The northernmost town in Alaska, Barrow was traditionally the trading point for the Alaskan Arctic coast. Today it is the seat of the 88,000-square-mile North Slope Borough and maintains its primacy among the coastal villages.
Long an Eskimo village, Barrow became a major trading post after 1826 when whites first visited the village. British and American explorers and whalers frequented the coast east of Barrow, and whaling remained a profitable outside trade until the end of the nineteenth century. A Presbyterian mission was established in 1890 under the auspices of Sheldon Jackson.
Barrow received unprecedented attention in 1935 when Will Rogers and Wiley Post crashed and died about 15 miles south of it on their flight from Fairbanks to Siberia; a monument near the airport stands as a memorial. In the 1940s, oil exploration on the North Slope caused Barrow's population to triple. The 1970s oil boom brought a similarly prosperous boost to Barrow.
Today Barrow encompasses two sections—the old town of Barrow is on the southwest, while the trading post of Browerville is northeast—joined by a sand spit. Because the North Slope is treeless and Barrow is exceedingly remote, building materials are valuable. Remnants of traditional sod dwellings, both historic and prehistoric, are near the southwest end of Stevenson Street; they appear as grass-covered mounds. Both Barrow and Browerville have a mix of architecture, with houses of found materials such as packing crates and driftwood side by side with manufactured housing. A few large public buildings constructed in the last two decades represent Barrow's recent prosperity.
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