatic setting and hot springs combine with the very simple buildings of Tenakee Springs to create an unusual and appealing town.
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