Poised on the Tongass Narrows, at the site of a Tlingit fish camp, Ketchikan first attracted whites in 1887; the lure was both salmon and gold. With a population of 459 in 1900, Ketchikan was incorporated as a city, and by 1940 it was the second largest city in Alaska, with a population of 4,695. By then, interest in gold mining had been superseded by the fishing and lumber industries.
The city's architecture is dominated by the terrain. Because there is so little flat land, some buildings have been built on pilings over the water while others cling to the hillsides. Roads often dissolve into wooden stairways or boardwalks on trestles. The houses, which are either wood framed or concrete, are in the forms of cottages and bungalows. Basements are often exposed, although left unornamented. The houses abound with porches and picture windows—everyone gets a view of the water. Yards are most likely to be multilevel rock gardens.
There are a number of totem poles around town, including a fine collection at the Totem Heritage Center. Most notable is Chief Johnson's pole, in the center of town at the corner of Steadman Street and Totem Way. Carved by Israel Shotridge and erected in 1989, it replicates the pole that stood on the site from 1901 to 1982 and was removed to the Totem Heritage Center for preservation.
Ketchikan's steep terrain and irregular street pattern create distinct, and sometimes tiny, neighborhoods, often with identifiable characteristics.
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