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HISTORY
History of Seward
Military and Government
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The first attempt at city incorporation was an election held in May 1911, but the proponents failed to garner the two-thirds majority needed. The incorporation was delayed until May of 1912 when Seward residents voted 160 for and 31 against incorporation. (Barry 1986)

One of the reasons given for Seward's survival as a town during the discouraging years between the first boom accompanying the building of the Alaska Central Railway and the excitement related to the beginning of the Alaska Railroad was the stability of the town's institutions.

Unlike many early Alaskan settlements, Seward had a planned layout and most of the amenities found in Stateside towns of the same size. Legal procedures were immediately available, a school system began during the founding and grew with the town, and churches were established, with permanent buildings to accommodate them. (Barry 1986)

Seward developed some industries which helped it survive the hiatus between the railroad activities. The largest source of jobs was the mining industry on the Kenai Peninsula. The transportation point for travel into the interior began in Seward, and the town became the headquarters for many who followed the various gold rushes. The community also had an aggressive booster organization in the Seward Commercial Club and an optimistic newspaper. (Barry 1986) The Alaska Central Commission Building served as City Hall until it was razed in 1964 and replaced by the current city hall building.

Alaska was not much affected by the World War I era in terms of Federal spending. (Alaska Historical Commission). However, the decision in 1914 by the Federal Government to purchase the Alaska Northern Railway and build the Alaska Railroad had a significant effect on Seward. By 1916, 600 men were working out of Seward on the railroad, and in 1917 this had increased to 888 men, creating a housing shortage. (Barry 1993)

After the United States entered World War I, the armed forces drew off people to work outside of Alaska. However, work continued on the railroad and on September 10, 1918 the gap which existed between Seward and Anchorage was closed, and three trains per week began running between the two towns. The railroad headquarters moved to Anchorage in 1917 taking higher ranking personnel and causing much resentment in Seward. (Prince) All sectors of the economy suffered and the population dropped. The 1920 census lists fewer than 700 people in Seward. (Barry 1993) In 1930 train service to Seward was reduced to one train per week. Economic doldrums continued throughout the decade with declining population and no growth.

The imminence of a second world war made a significant impact on Seward in July, 1941 when the Army stationed 171 officers and 3,278 enlisted men at Fort Raymond, an Army Post established just outside the townsite limits. Fortifications, including a 6 inch "en barbette" battery named Fort McGilvery, were built at Caines Head and several of the islands south of Seward. Seward was ringed with 155 MM, and 75 MM gun emplacements, remnants of which still exist in various places around the area. The airport was cleared and made ready for planes by August 30 of 1941.

The initial encampment consisted of a vast array of tents. Later, Quonset huts and wooden barracks were built. The 420th Coast Artillery Corps soon joined the Army. They were located on Seventh Avenue (now Ballaine Blvd.) between Jefferson and Monroe Streets.

One can only imagine the impact an Army of this size had on the small city, as well as the financial benefits derived from the $6,641,495 in construction costs of these defense units.

The entire camp and the gun emplacements were abruptly dismantled in March, 1944. Some Quonset huts were converted to dwellings after the war and are still occupied. Many of the Fort Raymond buildings were bought by local people, moved, and converted to other uses. For example, the Cedarside Apartments building on Third Avenue began its life as a military barracks and the Methodist Church, which was destroyed by fire in 1994, once served as the Chapel at Fort Raymond. Remnants of Fort McGilvery still exist in the Caines Head State Recreation Area south of Seward.

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Song courtesy of Dave Stancliff